In every issue of The Avid Collector, our Expert Booksellers answer your questions on rare and collectible books.

[See Past Questions & Answers]

Q. Is there any way to remove an ink signature from an attached bookplate? - Mike

A. I see no reason why anyone would want to do this. All indications of provenance attest to the life and history of a book. Inscriptions enrich and enhance this 'genealogy' of owners, documenting the passage of a particular copy of a book through time -- sometimes decades, or even centuries. Since the copy in question already has a bookplate, it would seem that removing an ink signature from it would only reduce its historical interest, and eliminate that which sets this particular copy apart from all others.
-- Michael Laird Rare Books, Brooklyn, New York, USA

Q. Are the Modern Library books collectible? - Marika

A. The Modern Library Editions provide a marvelous opportunity for collectors. Since the publication of the first Modern Library title (Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray) in 1917, The Modern Library has published literally hundreds of quality editions of great literature, as well as numerous anthologies. The bibliographic 'points' of each issue are numerous, and identifying and collecting all of the books in each of the numerous binding styles can provide a collector with a lifetime of hunting. The large variety of dustwrappers issued with each title over the years can also provide a collector with considerable challenges and rewards. Collecting Modern Library titles is also a relatively inexpensive enterprise for collectors on a budget. We use and recommend Henry Toledano's comprehensive and authoritative bibliography, The Modern Library Price Guide, to either the new or accomplished Modern Library collector.
-- Printers Row Fine and Rare Books, Chicago, Illinois, USA

In general, any books you choose are collectible. Modern Library titles have been collected for many years. Many can be purchased for modest prices and some of the 1st ML editions have become collectible themselves. Although most of them have seen many printings, there is a bibliography of the Modern Library to help identify their first appearances. Two things should be noted. I am almost certain that the ML did not publish the true first edition of any of the titles in the series. If you want to collect the first ML editions, I would suggest buying the bibliography first. Many of them have complicated printing histories and a solid reference will help you to avoid mistakes. I recommend George Andes' A Descriptive Bibliography of The Modern Library: 1917-1970.
-- Neil Cournoyer - Bookseller (ABAC, ILAB), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Q. I've noticed that "false" versions or duplicates of rare books exist. How can I be sure that the first edition, first printing version of a book I'm interested in purchasing is the real thing? - Aaron

A. Exact facsimiles of rare books, whether in type or photographic, have sometimes been produced for the scholar who wants to study the 'original' text but has no access to an original. Or, a facsimile may be produced for the edification of the collector who knows he will never be able to acquire the real thing, such as one of Shakespeare's first quarto editions. Reputable publishers will always clearly indicate that the new edition is a facsimile. It has been shown, however, that some facsimiles have been offered as the real thing. See, for example, Swinburne's 'Atalanta in Calydon'(1865), the Oxford Facsimile, offprint from 'The Book Collector', Winter, 1972, where John Mayfield, who owned almost 100 copies of the true first edition, argues that some of the Oxford facsimile sheets were bound up without the 1930 preliminary material and sold as the first edition. Usually, but not always, the materials used for the facsimile will vary substantially from those used for the true first. Often, a comparison with the real thing, if available, will turn up slight, or even gross, differences, depending on the quality of the facsimile. Consultation of a good bibliography should indicate whether a facsmile was ever produced, and should point out characteristics of difference. Bibliographies are especially useful for determining priority for editions printed before stereotype plates came into common usage. A print shop would break up a case of composed type because it was needed for some other project. If a new edition of a book was needed, it would have to be re-composed. Clearly, it was easier to avoid mistakes, such as dropping a word or a line, if the compositor had a prior edition to work from and he copied it word for word, page by page. In combination with the fact that it wasn't necessarily common practice to put a date on the title page of any book, the importance of a good bibliography is easy to understand. Hypothetically, the concientious bibliographer, in lieu of the nervous collector, has examined several copies of several editions of the work in question and established a ' key' to prioritizing them. Ultimately, even the experts are sometimes fooled by a really good facsimile. Fortunately, it is difficult and expensive to produce a really good one, which, perhaps, is the best protection for most careful buyers.
-- Up-Country Letters, South Lake Tahoe, California, USA

Q. If a hard-to-find or collectible book has had repairs to the dust jacket, how does this affect the value of the book? - Paul

A. A repaired or restored dust jacket is clearly worth less than one in comparable condition that has not been repaired or restored - and there are many fastidious collectors who would have nothing to do with a repaired or restored jacket. (I define a repaired jacket as one having obvious archival tape repairs, for example, or evidence of stain removal, as compared to a completely restored jacket in which the restored areas may be almost invisible to the naked eye -- including replacement of paper loss, even that affecting lettering or design.) On the other hand, a jacket in poor condition, with stains and missing pieces, which has been completely restored by an expert is much preferred by other collectors unless it is so very rare that doing anything to it other than carefully preserving it in an appropriate cover would destroy its value. In my own special field of C. S. Lewis, it would be foolhardy to restore even a badly damaged jacket (if such indeed exists!) of his first book, Spirits in Bondage, which is so rare that probably less than a dozen copies in the dust jacket are known to exist. On the other hand, jackets of first British editions of his very popular Chronicles of Narnia are not terribly scarce. The British first edition of the most popular of the seven titles, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is readily found today in the original dust jacket - but a fine copy of such is currently being offered at up to $18,000. For many collectors who cannot afford such, a superbly restored dust jacket at, say, $8,000 to $10,000 or less would be much preferred over a shabby one at half that price.
-- The Inklings Connection, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Q. When trying to figure out the age of a book, am I correct in thinking that the published date is what you look at? - S. Copeland

A. Remember, publishers omit, mislead and mis-state on the Copyright pages and elsewhere, so even if you see a date on the Copyright page, that may have nothing to do with the date that particular copy was published. A quick example could be Ace Books from the 1950s and early 1960s, where the only date that appears on the Copyright page was the original date of release and far too many booksellers don't have the reference necessary to realize that just because the Copyright page may state '1950' the book could have been released in 1964! When talking about books from the 19th century, some publishers deliberately left off dates because a single novel could have been released in two, three of even four parts over successive years. If unsure of the date of a specific book, either scan or take digital pics of the relevent pages, and don't forget the back pages as they sometimes contain advertisements, which can narrow an undated book. Then you can contact an ILAB bookseller and ask if they can help you with isolating a possible issue date.
-- ALMARK & CO. - Booksellers, ABAC, ILAB, Thornhill, Ontario, Canada

Q. As a collector, I've benefited from bibliographies produced for some of my favorite authors. I'm interested in compiling a bibliography on any author myself. Can you recommend any books which provide the guidelines for creating bibiographies aimed at book collectors? - Steven

A. I have a lot of respect for bibliographers. I have a large collection and have found much benefit from their scholarship. I don't think bibliographies are produced for collectors as much as for researchers, libraries and, of course, booksellers. In other words, their focus has never been exclusive, or even primarily for collectors. Having said that, I'm sure you could benefit from the following two titles: New Introduction To Bibliography by Philip Gaskell, and An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students by Ronald B. McKerrow. Although both titles use the word 'introduction', don't be fooled - they contain a lot of history, and more detailed information, than most collectors know.
-- Neil Cournoyer - Bookseller (ABAC, ILAB), Ottawa, Ontario, Canada



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