Reprint Publishers

by Craig Stark

#7, 1 December 2003

A Primer on Identification and List of Major Players

For booksellers or collectors, the word "reprint" carries the same negative connotations that "book club edition" does because, as a rule, reprints have little or no value. However, it's important to acquire both a knowledge of reprint publishers and experience in identifying reprint editions because reprints, perhaps more so than BCE's, are sometimes misidentified as first editions.

Reasons for this vary, but first let's take a look at the following list, which illustrates the more common forms a reprint can appear as:

  1. Identical to the original publication with the exception of the binding. Overprints (actual sheets printed by the original publisher) purchased and rebound by the reprint publisher.

  2. Identical to the original publication with the exception of the binding and one or more preliminary pages or endpapers, such as a new title page or copyright page or both. Overprints purchased for republication, this time with only minor changes.

  3. Identical to the original publication with the exception of the binding and paper. Publisher's plates purchased and used to reprint the book on different paper and bound in a different material.

  4. Close to identical to the original publication but distorted by varying degrees. Photographic or facsimile process used to reproduce the book.

  5. Identical to the original publication in content only. New plates used to reprint the book.

  6. Mostly but not entirely identical to the original publication. To reduce the cost of republication, plates were sometimes altered (for example, from color to black-and-white), printed on lower quality paper, or removed altogether, though in some cases new plates were added to a book which originally didn't possess them or substituted for existing illustrations. Also, but less often, the text itself was altered or, in the obvious case of Reader's Digest Condensed Books, abridged.

  7. Identical to the original publication in every respect. Publishers' overstock sold to another publishing house for purposes of resale are, technically speaking, reprints, but of course no designations will be present to determine this (with the uncommon exception of a laid-in slip, applied marking, etc.). In this case only a documented provenance would supply evidence, one way or another. In most cases, however, collectors won't insist on proof that a book was or was not marketed by the original publisher.
From the above list, it's clear that reprints can present serious problems of identification, especially in cases where the reprint publisher's name isn't present. In some cases, in fact, definitive identification is impossible. However, as in book club edition identification, most reprints can be accurately identified at a glance because in most cases the publisher's name will appear on the dust jacket, title page, copyright page, or all of the above, and if one knows or carries a list of the major players, well, you're done.

The following list is an expanded version of the short list of reprint publishers appearing in the first article.

A.L. Burt
Blue Ribbon Books
Blue Star
Bracken Books
Cupples & Leon
Greenwich House
Fiction Library
Grosset & Dunlap
Little Blue Books
Modern Library
Reader's Digest
Street and Smith
Sun Dial

A final note: exceptions exist. Some reprint publishers also publish/published First Editions.

A Brief History of Grosset & Dunlap

Just as the term "book club edition" often brings to mind the Book-of-the-Month Club, so does "reprint" frequently suggest the Prince of Pulp, legendary publisher Grosset & Dunlap, perhaps the preeminent reprint publisher of the first decade or so of the 20th century. In 1898 George T. Dunlap and Alexander Grosset formed a partnership that was to help transform the publishing industry from one focused largely on expensive books for the few into one much more active in furnishing cheap books for the masses.

Somewhat ignominiously, Grosset & Dunlap began operations with bold acts of piracy - reprinting books already in print, thereby sidestepping royalties and other fees. From these profits they were able to finance the bulk purchase of paperbound books for the purposes of rebinding them in cloth and selling at a profit. Later, this activity was abandoned in favor of purchasing reprint rights or leasing (or purchasing) plates. Also, publishers would occasionally overprint titles for sale to Grosset & Dunlap.

Perhaps the most significant development in their early history was the decision to purchase Chatterton & Peck and, in turn, rights to their large juvenile list, including the popular Rover Boys series. They soon emerged as a major player in the children's book market, especially as they cemented their relationship with the Stratemeyer Syndicate and became publishers of not only reprints but many First Editions as well. Notable examples included Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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