Building a Bookselling
by Craig Stark
#134, 18 May 2009
Most bookselling references take on one of two forms - bibliographies or price guides. A bibliography more or less nails what a particular book is, a price guide what it's worth. Within these two forms there's much variety, of course. Bibliographies range from elaborately formal treatments that may read like Greek to many booksellers to simple checklists; price guides from simple checklists (with appended value estimates) to those that also provide relevant issue points and more. Both are useful and vital to booksellers. (One could argue that price guides start to obsolesce the day they are printed, if not before, but I've discovered them to be highly useful at identifying high spots by way of studying comparative pricing.)
Less often, bookselling references take on another form - what's probably best described as a collector's guide. What these
typically set out to do, usually in the context of a narrowly defined niche, is show the collector what's out there, offer
some sort of sense of what's hard to find and what's not, and, most importantly, provide the tools that will help identify
with a high degree of certainty what's being collected. In my opinion, these references are the most valuable of all for
booksellers because they teach us exactly what collectors - our buyers - are looking for. If there's a problem with them
(apart from there not being enough of them!), it's that many of them are incomplete or lack the expertise and/or rich
bibliographic detail that elicits confidence and enables accurate identification.
I recently had the pleasure to examine a new collector's guide that, I must say, surely sets a standard for this kind of reference -
Paul R. Bienvenue and Robert E. Schmidt's The Book Collector's Guide to L. Frank Baum and Oz.
Those of you who have had some experience with early Oz books already know that, thanks to their publishing history,
the complexities are considerable. From Bibliographia Oziana: "The elaborateness of the early Oz books contributed in another way to proliferations of variations. Each book was made up of a number of separately manufactured components, including text sheets, color plates, decorated endpapers and binding cases. Each component seems to have been reprinted or manufactured individually as supplies diminished, and the possibility of jumbling various generations of components in the manufacturing process was high."
Such complexities can and often are maddening to booksellers, but often this is precisely what appeals to collectors. It broadens and extends the hunt - and the hunt, after all, is what it's all about.
Speaking of complexities, this brings me back to Bienvenue and Schmidt. In their Guide, they clarify and simplify the identification process to an extent I've never encountered in a bookselling reference. The approach includes using a format called top-down classification. After giving a detailed description of the book in question, the components are listed followed by their variants in the following order (which more or less replicates the order in which you would encounter them, the exception being the dust jacket, which is placed in the final position because one is rarely encountered): cover, endpapers, text, plates and dust jacket.
With book in hand, you work your way down. If the cover matches what you have, you move to the endpapers. If the endpapers don't match, you skip the remaining components and move to a description of the next printing, start with the cover again, and so on, until you reach your destination, where everything matches. Along the way, both essential (to identification) and non-essential information appears with the essential in bold typeface. This accelerates the process by allowing you to immediately skip over material that isn't necessary to confirm a printing state.
Also, if there are issue points that are difficult to explain, illustrations are provided to save the day:
The illustrations hardly stop there. Color photographs, harvested from important collections, are included for every major variant cover and many of the rare original dust jackets. What's more, all of Baum's work and the Oz books of his five "official" successors are featured, including Baum's non-Oz and pseudonymous books - the first time this has been accomplished in a single volume. Another first: When applicable, there are descriptions of later printings that possess features of interest to collectors.
In addition to identification tools there is much supplementary gold here - essays introducing each book, and even a detailed discussion of editions, printings, states and issues. No Oz collector can afford not to understand these terms cold.
For the reasons cited above and more, I see no reason why this guide shouldn't become the standard reference for L. Frank Baum.
Those of you who have been previously consulting Bibliographia Oziana for your needs and are perhaps concerned that this guide more or less duplicates its contents need not be concerned at all. This is a significant addition to Oz scholarship.
Recently The Book Collector's Guide to L. Frank Baum and Oz won gold in the Reference Category of the 2009 IPPY awards,
Recognizing Excellence in Independent Publishing.
Finally, I can't close this review without mentioning that this book is beautifully produced: "86 lb. coated text stock; cloth-covered boards and round-backed spine stamped in gilt; reinforced sewing for extra strength; full-color, French-fold dust jacket of 106 lb. laminated stock."
And good news for BookThinkers: Published at $75, The Book Collector's Guide to L. Frank Baum and Oz is
BookThink for the lowest price online - $58.99 plus $4 media mail postage. To get this discount simply click
here or any of the banners appearing on the website.
From the dust jacket blurb: "Paul R. Bienvenue has been an Oz collector for over 30 years, and is a past auction coordinator and
auctioneer for The International Wizard of Oz Club. He is the proprietor of
March Hare Books-, a used and rare book service
with special emphasis on Oz and Baum, and has provided appraisals for private and institutional collections.
"Robert E. Schmidt, DVM, PhD, has been an Oz collector for over 50 years. He has authored several textbooks and countless articles on veterinary pathology and was presented in 2003 with the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Association of Avian Veterinarians."