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EXAMPLE: If you came across a copy of The Grapes of Wrath published in 1939, this wouldn't necessarily be worth grabbing, even though this was the first year of publication. There were numerous reprints in 1939 by the original publisher (Viking), the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Modern Library. The title itself, therefore, isn't a flashpoint at all. Gadzillions of copies of this book are out there, used and new, most of them not deserving a second glance. However, combine this title with a publication date of 1939, and things get more interesting. Let's call the flashpoint 1939 a 5. Suppose it also has a dust jacket. Books published in 1939 with surviving dust jackets are not especially common and enhance collectibility. We'll call this a 4. Not quite to 10, but we're almost there.

What would push it over the top? First and foremost, the words First Edition at the bottom of the front dust jacket flap. A copy of this book, with intelligent marketing, could pay for your new Hyundai. An early printing would also kick it up to 10, though now we'd be only talking about gas money for your new car. If it was a Modern Library edition, the number 148 on the dust jacket would indicate that it was a first ML edition - very collectible, and $50 to $100 might be possible, perhaps covering your new radar detector. Other possibilities exist here as well, including an especially fine example of a BOMC edition, but the point is to get to 10, somehow, and, once you do, buy.

A final note about flashes in your diaphragm. Use them, even if they have no basis in actual book knowledge. Elements that trigger this kind of reaction are flashpoints as well simply on the basis of their ability to produce a reaction in you - which, by the way, will often be replicated in your eventual buyer. Think about it this way. You may not have known that the number 148 was important in identifying the ML first edition of The Grapes of Wrath, but you may have noticed a patina on the dust jacket that indicated age, and this may have triggered a mild reaction. It's still a valid indicator because it at least suggests the possibility that it could be a first edition. This may not get you to the 10 you were looking for, but if the book is priced at a quarter, why not take the chance on a 9?