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Maybe it's fatuous to assume this, but I believe that most of these booksellers are innocent or marginally negligent, not fraudulent, but of course there's no way of divining motives. Two Ordeal sellers state that their basis for asserting a first edition state is the same date (1939) on the title page and title page verso. This would seem to fall under a negligent or innocent umbrella, as would the seller who points to the absence of a blind stamp on the back board as an indication of non-BCE status. It's less clear in the case of copies with price-clipped dust jackets, where fraud could have been easily set into motion with a quick snip. And doubtless a lot of copycat listing occurs as well, with late arriving sellers "vetting" their own copies on the basis of those previously listed. Negligent? Probably.
No matter what the sellers' motivation, however, this is an alarming state of affairs. If you're feeling at all compassionate about the Ordeal sellers because this particular book almost invites misidentification whereas many other books do not, think about this for a moment. The presence of numerous misrepresented copies says much less about how challenging the identification process is than it does about the sellers hawking the book. What's really happening here is that Shute's Ordeal and other books like it have the potential of illuminating a problem that's otherwise, usually, hidden from view - but still lurking! Put a correctly represented copy of this book onto the playground, and it's tantamount to kicking over a rock and exposing what's under it to the light: Carelessness or laziness - perhaps fraud - is suddenly everywhere, wriggling like worms to escape. Is the assumption that there are more negligent or careless booksellers than not so far fetched?
It's also important to note that listings of many collectible fiction titles that present no significant identification obstacles are often - still - widely misrepresented as well, though typically not at these astronomical percentages.
Fortunately, unlike many widespread bookselling problems, I think this one is at least somewhat amenable to correction. And individual sellers can make a big difference.
First, take care of business at home. If you don't know what edition you have, don't guess and don't crib from other listings. Instead, consult one or more authoritative references or ask a trusted colleague who knows or can find out. Even then you'll need to be careful because there will be occasions when sources don't agree. Ideally, what you're looking for is some sort of consensus. Once you find it, run with it, taking care to detail distinguishing points. If you can find only one source, sure, go ahead and list your copy accordingly, but take care to cite the author and reference number as well - for example, "Ahearn, 005b" is a citation for Ordeal entry #005b in Pat & Allen Ahearn's Nevil Shute Author Price Guide. If you can't confirm edition state, the only sensible thing to do is to describe what you have in detail and make no assertions whatsoever.
Second, if you notice that a significant number of descriptions of the book you're listing are obvious misrepresentations, take the opportunity to educate both sellers and potential buyers by spelling out in your description what makes your copy a first edition, thereafter mentioning that copies are often misrepresented as firsts. There's an additional payoff here in that your copy will stand a much better chance of selling.
Finally, as a group, booksellers could solicit the cooperation of the many venues that host misrepresentation, perhaps work together to improve the situation. Here's an idea: What if each venue listed dummy copies of collectible fiction titles that served the sole purpose of detailing first edition points? Registered sellers would have the ability to write the descriptions themselves in much the way users participate on Wikipedia, and if the first author got something wrong, other registered sellers would have access to editing it. Seemingly, it would cost these venues next to nothing to implement this, and over time, a valuable reference of first edition designations would be amassed that would compel all sellers to write accurate descriptions.
Nah, on second thought, that would be too easy!
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