Update Announcements

by Craig Stark

#159 Update, 27 November 2011

The lowly book club edition ain't always so lowly. Here are some reasons why from Chapter 9 of BookThink's Guide to Online Bookselling:

First, some BCE's are in fact the first appearance (sometimes the only appearance) of a title in print - that is, the actual first edition, first printing, first you-name-it. Though not common, coming across this exception can make your day. Example: The First Edition Society of the Franklin Library has published dozens of limited first editions, sometimes signed, by major 20th century authors. The Science Fiction Club has published several first editions as well, among them C.J. Cherryh's Hunter of Worlds and Stephen Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane. Additionally, some book clubs have published first US editions. Doubleday's long-running Crime Club, for example, published all 50 first US editions of Leslie Charteris' The Saint series subsequent to their UK issue and many first US editions of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu series as well. And here's an unusual example: The May 1927 Literary Guild selection was Edwin Arlington Robinson's collection of poetry, Tristram. As a bonus to members, the LG also shipped a critical study of Robinson's poetry (titled Edwin Arlington Robinson) written by then Editorial Board Chairman Carl Van Doren. Since no trade edition was published, the Guild edition is indeed a first edition.

Second, some BCE's are the first appearance of a book in hardback form - a common occurrence in the Science Fiction and Mystery genres. Though not first editions, these are sometimes marginally collectible notwithstanding. Also, and more often, they may be in demand as reading copies because collectible paperbacks, for obvious reasons, are rarely handled for any purpose, least of all reading.

Third, some BCE first appearances (following or issued simultaneously with their first trade edition counterparts) command relatively strong prices - a trickle-down phenomenon - if the trade editions are intensely collectible. J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird are especially notable examples, but BookThink has identified well over 100 additional titles that command strong prices as early BCE's (Gold Edition issue #53). Early BOMC editions of collectible authors can be especially desirable because in many cases BOMC editions were identical in format and quality, or nearly so, to their trade counterparts and as often as not issued simultaneously.

Fourth, some BCE's, especially vintage titles in dust jackets by collectible authors, are desirable simply on the basis of their own appeal apart from consideration of their edition state or publication date. Collectors of P.G. Wodehouse, for example, often have difficulty locating, let alone affording, first trade editions in dust jackets on titles predating 1940. They will, however, sometimes slake their thirst by purchasing early BCE's or reprints in what are fast becoming relatively scarce, not to mention exceptionally charming, dust jackets.

Fifth, Reader's Digest Condensed Books are nearly always roundly rejected by booksellers, but believe it or not, very early examples of these have become moderately collectible, especially if dust jackets are present.

Finally, some book clubs produce richly upgraded, sometimes limited editions which are collected primarily on the basis of their appearance on a shelf, with varying degrees of intensity; and prices for these sometimes exceed prices for the corresponding first trade editions. Book Club of California, Book Club of Texas, Easton Press, First Edition Library, Folio Society, Franklin Press, Heritage Press, Limited Editions Club - all important examples.

In BookThink's early years there was a running joke, primarily in our forums and entirely at my expense, that I held and treasured a massive collection of microwave cookbooks. My own fault, no doubt, because I often pointed out in articles that there was perhaps no class of books that was more ubiquitous - or more consistently worthless. I suppose similar sport could be had with another class of "worthless" books - book club editions. As illustrated above, not all book club editions are worthless, only most, but who can even imagine somebody who would collect them?

Well, let me introduce you to at least one somebody - me. I must tell you that this passion crept up on me slowly. You know how it goes, a BCE here, a BCE there, until one day you wake to an entire shelf of them - a personal collection! In my defense I would answer that many of these acquisitions were for purposes of research, but some of them are just pretty cool in their own right. Today's feature article trots some of them out.

Speaking of BookThink's Guide to Online Bookselling, Chapter 9, "How to Identify Book Club Editions," is a significant expansion and revision of previous articles we've published on this topic, based on new research and physically handling many BCE examples. There's nothing else like it available. Experienced booksellers know that mastering book club identification is a crucial part of mastering first edition identification because BCE's often mimic first editions in appearance. Given the huge numbers of BCE's published, pitfalls can pop up anywhere.

For those who have not subscribed to the Guide, Chapter 9 will be offered here as a stand-alone PDF resource for $9.99. Also, the Introduction and all 9 current chapters will be included with any new subscription, along with all in-progress chapters remaining. Subscribe at $49.99 here.

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Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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