Dust Jackets: A Series

by Craig Stark

26 March 2012

Part III: Bibliographic Matters

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By Craig Stark

As noted in Part II, dust jackets are not a recent development in publishing, but their acceptance as bibliographical components of books is. For this reason, bibliographers have not troubled themselves with their description in bibliographies with much regularity until fairly recently. Given intense collector interest in dust jackets, this can present difficulties for booksellers. When author bibliographies offer little or no help identifying dust jacket variants, we may be left with no means of determining the edition state of the book itself.

These difficulties can manifest in various forms. Take book club editions. There are more than a few instances where Book-of-the-Month Club editions are identical in every respect to their trade counterparts, in some cases printed by the trade publishers and distributed to the Club. I've written previously about Nevil Shute's 1939 novel Ordeal - a serious case in point, given the huge number of misrepresented copies in the marketplace. Unless a copy of Ordeal possesses a priced dust jacket, a bookseller has no justification to describe it as a first edition, though it may well be, and even with a dust jacket, who knows for certain? Detachable objects do have a way of wandering.

Or take Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, which presents this and a further complication.

The Scribner archives indicate that by September 17, 1940 a total of 210,192 sets of sheets had been printed. Of these, the Book-of-the-Month Club received 135,000 bound copies - and keep in mind that these were first printings printed and bound by Scribner's and all possessed the called-for "A" on the copyright page. Again, putting aside the potential for dust jacket marriages for the moment, the only (albeit shaky) means of determining edition state would be the presence of a dust jacket: The Scribner-issued first printings possessed a priced ($2.75) dust jacket, the BOMC first printings an unpriced dust jacket with a star on the upper front flap. Absent a dust jacket, it becomes a guess we shouldn't make.

But there's more. A photo of Hemingway appeared on the back panel of the first state dust jacket without the attribution of Sun Valley photographer Lloyd Arnold.

The omission was later corrected with the added statement "Photography by Arnold - Sun Valley." Now, it's widely assumed among booksellers and collectors that first printings that possess the corrected dust jacket are still complete as first editions - that is, complete with first printing texts and second state dust jackets issued with first printing texts. What muddies this is bibliographer C. Edgar Grissom's recent report, based on the investigation of library copies (which are far more likely to have their original dust jackets), that the earliest examined corrected dust jackets were found on 1941 and later printings, not 1940 first printings. That so many first printings possess second state dust jackets in the marketplace, therefore, suggests that wide scale marriages have taken place over the years. Fun.

This example - and many others I could cite - shows why the accurate bibliographic description of dust jackets is vitally important to us. If we can't demonstrate convincingly why a first edition copy we present in the marketplace is indeed a first edition, our incomes will surely suffer - unless, that is, we conduct inappropriate, undisclosed marriages or prey upon the ignorance of collectors.

Speaking of variants, there seems to be considerable confusion among booksellers about what the terms "issue" and "state" mean. They are often interchanged, but they are not at all synonymous. Given that both texts and dust jackets can exist in both variant issues and variant states, further that these issues and states don't always match up - a publisher, for example, might well apply an earlier dust jacket to a later printing - it's important to understand the distinction.

In Jean Peters' Book Collecting: A Modern Guide, Terry Belanger contributed a monograph on descriptive bibliography that included exceptionally clear definitions of both "issue" and "state":

"An issue is that part of an edition offered for sale at one time, or as a consciously planned unit, and an edition is occasionally sold by means of several different issues. Different issues within an edition will be largely the same, but they might, for example, have different title pages, one giving the name of a New York publisher for distribution in the United States, the other giving the name of a London publisher for distribution in Great Britain ....

"Issues are usually determined by the publisher or publishers after the book has been printed. Where there is a substantial difference in the printed text of two copies of a book, we are dealing, not with different issues, but with different editions.

"State refers to the minor differences in the printed text between one copy and another of the same book. When an error in the text is discovered during the printing of the pages, for example, the press is stopped long enough to make the correction. Sheets printed before the error was noticed constitute the uncorrected state; sheets printed after it was caught constitute the corrected state .... Variant states generally occur in the printed sheets, before they to the binder, and before publication. Variant states are caused before publication, just as variant issues are caused upon or after publication."

In the Hemingway example above, the second state (corrected) dust jacket was applied to both second and later issues of the text. Just as in a text, a dust jacket becomes a second issue if there is substantive change - for example, text is altered or a design changed.

I'll leave you with what I consider to be a refreshingly complete bibliographic description of a dust jacket, in this case appearing in David A. Groseclose's bibliography of James Michener:

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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