A Bookseller's (and Collector's)
Guide to Ernest Hemingway's
For Whom the Bell Tolls

by Craig Stark

28 April 2014

Moving Toward Clarity

Printer Friendly Version

If you've been in this biz for long, this book has probably passed through your hands more than once:

Along with The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls is one of the most commonly encountered Hemingway titles, and the reason is no mystery: From the get go, tons of them were issued. Scribner's records, in fact, show a total of 210,192 sets of sheets printed by September 17, 1940, over a month prior to its October 21 release. Scribner's was right to be optimistic. By November 16, FWTBT was number 3 on Publishers' Weekly's bestseller list, and it spent the following 8 weeks at number 1. Multiple additional printings ensued, and the 1943 Gary Cooper / Ingrid Bergman film only fueled the fire.

As booksellers, of course, we're most interested in first printings, but here's where the fun starts - and where many booksellers get into trouble. Of those 210,192 copies, Scribner's itself released about 73,000 - only 73,000. What happened to the rest of them?

Over the years I've spent a lot of time talking about the Book-of-the-Month Club (and other book clubs), perhaps more than some of you have thought necessary. After all, book club editions are typically worth little, if anything, in the secondary market, so why bother dwelling on them? The short answer is, if you have a command of book club identification, you can avoid a lot of trouble both buying and reselling First Editions. Booksellers chronically mistake book club editions for or deliberately misrepresent them as First Editions, and FWTBT is a prime example.

So, let's get back to those Scribner's records, which bring the Book-of-the-Month Club into play. In that same month of September, as documented in C. Edgar Grissom's Ernest Hemingway: A Descriptive Bibliography, BOMC received 135,000 copies, and 6,000 copies went to Canadian publisher S.J.R. Saunders. Note carefully that all of these copies were printed and bound by Scribner's and were identical in every respect to the 73,000+ copies issued by Scribner's, including the familiar presence of an "A" on the copyright page.

Fortunately - or not, given the hanky panky that has ensued over the years - BOMC and S.J.R. Saunders dust jackets were slightly different. BOMC jackets lacked a price but did have a star in the same position on the front flap, and S.J.R. Saunders dust jackets had a $3.00 price instead of $2.75, reflecting a difference in the US/Canadian exchange rate at that time. In all other respects the dust jackets were identical, including the absence of the photographer's attribution on the back panel under Hemingway's photo. This latter point is now well established in the trade as indicative of first issue dust jackets. Second and some later printings show the same photo with "Photography by Arnold - Sun Valley" immediately below the photo.

First issue:

Second issue:

Now, you may be ahead of me here, but these slight differences in the three first issue dust jackets created a situation that sorely tempted some booksellers to misrepresent two of them. A quick clip of that star or $3.00 price, and voila - a "First Edition" was born. To this day, if you browse listings of so-described "First Editions," you'll see an unusually high number of price-clipped dust jackets represented as what is typically termed "first state" on the sole basis of lacking the photographer's attribution (though "first issue" is the technically correct term).

Not surprisingly, you will also see some listings of First Editions with "second state" dust jackets. This was doubtless another oft-practiced ruse - marrying a second or later issue dust jacket to an "A" book. This allowed one to show the original $2.75 price, and as long as a buyer wasn't wise to the "Arnold" issue point, "first state" could be asserted with impunity.

What does this mean for booksellers and collectors? First Editions, in the sense of being complete as issued, must have an "A" on the copyright page, a $2.75 price on the front flap of the dust jacket and no photographer's attribution on the back panel of the dust jacket. Anything less and we have no ground to stand on. A price-clipped dust jacket won't do because there is simply no way of correctly identifying what it is, and this, in my opinion, should be reflected in any description.

But what about "A" copies lacking a dust jacket? This situation is similar to that of Gone With the Wind a few years earlier: Macmillan printed and bound copies that were sent to BOMC and were identical in every respect to Macmillan-released First Editions; even the dust jackets were priced and otherwise identical. What to do in this case? I'm not sure there is a definitive answer. Call it a First Edition, albeit incomplete, and you'll be correct in that it was certainly part of the first press run - and most collectors, I would guess, wouldn't care if it traveled to BOMC for distribution. On the other hand, attempt to be fully transparent and explain what's actually going on in presenting it for sale, and you would likely end up with a convoluted, over-lengthy description and cost yourself some money. It would make a good forum discussion, I'd say.

There is one final point worth noting here - a longstanding point of confusion, actually. First Editions of FWTBT, oddly, lack the Scribner's seal near the bottom of the copyright page, a seal that so often appears in other Scribner's First Editions of this era.

Those of you familiar with fedpo - a resource for identifying modern First Editions, may recall an unusually lengthy discussion in part about this seal. An unverified photo of a copyright page showing a seal along with the "A" appears under the first photo of the book, and none of the participants in the discussion, save one (who claims to have seen one), has ever come across a copy. There is even some speculation that the photo could have been photo-shopped. Again, thanks to Grissom, this point can be clarified. Predating the release of the First Edition, approximately 30 dummy copies were printed that - you guessed it - carried the Scribner seal on the copyright page. Mystery solved.

If you don't have the Grissom bibliography (and can afford it), I strongly recommend adding it to your reference library. It leaves the formerly standard Hanneman bibliography, which, by the way, couldn't have clarified any of the points of contention in this article, in the dust.

          < to previous article       to previous feature article >

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark


Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment Comment