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Don't Point That Thing at Me

We had some interesting points come up at the Book Fair this week.

That’s book-selling humor, that is. A “point”, you see, is some feature of a book which proves whether it is or is not the valuable edition. Several things came in with interesting„„

I didn’t say it was particularly funny humor. I just said it was book-selling humor. Some people are so bent on instant gratification in this century.

A lot of points are the sort of thing you’d expect. Are the words “First Edition” or “First Printing” on the copyright page? Simple enough, though there are a few books in which it is the later printings which say “First Edition”. Or that number row at the bottom of the copyright page: does it include the number 1? This is also simple enough, though, as mentioned before, there are publishers who end the row with a 2 if it is a first printing, and there are those with rows ending in a 1, but you have to check which letter of the alphabet is in the middle of the row, and….

But those are the easy ones.

A nice Victorian anthology came in last week, its cover bright and undamaged. I have dealt with this title before, and vaguely recalled there was a suppressed chapter which existed only in the first printing. I checked a handy reference book and found out not only which chapter needed to be there, but also that the ads in the back of the book amounted to 24 pages, and were dated “December, 1874”.

Many publishers included their catalog at the backs of their books, hoping you’d figure if the company could publish something as good as the one you’d just read, the rest of the line would be looking into. I glanced at the back of this book, and found 32 pages of ads. The fact that they were dated “August, 1893” assisted in letting me know I did not have that first printing, but merely a nice, tight copy of a piece of Victoriana.

(“Tight” is another one of those book-selling terms. It is a good thing for a book to be tight: it means no one has thrown it across the room and loosened the hinges, no one has had to retrieve the dust jacket from a playful dog: the book essentially looks as if it has never been read. It IS, however, possible for a book to be too tight. If you can’t open it, it hardly matters which printing it is.)

The other book was an excellent turn-of-the-century children’s book by an excellent turn-of-the-century children’s author. It is not one of his really famous books—the ones with the word “Oz” in the title—and this is a good thing. First off, it didn’t sell as well, so it’s rather rare, and second, it didn’t sell as well, so there are fewer different printings to choose from.

However, there was indeed a point to show whether I had the all-important first printing. I was asked to turn to the copyright page and look at the name of the publisher. IF the name of the publisher measured 1 21/32 inches, it was NOT the first printing. In the first printing, the name of the publisher measures 1 25/32 inches.

I do not wish to suggest that the Newberry does not supply me with the world’s most sensitive technical apparatus, but I will say a quick search failed to turn up a ruler that was marked off in thirty-seconds of an inch. I had to kind of eye it in: decide whether it looked more like one and ten and a half sixteenths of an inch or one and twelve and a half sixteenths of an inch.

Oh, I decided it was 1 25/32 and thus the first printing, but I do wonder sometimes if I shouldn’t have gone with one of my earlier childhood ambitions to become a surgeon, which doesn’t require all this precision.

But then I suppose my life would be pointless.

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