Just A Book | Newberry

Just A Book

It’s frustrating no matter what side of the book you’re on. It’s old, it’s in great condition, it’s something people may want to buy—say, a nice hardcover of Perry Mason in The Case of the Singing Skirt. The book owner is excited, the book buyer is interested…but then the potential buyer glances at the title page and says “Sorry.”

What has turned the buyer away from making an offer? The name Walter J. Black.

As nice as the book is, and as carefully as your Uncle Jethro preserved the jacket, it is not the first edition, but a cheaper, somewhat smaller copy. Walter J. Black ran a reprint house, and his Perry Mason books will never be worth what the editions published by the original could be. (Unless somebody got it signed by Erle Stanbley Gardner, the author, or Raymond Burr, the main character. Yes, other actors played the lawyer on television, but they hardly count.)

A reprint house publishes books with which other publishers took the original risks. If a book was published by Triangle, A.L.Burt, Grosset and Dunlap, Bonanza, or, among children’s books, Scholastic or Weekly Reader, it is more likely than not a knock off, though a perfectly legal one. (The great book pirates are largely from an earlier age, and a lot of them hung around Chicago: Conkey, Donohue, Henneberry, Donohue AND Henneberry, and so forth. In the twentieth century, the pirated knock-offs tended to come from Asia, especially Taiwan.) These reprints, in their classic period, were easy to tell from the originals if you held the two side-by-side. Brand X was shorter and thinner, with cheap paper that tended to go brown sooner than the paper in the original. (The ones from Taiwan might be printed on paper that was nearly as thin as what we call Bible paper.) They were good enough for reading, and still are. It’s just that the resale value is correspondingly lower.

HOWEVER, this does not mean you must immediately throw away all those A.L.Burts or Grosset and Dunlaps your grandmother left you in the will. If I teach you nothing about the buying and selling of books (and sometimes I think that’s where we’re headed, cashew casserole) I hope to teach you the First Rule of Collectibles, which is “It All Depends.”

Maybe you already know this, but that reprint house for children, Scholastic, was the only company willing to take a chance on Harry Potter books in the United States. So your American first edition Harry Potters will say Scholastic. Grosset and Dunlap, similarly, is the first edition publisher of most of the Nancy Drew mysteries. Triangle and Grosset and Dunlap produced a lot of movie tie-ins, which have their collectors, and A.L.Burt published some wildly desirable P.G.Wodehouse titles.

And, as hinted above, this does not take autographs into consideration. An author’s autograph is better on the original publisher, but if someone appeared in the movie of the book, the photoplay reprint is a great option. The price will jump if the autograph is on the book with their picture on the cover, as seen in the movie. This Triangle edition of This Gun For Hire, signed by Alan Ladd, who made such a splash in the picture, runs to three thousand dollars according to the seller who has it listed online. (I did have a copy signed by Roger Ebert: got me nowhere. Of course, THAT was a paperback.)

Oh, and by the way, a lot of those reprints copied the text of the original exactly, so they may even include the words “First Edition” on the copyright page. As far as I know, there was never any law against this and, after all, it IS the first edition of the reprint. (Careful booksellers refer to this as “First Thus”.) So….

Let’s just all repeat the lesson together: It All Depemds.

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