Perils of Book-Selling

Yes, we did once sell a rare book for a four-figure price only to find it was fake.  These things happen.

A few basics: what normal people like us call “hardcover books” or “hardbacks” are known in the trade as “cloth” because they have a stiff cardboard binding tightly covered with cloth.  The cloth folds over onto the inside cover and paper is pasted down over the ends.  The page which is pasted down for this purpose is known as the “pastedown”.  See?  This book business isn’t so complicated, after all.

Usually nowadays, this cloth will be the same color for every copy published in an edition, but in the nineteenth century, publishers might run out of one color and use another.  The first printing of Moby Dick, for example, came out in five different colors, and you need all of them for a complete collection.  (The Newberry Library is missing just one of these, but I forget right now whether it’s the red one or the blue one.)  Book people have a fine time arguing which color was the one used for the very first copies off tje press, which defines the first state of the first edition.

We were given a copy of a book called Science and Health by one Mary Baker Glover.  The book is more famous under the title of the revised edition, Science and Health, With Key to the Scripture, published after the author married Mr. Eddy.  Of course, this is the founding book of Christian Science, one of a small number of major religious systems originating in the United States.  The original edition, under its original title, is naturally of immense value to Christian Scientists and to historians of religion, and it is most valuable in its first state, bound in black cloth.  Our copy was in excellent condition and in black cloth.  We sold it to a very happy customer for a price in the mid-four figures, which made us very happy as well.

The following week, everyone’s happiness abated a bit.  The customer returned, bearing the book.  In admiring their purchase, they had found that the cloth inside the book, the sixteenth-inch visible next to the pastedown, was blue.  Looking more closely, they found that someone had actually removed the black cloth from another, probably damaged, copy of Science and Health, and, with great skill and care, glued it securely over the blue cloth of this copy.  The only way of detecting the forgery was to look inside and spot the difference between the cloth inside and the cloth outside.  We all marvelled at the remarkable workmanship that went into creating this impostor.  (Yes, it was the copy we sold them in the first place; it still had our price written in it.  My, you’re a suspicious cuss.)

Well, it was still a first edition of an important book, just not the most valuable state.  They wanted the book, but they also wanted a partial refund to make up for the difference in value between black and blue cloth.  We agreed that this was only fair, and refunded enough to make the customer happy again and still keep us from becoming miserable.  And we all learned something.

This book business IS complicated, after all.

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