The clues to the age of your collectible are numerous and, once you’ve found them, obvious. Once we had a wonderful collection of well-aged coloring books. Filled with collectible characters and nicely done illustrations, we were looking at prices in the, well, high two figures. (What we said about the child with the paint set does not need to be repeated at this late date.)
For some reason, we missed the big starburst on the cover of one book, bragging “Exact replica of 1930’s original!” Once we DID find it, we realized we were dealing primarily with 1970’s non-originals, and had to bring our expectations down. (We also grumbled less about the kid with the paint box.)
If you have a fine hardcover first edition from the 1920’s in a beautiful dustjacket, take a look at that dustjacket. Is it “price-clipped”? Our ancestors and the book dealers who loved them would often cut away the corner of the endflap which had the price on it. If you still have the price, though, you may have another good clue. Most (not all) novels of that easier day sold for two dollars. An endflap which bears a price of $6.95 comes from a later era. (For more esoteric research, many of the early Dr. Seuss books cost $2.00 even, but when the fashion turned to less round prices, went DOWN to $1.95. So the nickel extra could make the difference between a first printing and a thirty-third.)
One of the great dating devices ever invented for an entirely different purpose is the ZIP Code. Do you have a book, map, print, or some such which refuses to divulge its date? Is there an address of the publisher somewhere about? If it has a ZIP Code, the item must date later than 1958. A really, truly, GOOD First Folio of Shakespeare will not have a ZIP Code printed inside. (If it claims to have been printed in Chicago, that’s another good clue that you’re dealing with a Three Hundred and Twenty-Seventh Folio.)
A very nice book came in last week. It was an aged edition in a reasonably good dust jacket of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the phenomenal work by T.S. Eliot which was turned into the musical “Cats”. It was a nice first edition to have before the musical appeared, but afterward…well, it is a VERY nice book. Published in 1939, this was the American first edition, not as nice as the British first would have been, but nonetheless a book valued in the low four figures. Helpfully, it was published by an outfit known colloquially as Harcourt. This is a good publisher for dating purposes, because it was known at various times as Harcourt Brace, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Harcourt Brace World, Harcourt Brace, and Company. The fact that our copy was by Harcourt, Brace, and Company put it in the right general era to be a true first. But….
The address for the publisher noted that they were in New York 17, New York. This was the Zone plan for big cities. The ZIP Code was the Zone Improvement Plan Code. That 17 belonged to the part of New York which ZIP turned into 10017. THAT was 1959. But what year did it become 17?
As I suspected, the Zone plan was part of the war effort. Harcourt was not in New York 17 until 1943, making our copy NOT that true first edition. So I knocked another price down, and added another line to Old Blogsy’s Book of Practical Facts. When I get that written up in verse form, maybe I’ll see if Harcourt needs another hit.