American Historical Fiction Chart
By Bruce McKinney
Scribners Catalogue #115: The Inside Story
For those of you who have just read American Historical Novels: Scribners Catalogue 115 Revisited this is the contents of that catalogue in a form that you can use to search the internet. For the searches I ran I used www.abe.com but www.bookfinder.com and www.addall.com will look at ABE and other sites. You may prefer them. There are in fact many listing sites.
In this catalogue there are 228 items for sale. Scribners, the great New York booksellers of mostly the first half of the 20th century, prepared this catalogue for release in 1938. This was a difficult time. The depression continued and war in Europe loomed and yet the firm needed to make sales. They developed this catalogue as a way to entice purchases of books that weren’t terribly expensive. They were almost, but not quite, practical. Yes you could read them BUT you needed to treat them carefully for this type of material is very condition sensitive. Perfect copies become imperfect copies unless treated carefully. That said they issued a survey of American Historical Fiction that even today, sixty-five years later, seems accurate and as timely as it was then.
Truth-be-told the years have not been kind to their judgments – at least with respect to price. You could have bought the entire catalogue in 1938 for $6,725. That amount of money, simply adjusted for ever-present inflation, has turned into $81,066.67 today. And of course, almost everyone does better than just match inflation. During November I purchased about one quarter of all the titles, in this catalogue, on the net. These books cost $904 in the original catalogue and $3,114 recently. Had the books I bought kept pace with inflation they would have cost $10,900. I tried to buy the best copy for the money but freely admit the books I bought are not equal in condition to those Scribner was selling. In some cases the recent copies are even better but this is rare. On the other hand time takes a toll and quality only declines.
As the books I bought arrive I am posting their images to the Collector’s Database and you can link to it both here and on page two of the American Historical Novels feature. What is included will continue to change as the month continues.
This is fascinating material. The books are highly readable in their telling of historical stories but they also tell us much about how our tastes and collecting preferences have changed. Doesn’t it seem inevitable that the day of such books will come again? They are very under-appreciated and deserve a better place in the world of book collecting. Here’s hoping.
For those who want to price these books on the web I recently paid on average 28% of the inflation adjusted values for the copies I bought. In most cases I couldn’t buy the “big books.” They have held up much better and arguably they’ll continue to do better. I was doing this on a budget. Those of you with a few bucks to spend will find this material really fascinating.