Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2012 Issue

A Close Encounter with Bill McBride, compiler/editor of “A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions”

Mcbriderevise

McBride's latest Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions.

We recently hired a new employee to enter backlogged books into our catalog. This is the bottleneck that all Web-based booksellers face: we buy like there is no tomorrow, but then the real work of entering books into a database begins. With us, this process can take, well, a very, very long time and results in piles of uncatalogued books. But I digress.

We found a lady who must be near-ideal for the job. She loves to read and has enough experience with computers and the Internet to not need any but the most specific instruction. Her spelling and grammar do not require correction. But, without prior experience in this trade, I had to teach her how to identify first editions, price books based on the market, grade them, and so on. For the essential and primary first edition identification task, there was only one clear choice of tools: McBride’s bright yellow, hand-or-pocket-sized, terse, tried and tested Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions, now conveniently re-released in its seventh revised edition.

McBride has been self-publishing his Guide since his first typewritten effort in 1979. A scholar and consumer-oriented crusader by inclination, McBride was not satisfied with the little serious scholarship up until that date, all listed in a bibliography at the back of the book: Ahearn, Boutell, Mathews, Wilson, and Zempel & Verkler are all noted. His first reason for developing the work and publishing it was the “hideously incomplete” nature of the scholarship prior to 1979. But the second reason was the mischief McBride saw in a trade which is not regulated, or self-regulated, if at all: he could readily find books mis-marked as firsts that were clearly not firsts at all. So the publication of the Guide took on a new purpose: “to arm the innocent, “ says McBride, “and correct the professional.”

Since its beginnings in 1979 the number of publishers covered has increased ten-fold: There were 545 publishers in the first guide, twice as many as an earlier effort by a different author. The Guide was originally formatted to fit a #10 envelope. It was typewritten and duplicated by copier. The Guide was somewhat rudimentary; McBride tried to sell it for $5. It was not a big seller although it had, in fact, more information than any other guide on the market.

Shortly thereafter the first Zempel & Verkler came out with “A First Edition?”. We had a good laugh about the title, as this is a question I continue to ask (see my article on Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography). This book had a fatal flaw: it depended for its information about first editions by querying the publisher. This is fine as a foundation, according to McBride, but not helpful if you are taking a reference book into a store to buy a collectible book.

The essential error occurs because publishers report, if they do report accurately, on what the first edition scheme is at the time the query is made. In order to assure accuracy with the report, the information has to be independently verified in the field. In order to see what the scheme was prior to the query, information also has to be gathered in the field. Every publisher, we know, does its own thing when it comes to identifying a first edition in the book and may very well have used many more schemes in different time periods. Bill could easily be working for the IAEA when it comes to information from publishers: trust, he says, but verify. The end result is a statement of what most likely constitutes a first edition. Like any true scientist, McBride avoids absolutes.

To acquire the initial data, McBride started with input from the publishers, as well as observations in the field — particularly for publishers who no longer exist or have been absorbed by others. If publishers did not answer McBride’s query letters, he was not satisfied to let them slide: he went into the field to check their published works.

What did they do in the previous 50 years? Or in a particular year? He made educated guesses, verified if at all possible: if the scheme remained unchanged over a period, it was likely that it remained consistent in the interim. The constant verification made McBride something of an expert on publishing practices. With all this experience and research he found he could tell almost exactly when a publisher changed from one method to another, down to the month or day. This is particularly critical if one is buying a book that was published during the cusp year.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions