Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2006 Issue

Identifying First Editions: The Fascination of Points of Issue

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McBride's Points of Issue is a very good reference work for 19th- and 20th-century literature.


This can get a little crazy when no differentiation is made, for example, among cloth colors that change during the same printing run. In that case, you might find that a collector prefers the earlier cloth color, even though "technically" both represent the first edition.

First editions can notoriously masquerade under what might seem low-value books, such as book club editions, or cheap, mass-market paperbacks, so you really have to know what you're doing in order not to throw away potentially valuable books, or sell them too cheaply to those in the know. Science fiction and poetry firsts can frequently be found in softcover format, although these are not usually subject to an investigation of points.

The collection of points of issue and their publication into reference works is hardly a done deal, but instead is an ongoing process. There are works covering centuries, as well as works targeted to specific authors. For example, Bill McBride's Points of Issue, a general work covering literature of the nineteenth and twentieth century (www.mcbridepublisher.com) $12.95, is now in its third edition.

Specific authors (usually prolific authors) who have received attention for their points include standards like Jules Verne and Charles Dickens. Determining a Verne first edition can be particularly problematic. We recently published a new, expanded edition of Jules Verne: A Collector's Bibliography of First Editions & Printings in English, Harwich Port: Clock & Rose Press, 2004) that contained many emendations and expansions of Edward and Judith Myers's classic 1988 work. Verne published the same works under different titles; the points that determine a first edition cover the spectrum of possibilities. The designation of some firsts are still the subject of ongoing arguments among Verne collectors and scholars.

The standard for Dickens points in cloth editions is the two-volume Charles Dickens in the Original Cloth by Walter Smith (Los Angeles: Heritage Book Shop, 1932). Smith notes the difficulty of identification in a paragraph designed to give any bookseller a headache: "The state of the text and plates of the novels originally published in parts often varies in volume-bound cloth copies. Generally the publication in book form was made up from the last-printed sheets of text and plates. Sometimes parts of the earliest state purchased in installments were submitted for binding in publisher's cloth. Copies also exist with a mixture of early and later states. Cloth variants also reflect different states of text and plates. Portions of a copy occasionally are bound from the parts and portions from later printings. Different combinations are not unusual, therefore, and may also be found in bindings other than those in original cloth. Such a lack of consistency therefore renders it difficult to analyze and isolate date and promulgate incontestable statements about Dickens in the original cloth. A further grievous circumstance is that many extant copies in original cloth have been tampered with."

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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