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”

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

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis, 1598-1625. Est: € 80,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Schmidt-Rottluff, Arbeiter, 1921. Orig. watercolour on postcard. Est: € 18,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000
  • ALDE, May 28: KIPLING (RUDYARD). Le Livre de la Jungle. – Le IIe livre de la Jungle. Paris, Sagittaire, Simon Kra, 1924-1925. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: NOAILLES (ANNA DE). Les Climats. Paris, Société du Livre contemporain, 1924. €50,000 to €60,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MILTON (JOHN). Paradis perdu. Quatrième chant. S.l., Les Bibliophiles de l'Automobile-Club de France, 1974. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LEBEDEV (VLADIMIR). Russian Placards - Placard Russe 1917-1922. Saint-Petersbourg, Sterletz, 1923. €1,000 to €1,200.
    ALDE, May 28: MARDRUS (JOSEPH-CHARLES). Histoire charmante de l'adolescente sucre d'amour. Paris, F.-L. Schmied, 1927. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: TABLEAUX DE PARIS. Paris, Émile-Paul Frères, 1927. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LA FONTAINE (JEAN DE). Les Fables illustrées par Paul Jouve. S.l. [Lausanne], Gonin & Cie, 1929. €4,000 to €5,000.
    ALDE, May 28: SARTRE (JEAN-PAUL). Vingt-deux dessins sur le thème du désir. Paris, Fernand Mourlot, 1961. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: [BRAQUE (GEORGES)]. 13 mai 1962. Alès, PAB, 1962. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MIRÓ (JOAN). Je travaille comme un jardinier. Avant-propos d'Yvon Taillandier. Paris, Société intenationale d'art XXe siècle, 1963. €1,000 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MAGNAN (JEAN-MARIE). Taureaux. Paris, Michèle Trinckvel, 1965. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: PICASSO (PABLO). Dans l'atelier de Picasso. 1960. €15,000 to €20,000.

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