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Monks Hill Books Blog

On first editions


Back in the 1980s I thoroughly annoyed a lot of booksellers by writing an article for the grandly-named Antiquarian Book Monthly Review – the article was entitled ‘Every Book Has a First Edition’.  Those were the days when the mere fact that a book was a first edition was enough to increase its value.  If the book was in fine condition in the original dustwrapper, the sky was the limit.

This produced some totally ludicrous results.  The first book Ian Fleming wrote was an office manual for Kemsley Newspapers.  In the early 1980s at Piccadilly Rare Books we sold a copy for £180 (over £700 in today’s money).  It had no literary merit whatever.

My article pointed out that gullible book collectors had been duped by unscrupulous booksellers into paying far more than the books were actually worth.  Graham Greene publicly disowned his first two novels, saying they were dreadful.  This only had the effect of enhancing their value.  Nobody could establish which of three different bindings was the first printing of Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes, so no-one would pay good money for any of them.  The sole criterion was scarceness, and one tiny line on the verso of the title-page.  Nothing else mattered.  As a lot of booksellers made a lot of money from first editions, I was not at all popular.

The illustration above is the cartoon by David Kidd from the front cover of Antiquarian Book Monthly Review of September 1982.  Although the cartoon is excellently drawn, I find it rather depressing.  The book is seen as an object of reverence, and is not being judged by its literary merit or its historical significance. 

It is, however, highly significant that the book (Tolkien’s The Hobbit) was written for children.  As parents know only too well, children do not treat books as adults do.  Children spill milk and orange squash on the pages, and leave biscuit crumbs everywhere.  The book’s dustwrapper will probably be scribbled on and will soon become tatty.  So a mint copy of The Hobbit in the original dustwrapper has almost certainly never been near the person the book was actually written for – and hence its extreme scarcity.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 4th, 2017 at 12:06 pm and is filed under Fresh News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “On first editions”

  1. Parajumpers Gobi Eco Frauen

    On first editions | Monks Hill Books Blog

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