Bill McBride Publications on Book Collecting: A Review
McBride publications of book collecting.
by Renée Magriel Roberts
As any book collector or seller well knows, properly identifying first editions can be more art than science. There are many similarities, but no standardized way in which publishers communicate the edition (if at all!) to the book consumer, and with the myriad of people selling books now on the internet, the simple designation, "first edition" on a listing is no guarantee whatsoever that what you are buying is the real thing.
With this problem in mind, and in the spirit of improving my bookselling practice, I thought it might be interesting to review three books currently available from Bill McBride: A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions. Sixth Revised Edition. Hartford, CT: McBride/Publisher, 2000, $15.95; Book Collecting for Fun & Profit: Building a Book Collection Building a Book Business. Second Edition. Hartford: McBride/Publisher, 2002, $12.95; and Points of Issue: A Compendium of Points of Issue of Books by 19th-20th Century Authors. Third edition. Hartford: McBride/Publisher, (1996), no publication date, $12.95.
The original edition of Building was in 1996; one would expect that the world has changed since then. McBride did a revision to include the Internet, and which he advertises as addressing Internet buying and selling, pricing, and the changes inherent in moving from the physical to the virtual bookstore, as well as a tantalizing reference to changing "browsing" (meaning trolling for books in a physical store to find unknown ones of interest, or books marked at low prices) as we know it.
Sounded interesting, but on opening Building it was clear that this book was aimed at the yard sale amateur, not the professional, nor is it up-to-date on current Internet practices, dangers and opportunities from any point of view. There are some useful little lists, such as "the states of a book, from manuscript to reprint" that explain terminology commonly used in book descriptions; a glossary of the parts of a book (some simple illustrations would have been helpful here!); how books are valued (simplistically). McBride still points to libraries as places to acquire bibliographies, completely ignoring all the contemporary Internet resources, including library catalogues, auction records (such as on www.americanaexchange.com) and specialized web sites. The advice for selling on the Internet (e.g. "post your best and see what happens") is silly and inadequate, and his advice for packing -- he recommends plastic bags covered with padded newspaper -- will, I suppose get the book from point A to B in one piece, but will not result in a well-presented product. There is virtually nothing on the global marketplace, nor on all of the various sites that are used in Internet selling, thin material on shipping, almost nothing on Internet fraud. No help here -- not even for the amateur seller.
Bill McBride Publications on Book Collecting: A Review
Leaving this book aside, I decided to move on to the two more useful titles, First Editions, and Points of Issue. First Editions is a compilation, now in its sixth revised edition, of the ways in which English-language publishers identify the first editions of their books. McBride says up-front that what he is presenting is the "most likely" first edition, given publishers' propensities for straying from even their own "standard" format. Here McBride pays close attention to the important minutia of first edition identification, including designating whether or not a publisher differentiates among different printings, and listing first edition rules in the chronological order in which they were applied by each publisher.
One interesting little rule, which he illustrates, relates the statement of edition to the book's typography: "if the presence of a '1' or an 'A' would disrupt the typographic layout, then it was never present to begin with."
There is a short paragraph on switching dust jackets (we could use a whole book on bookselling fraud!!) which is discussed in more detail in Points. But the heart of this little book is the alphabetical list, by publisher, of what designates a first edition. McBride uses his own abbreviation system, which takes getting used to, although he handily puts a key to it inside the rear cover. But, that aside, this seems a very useful list, which can save anyone in the business a lot of heartache. Like all three books, First Editions is pocket-sized, and can easily be transported to a book sale or auction, and is a relative bargain.
The final book in the trio is Points of Issue, which lists production changes made in books during their first printings, which might not be listed elsewhere. Points is meant then, to be a follow-up reference, used after identifying a book from Firsts. It has a two-page list of authors without points (a real timesaver); the rest of the booklet is an alphabetical list by author and title. Here's an example:
Twain, Mark, Life on the Mississippi. B, 1883, 441: illus of Mark Twain in flames 443: The St. Louis Hotel
which gives the points on the binding, and on pp. 441 and 443. While this is pretty terse information (for example, it doesn't explain why the picture in flames was not in later editions), it is still enough to help the collector or seller properly identify a first edition.
The quickest way to buy one of these books is directly from the publisher at www.mcbridepublisher.com. You pay full freight, but shipping is done right away and discounts are available for multiple copies. Amazon takes a month or two to special order them. If you purchase second-hand check the McBride site first to make sure you're getting the latest edition. Forget Book Collecting; which is not well-written and lacks both content and focus. I would stick to the two compendia, A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions, and Points of Issue. These two titles are straightforward and genuinely useful to both book seller and collector.