Publishing Promotions From Alexander Rare Books
Trade Publishing Promotional Items from Alexander Rare Books.
By Michael Stillman
Alexander Rare Books of Barre, Vermont, has published a catalogue of unusual and most interesting items. The focus here is rare, though not antiquarian. These are publishers' promotional items, most often early copies meant for booksellers, often just a first chapter, or beginnings of several different books. A few are even more promotional, such as displays. This is ephemeral material, but all tied to specific books and authors.
The majority of the items come from what Alexander calls "the golden age of marketing." This was the period from 1985-2000. Starting in the 1970s, there was an upsurge in booksellers. Smaller chains such as Walden and Dalton sprung up, while independents flourished. Publishers, pressed to sell more and more books, increased their marketing efforts. Material was distributed to encourage these stores to stock their books. However, since 2000, the number of independent bookstores has dropped precipitously. A few big chains, like Barnes and Noble and Borders, replaced the Mom and Pop stores. Then, much of the business shifted to the internet, through Amazon or listings on cooperative sites. The days when publishers needed to distribute their material to large numbers of independents was replaced by sales pitches to a few major buyers. There is no longer the quantity of this material being printed that there was during the "golden age."
How will collectors view this type of material over the long run? That's a question which is hard to answer. It is still too early to know how history will value a unique category of items that are still mostly under two decades old. We do not yet even know what value most of the underlying books will command as they age. Many come from relatively new authors. Some will be household names for generations yet to come; other will soon be forgotten. What we can say is that these will be uncommon items relating to works of recent authors, some of whom will become very collectible in the years ahead. These items will most likely be of great interest to those who collect these authors. Your job is to pick the right ones, because today, the great majority of these unusual items are priced very low. This is a field where anyone can collect, regardless of budget. We are on the ground floor, and while no one yet knows how many stories are in this building, we do know that the only way is up.
Here are some examples. Three authors are represented in this 1992 advance excerpt from their novels. There is The Tax Man by Peter Carey, Ever After, by Graham Swift, and Dreaming in Cuban from Cristina Garcia. For Garcia, it was her first novel. This promotional piece was put together by publisher Alfred A. Knopf. It is still in its original shrinkwrap. Item 37. Priced at $20.
Publishing Promotions From Alexander Rare Books
String shows this catalogue was sewn by hand.
Item 50 is a 1975 special presentation issue of E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, "to the friends of the author and publisher." This issue is far scarcer than the first edition, which ran to 60,000 copies. This book would go on to reward its publisher's enthusiasm with enormous popularity. $65.
Item 20 is a 20 x 30 poster for the book I. Me. Mine. A poster was fitting for this author, since his image was seen on many posters in the days before he wrote this biography. The writer was George Harrison, known more for his musical than literary compositions. This poster with a large photograph of the former Beatle is item 13. $25.
Item 1 is an advance excerpt from the 1989 novel The Last Whales. This work by Canadian Lloyd Abbey is a love story about two whales after a nuclear winter. Alexander cautions, "Head and tail of spine bumped." We aren't sure whether this refers to the book or the whales. $12.
Item 95 is a limited edition of the 1952 Archibald MacLeish play, The Trojan Horse. The play was originally produced for the BBC, rather than for sale. This was a political play during an unpleasant episode in American history. The preface states, "Americans as well as Trojans can make a monster for a god." While unstated, that monster was Senator Joseph McCarthy, who smeared MacLeish and many others before being discredited a few years later. $35.
For fans of "In the Heat of the Night," here is an uncommon item: The Upright Corpse. A Virgil Tibbs Story. This 29-page short story features the northern Black detective who had to overcome prejudice in the South, a role reprised by Sidney Poitier in the movie version of "In the Heat of the Night" and two follow-ups, and by Howard Rollins in a television series of the same name. This shorter Tibbs adventure was published for the Occidental Life Insurance Company in 1979, and it is the only printing of this John Ball story. Item 6. $40.
Item 131 is an advance copy of The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie. It comes in a two-piece promotional paper box, and is signed and numbered. This copy is number 199 of 1,000. Rushdie is the author who also became a major political symbol when some fanatics in Iran put a price on his head for an earlier work. "Moor's" was published in 1995. $85.
For John Updike collectors, here is a most unusual item, and it can travel faster than a speeding Rabbit. It is a package of three golf balls, imprinted with the title, Golf Dreams: Writings On Golf. This was a 1996 collection of Updike's essays on a topic about which he is fanatic. What makes this piece of ephemera especially desirable is that if it never achieves the collecting status of a first edition Rabbit Run, it still has a secondary use to which it can be put. Fore! Item 144. $35,
You may reach Alexander Rare Books by email at email@example.com or by phone at 802-476-0838.