The Finer Print - Growing Concern Over Facsimile Jackets

by Dan Gregory

Thursday, Apr 27, 2006

A few weeks ago a longtime collector sent us a few books to sell on consignment. His is a major collection of twentieth-century literature, including a healthy number of the desirable high spots acquired from many of the most respected dealers in the trade. Among the books he sent was a very sharp copy of Mickey Spillane's I, the Jury with one significant flaw: unbeknownst to the collector it was a facsimile jacket.

It is often assumed that facsimile jackets are easy to spot and that only a novice will be duped, but we've seen facsimiles of The Sheltering Spy and Catch-22 that have been purchased by overly optimistic ABAA and ABA dealers. We've seen facsimile jackets for The Hobbit, Main Street, and The Seven Story Mountain that have been successfully offered as the real thing and found their way into otherwise solid collections alongside legitimate rarities. If you make a color photocopy of a dollar bill you are breaking the law, but law enforcement officials could not care less if you print a forged dustjacket that might sell for $10,000 or more.

There are two basic types of facsimile dustjackets floating around today: ink jet prints and commercially printed jackets. The former are more prevalent, while the latter pose a much more serious problem to the trade. Most facsimiles are produced without duplicitous intentions, but we have started to see these jackets purchased, distressed to simulate age and wear, and most importantly torn and then restored to remove any printed text stating that they are facsimiles.

How Dustjackets Are Made - Printing 101

The easiest way to identify a counterfeit of any kind is to have an authentic article right next to it. Barring that, it helps to have a familiarity with the authentic article even if it is not present for comparison. Neither the real thing nor familiarity with it is necessary in identifying most facsimiles, however, if the potential buyer has a basic understanding of the mechanics of printing.

Original dustjackets were commercially printed, either with a letterpress or an offset press (mechanically different, but in both cases the ink is pressed onto the paper). Large blocks of solid color on a jacket were generally achieved either by starting with appropriately colored paper, or by using a single spot color of ink. The instantly recognizable jackets for To Kill a Mockingbird and Gone With the Wind were printed with three inks on light paper, while the elusive jackets for White Fang and Sartoris were printed with only a single color of ink on darker paper (green on gray and black on red respectively). Gradations of intensity were produced through a line-screen of dots of ink, where larger dots made darker or more colorful images (think of the 7-Up logo or look closely at newspaper photos to see examples of how the dot size in a line-screen print creates a graded image). More complex illustrations on jackets, such as the painted scenes used for the covers of The Old Man and the Sea and The Grapes of Wrath, were usually printed with four or more color inks, called process colors, also arranged in lines of dots. The sizes of the dots of ink vary, but the direction of the line and the space between the centers of the dots stays the same. To prevent the ink dots from overlapping too much, the lines of dots were rotated at different angles for each process color (for example, the yellow dot line might be 15 degrees clockwise to the black dot line). When magnified, or just examined carefully with the naked eye, most complexly illustrated jackets show rosettes, small circular patterns that form from the rotation of the ink line-screens. Seeing rosettes and line-screens in commercially printed dustjackets is a little like seeing an optical illusion - once you notice them it can be hard not to see them.

Ink Jet Facsimiles

Ink jet printers employ an entirely different mechanical process. Rather than pressing different size dots of ink onto paper to make an image, ink jets spray tiny, uniform dots onto paper in greater or lesser densities to make an image. A dark or intensely colored image has the same size dots as a light image, but the dots for the former are much closer together than the dots for the latter. The same image printed both commercially and with an ink jet printer will appear very different under high magnification because of the difference in the way the ink dots are made and arranged. Under even higher magnification, differences can be seen in the way paper reacts to being sprayed with ink rather than pressed with ink. But it takes only mild magnification, or just a good set of eyes, to see the rosettes on a commercially printed jacket. Ink jet printers cannot make the rosette effect - even attempts to duplicate it at the highest possible resolutions of scanning and printing will fail because of the differences in the mechanical processes.

Ink jet printers are also limited because they cannot use any color of ink you choose; rather, they build all colors by combining dots of just four inks (some newer models use up to eight inks). Under magnification it is easy to see that the large brown and green areas on a facsimile jacket for To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, do not actually contain any dots of brown or green ink. Colored text on an authentic jacket is composed of contiguous shapes of a single color of ink. On a facsimile the letters of colored text, such as the blue text on many Edgar Rice Burroughs jackets, are not actually blue ink but dots of cyan, magenta, and black ink combined to approximate the original color - any inexpensive magnifying glass will show the difference.

Ink jet printers have another mechanical limitation. The most vibrant and crisp results come from using specialty papers, usually very bright, coated, calendared (smooth) papers - prints done on rougher papers tend to blur slightly. Jackets that are produced and sold as facsimiles (that is, produced with the intent to create an attractive jacket, but without the intent to deceive) are usually done on this bright paper. With the exception of some of the coated stocks used in the early 1900s, the ink jet papers used today look and feel nothing like the paper used to print dustjackets. And because the blank sheets used for ink jet prints are usually very bright white to begin with, any coloration or wear on the original paper is reproduced with ink dots - what should be integral to the paper is instead printed onto it.

Ink jet facsimiles are prevalent because there is a demand for them and they are relatively cheap and easy to produce. They are so popular among some Edgar Rice Burroughs collectors, for some reason, that I have found at least five different individuals producing and selling them. The most prominent individual in the dustjacket facsimile "industry" is Mark Terry of Facsimile Dust Jackets L.L.C., who sells them through his web site. Terry, who has a professional background in graphics and commercial printing, started as a hobbyist who loved the period jackets but was unable to afford to own originals. Realizing there was a market for his work, Terry turned his hobby into a full-time industry. He has many friends and contacts among collectors and dealers, including ABAA dealers, and has assembled an archive of many thousands of jackets. Terry's jackets all state clearly that they are facsimiles and he refuses to produce them without this statement (he has only been asked a few times and has only lost one or two customers because of his refusal). One eBay dealer long suspected of nefarious activities asked Terry to "age" facsimiles and to print them on varied paper stocks, requests he also refuses. Because he produces facsimile jackets for both first editions and reprints (surprisingly there is some demand for these as well), and because he will resize jackets to fit a customer's hardcover copy, regardless of its edition, he warns that his facsimiles should not be taken as bibliographic reference. Outside of Burroughs titles, most ink jet facsimiles that look good enough to fool someone at first glance come from this single and easily identifiable source.

Ink jet facsimiles are not very hard to spot once you know what to look for, particularly if the jacket is taken out of the ubiquitous Mylar protector or a magnifying glass is used. Any buyer deceived by them could only be motivated by the same impulse as the duplicitous seller - greed.

Commercially Printed Facsimiles

Commercially printed facsimiles, on the other hand, pose a much greater threat to the trade, and have been circulating for much longer. Probably the first mass produced facsimile dustjacket is still one of the best. In 1974, New Jersey collector and publisher Gerry de la Ree produced very good facsimiles of the jacket for H.P. Lovecraft's The Outsider. According to Lloyd Currey, Arkham House often supplied replacement dustjackets of their books on request (in fact most major publishing houses still supply fresh jackets for their current hardcover editions on request to new bookstores to assist in book sales). Mr. de la Ree had contacted August Derleth about replacement jackets for The Outsider, but Derleth replied that there had never been extra jackets for that title. The facsimile that de la Ree produced to fill this gap was made from an excellent photographic reproduction of an original but is ever so slightly out of focus in some areas. Since it was not printed from the original plates it was not a second state jacket, though it is sometimes mistakenly referred to as such. It was, however, of a very high quality and to this day often fools even knowledgeable dealers.

In the last two decades the quantity of commercially printed facsimiles has grown considerably. Some time in the late 1980s or early 1990s Simon and Schuster re-issued Catch-22 in a facsimile of the original edition, without the first edition statement. These unpriced reprints were sold on remainder tables by the thousands. For many years the Book of the Month Club has issued anniversary editions of some of their most popular titles that are very similar to the originals. In the 1990s Easton Press began publishing facsimiles in its First Edition Library and Otto Penzler began to do the same for classic mystery titles. The jackets for the first several volumes in the First Edition Library were not clearly marked as facsimiles, although the press now places an FEL logo on them. (Easton Press refused to answer questions about their facsimiles for this article.) The copy of I, the Jury mentioned at the beginning of this article has a jacket that came from one of Penzler's reprints. The part of the jacket bearing a statement clearly identifying it as a facsimile had been torn off, some additional wear had been applied to the jacket, and then the jacket was restored to "fine" condition, with plain paper replacing the identification statement. Restoration complicates the identification of facsimiles, particularly when one is in a hurry, because it focuses attention on painted and mended areas and away from the printed portions of the paper. We have seen numerous instances of commercially printed facsimile jackets infiltrating the mid to high end of the modern first edition market in recent years.

Not surprisingly, commercially printed facsimiles require closer scrutiny than ink jet prints. Unlike ink jet facsimiles, there are no printed "tells" that all commercial facsimiles share. Experience and familiarity with the original are particularly helpful, because in most cases the glaring difference between the original jacket and the commercially printed facsimile can be seen and felt in the paper. Today's papers (and today's inks) are produced with much greater consistency and adherence to industry standards than in decades past. Commercially printed facsimiles tend to be made with paper that is thinner, lighter, but also stronger and much smoother than the originals. In addition, for the last few decades paper manufacturers have used fluorescent optical brightening agents in their papers - under ultraviolet black light a 1990s reprint jacket will glow but a pristine 1950s original will not, even if both copies appear equally "bright" to the naked eye.

Most commercially printed facsimiles are, like their ink jet counterparts, made from scans of originals. Line-screened originals, when scanned and then reprinted, often produce a moire effect, unsightly bands of light and dark waves on the image where the printed dots of the original and the newly imposed line-screen of scanned pixels conflict. To avoid this, a digital image is usually slightly "degaussed" or blurred, and this loss of detail can usually be seen when the original and facsimile are compared side by side. On Catch-22, for example, the rear panel of the dustjacket has a photograph of Joseph Heller. Strands of gray hair can be seen throughout the original photo, while only a few highlights are visible on the facsimile.

On I, the Jury, the subtle shadows on the reclining figure of the front panel, originally printed as a black-ink only line-screen, are mostly lost on the facsimile, whose shadows are actually composites of several ink screens. Some First Edition Library books show blurred rosettes faintly reprinted from the original. Because the press inks of today are very different from those of the past, large blocks of solid color on a jacket either do not match the original exactly, or are actually composed of dots of various colors (as with an ink jet print). In fact, a microscopic comparison of the dots would show that the process inks of the past do not match those of today - it is technically impossible to exactly match the colors under magnification.

Companies that produce commercial facsimiles tend to handle text in one of two ways: they either scan the text at a high resolution and reprint type as dots, or they reset the type. Both methods produce results that can be detected under scrutiny. Scanned text will reproduce either too thick or too thin, and, if a color other than black, will usually show uneven edges under modest magnification. Reset type often matches the original typeface and spacing very well, but I have never seen a perfect match. Non-alphabetic characters in particular, such as dollar signs and ampersands, almost always differ from the original jacket. Noticing these differences can be very difficult, however, without access to an original for comparison.

Issues for the Trade

There is currently no prohibition against the display and sale of facsimile dustjackets at ABAA fairs, though many feel that their presence at ABAA fairs cheapens the real articles. A fine, unrestored first in jacket of John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps, for example, might seem relatively common, as opposed to genuinely rare, to a book fair patron who does not realize that the three other jacketed copies he has seen that day were facsimile. One might optimistically speculate that this discrepancy would heighten appreciation for the "real deal." But there is a danger, as has been seen in the woefully problematic sports autograph market, that potential high-end collectors will not want to be bothered with the complication of facsimile jackets and will return to their yacht and oil well collections for the simpler comforts these latter pursuits offer.

The ABAA has responded in some measure to the increasing prevalence of facsimile dustjackets. In October, 2003, the ABAA Book Fair rules were amended, requiring full disclosure in descriptions of items (as always) but specifying the prominent identification of facsimile jackets if displayed in showcases. Furthermore, "In an effort to uphold the high standards of material exhibited at ABAA book fairs, the Book Fair Committee discourages the exhibition of facsimile dust jackets." Some dealers propose an outright ban on facsimile dustjackets at fairs, but it is not a simple issue. There is a slippery slope in discussing what is and is not acceptable in book "sophistication" when full disclosure is made. For example, for the sake of consistency perhaps the Book Fair Committee should similarly discourage the displaying of any items within attractive custom clamshell cases. While custom cases are often made to protect books, they are also frequently made less for conservation and more to dress-up an uninspired looking rarity. Like facsimile jackets, custom cases are of nugatory importance to the value of a book but may appear otherwise to the uninitiated. It might also be argued that equally prominent identification of rebinding should also be in the rules. But unlike facsimile dustjackets, rebinding at least serves an essential and fundamental purpose to the structure and survival of a book.

Dealers in "antiquarian" books - those brown, pre-twentieth century things whose values are not 80% dependent on flimsy out-coverings, may look at the whole facsimile dustjacket issue with satisfied amusement and think it about time the "modern boys" got their comeuppance. But no one in the trade would laugh if the ABAA insisted its members could only sell unsophisticated items (sophistication in the sense of altered, repaired, restored, etc. and not to pass judgment on the subject matter). There are fundamental differences between offering a book with a leaf supplied in facsimile, and one with a dustjacket supplied in facsimile. But there are also fundamental similarities. How can an issue such as this be black and white when the best in the trade have, in a larger sense, been dealing in gray areas for centuries?

Many collectors make a personal choice never to buy books in facsimile jackets, and many dealers make a personal choice never to sell them. I have met collectors who claim to refuse to buy restored material under any circumstances, but I have yet to meet an active dealer who refuses to buy and sell restored material - it is simply unavoidable in rarities. There are clearly many collectors who cannot afford jacketed copies of the first editions they desire, but are willing to supplement their unjacketed copies with attractive and inexpensive facsimiles. The ABAA's 465 members who, it is assumed, control the upper end of the market despite the growth of eBay and ABE, will never have much sway over the many thousands of other dealers. We may hope to at least influence collecting tastes and trends, but, if the prevailing preference for "flatsigned" books over inscribed ones is any indication, we are failing in the short term. The current collecting preference, a Pyrrhic victory for the "signature only" camp (a position favored by forgers, who benefit greatly by it), teaches an important lesson. In a world where reality television is as scripted as the next professional wrestling championship, marketing and salesmanship are no less potent than authenticity and quality. Is it too much to ask of the bookselling gods that never in the future will a book with a facsimile dustjacket be worth more than an unjacketed copy?

If public taste is out of our hands, so too, we presume, are most counterfeit jackets (a counterfeit jacket being a facsimile which, no matter how innocuously constructed, was offered as authentic at some point). In the past high-end collectors may have stumbled here and there upon the $10,000 book which, for reasons they were none too careful to explore, was theirs for a mere $500. These collectors may have been hesitant to present their find to an ABAA dealer, either so as not to gloat, or more often because they did not want some nagging suspicion confirmed. So the book gains imprimatur by proxy, and if the collection is dispersed without particular care, it stands a fair chance of going right into another distinguished collection without any facsimile identification it may have once have had. Thanks to the ease of selling on eBay, collectors are doubtless now routinely finding these "too-good-to-be-true" books, and finding it hard to resist them all. Compounding the problem is eBay's private auction system, which prevents knowledgeable dealers from warning bidders about questionable items.

At present, at least a half-dozen individuals routinely offer unidentified facsimiles and, when caught red-handed, routinely offer the same facsimile claim of ignorance. They operate outside the purview of the ABAA, though we see them at our fairs. They and others like them will be aided in the future by the increased acceptance of jacket restoration, new technologies in printing such as stochastic screening and grown-polymer xerographic toners, a publishing industry with no standard for identifying facsimiles reproductions or inclination to create one, and on-line selling systems that hold themselves beyond ethical accountability. As always, the onus is ultimately on the buyer to beware. But there is a vital role that legitimate book dealers, ABAA members and otherwise, must play.

I do not expect every dealer to carry a black light and a loupe around at fairs (although it would be very helpful if at least one dealer at the fair had them). They should, however, become as familiar as possible with facsimiles they may encounter and scrutinize potential purchases and their existing stock accordingly. The ABAA Internet and Security Committees hope to build on the Forgery Database that has already been assembled, and it is my hope that known, commercially printed facsimile dustjackets will be added to that database as well.

This article

first appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of the ABAA Newsletter.