Flaws Not Noted

by Tom Congalton

Friday, Apr 28, 2006

Collating modern first editions has generally been considered a "no-brainer" in the trade. There are seldom maps, plates or binder's half-titles to be accounted for. Knowledge of the bibliographical structure of a book was superfluous to ones ability to sell it, and most first edition dealers were, and are, pleased not to have the knowledge. Little more than making sure all the pages and the dustwrapper are present and largely untampered with was in the past was considered precaution enough. But with the maturation of the field, and the correspondingly high prices that twentieth-century highspots now bring, new problems have arisen. With the ever increasing emphasis on the condition of the dustwrapper and its effect on the price of the book, professional restoration of the jacket is being increasingly effected, and most disturbingly, not always noted in consequent "for sale" descriptions in catalogues or in penciled descriptions in the book at book fairs.

Additionally, the same emphasis has resulted in first editions that are found without jackets often being "married" to jackets from later editions, or switched from an inferior, or library copy of the same edition. In the past, it was understood that any dustjacket supplied to a book, should be described as thus, but this is a nicety that seems to have fallen by the wayside, and at any book fair one attends today (even those sponsored by the ABAA) copies of first editions will be found sporting later printing dustwrappers, and not described as thus. At one recent ABAA fair, one dealer prominantly displayed a book in a dustjacket from a later edition, with no written description of that fact, and priced in the same 5-figure price range as it would sell for the rare first issue jacket. When confronted by a colleague, he demonstrated that he was aware that the book was in a later jacket, but was mostly concerned with the reason the colleague was harassing him.

Another problem that has become epidemic has been the use of "lined" and sealed acetate dustjacket protectors to hide undescribed flaws that are not otherwise easily detectable. In the bustle and hurry of a book fair, dealers, and even less so collectors, are unlikely to untape and remove dustjackets from these protectors. If they did they would often be likely to find waterstains, foxing, internal tape repairs, restoration or touch up that might otherwise influence them from buying the book. After the most recent (non-ABAA) book fair I attended, I was forced to either return or substantially alter the terms of sale for over a dozen books in lined protectors that did not describe substantial flaws on the jacket. As a dealer one is familiar with the recourse that one has in such a situation, and may, despite the discomfort it might engender, and the wasted time it entails, return or substantially alter the terms of the original sale. Collectors, one can imagine, are less familiar with these recourses and more likely to become embittered, suspicious or just disillusioned, and may instead chose to find a hobby that calls for less paranoia, and more confidence in its vendors.

This article originally appeared in the ABAA Newsletter.