The Facs of Life

by Tom Congalton

Friday, Aug 11, 2006

Let us consider the facsimile dustjacket. For those of you who may be unaware of the prevalence of such things, we have witnessed something of an epidemic lately of genuine first editions being offered for sale with carefully reproduced new dustjackets that imitate the originals.

These facsimiles first began to appear in the trade around twenty years ago. The first time that I noticed this phenomenon was when a few were offered for sale, added to books at fairs, intended by a dealer to spruce up, or at least try to make saleable otherwise mediocre copies of first editions. They generally consisted of grainy and unconvincing color photocopies, reproducing all faults such as chips, tears, and soiling, often constructed by splicing two sheets of paper together, as the standard copy paper sizes did not always approximate the sizes of the finished jackets.

A Maryland dealer of our acquaintance began to routinely offer older first editions equipped with color facsimile jackets and marking them, usually with a blurry pencil note below the price that read "fac dj." Several of his colleagues in the first edition trade, me among them, remonstrated with him, both repeatedly and ultimately unsuccessfully.

At least at that early juncture, I don't think there existed an intention by dealers to deceive. However, almost immediately evidence of confusion among collectors became apparent, even when the facsimiles seemed laughably obvious to the reasonably well-trained eye.

One problem that developed then, and seems to have persisted, is that the act of adding a facsimile jacket is perceived by the dealer or collector who has added the jacket as having added significant value to the book, and in consequence, the price (in the dealers case) or the value (in the collectors) of that book should be enhanced, at least incrementally.

There might be little reason to argue with this if the additional cost was confined to the cost of the facsimile itself, but even in the infancy of facsimile jackets, otherwise reputable dealers seemed to determine that rather than append a small surcharge related to the cost of the facsimile, they should increase the price of the finished product based on a percentage of the cost of what that book would be worth if it had a genuine jacket.

A case in point: perhaps fifteen years ago, while I was conducting an appraisal of the collection of a relatively sophisticated collector in Florida, I came across a first edition of Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa, marked "fac dj" on the endpaper in blurry pencil. At that time, an unjacketed copy of the book would probably have sold for between $50-100, while a jacketed copy would sell for $500 or more. The Florida collector had bought this particular copy at the dealer's marked price of $350 - thus the addition of the one, or perhaps two-dollar color copy seemed to have added something between $250-300 to this otherwise not very desirable book. The dealer apparently had decided to split the difference, considerably in his own favor. When I pointed this out to the collector he was flabbergasted and irate. He had never heard of the practice (as many collectors still have not). It took little to determine that the book came from our colleague in Maryland.

In case you are harboring a tender concern for the collector in question, who is an unusually persistent criminal lawyer, be assured that he managed eventually to recoup his money from the dealer. Practicing criminal law is apparently a useful profession to undertake if one insists upon purchasing books from unscrupulous or deceptive booksellers.

One digression however: it was equally uncomfortable for us when that collector persisted in trying to pay for the appraisal with a stack of third party checks that he had received from an assortment of petty criminals. One can only imagine what kind of scrutiny we might have been subjected to should we have deposited a raft of checks from Benny the Gimp and his associate, Rocco the wife-beater.

We continued to encounter facsimiles over the years, with increasing frequency, but with little difficulty in identifying them, until about five years ago when we were offered a signed and jacketed copy of Gone With The Wind by a member of the public at a Florida book fair. The signature seemed genuine enough, but while I was suspicious of the jacket, it wasn't instantly apparent that it was an outright facsimile. I bought the book anywy, predicating my offer on the likelihood that the jacket might be wrong. Upon examining it against another copy in my booth, and with the help of two other experienced dealers we found that it had been color copied onto a single sheet of older paper, soiled, sanded, and carefully torn and nicked at the most obvious points of wear.

Here, clearly, was our first encounter with a sophisticated attempt to deceive, and the provenance of the book, as provided by the customer, led to a book firm whose name had become a virtual by-word for deceptive practices.

More recently, with the increasingly high prices of certain jacketed "high spots," the demand for facsimile jackets seems to be generated less by dealers attempting to tart up their wares, than by collectors clamoring to dress up their unjacketed books. And where demand exists, supply will soon emerge to fill it.

Perhaps the most successful, and if our observations are correct, most scrupulous of these purveyors is Mark Terry who trades as Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC in San Francisco, and who seems to be the only one to have made a full time business out of selling facsimile jackets.

Mr. Terry's enthusiasm for jackets is apparent, and he spends much of his time traveling around the U.S., U.K, and other countries visiting cooperative collectors and dealers, scanning genuine first edition dustjackets in their "natural" states. He has archived over 18,000 full scans of vintage dustjackets, which he defines as jackets before 1970, and continues to add to his hoard.

When he receives an order for a jacket, he digitally "restores" any flaws on the jacket, prints it on the appropriately sized new paper, and prints "Facsimile Dust Jacket LLC" far enough onto the front flap that any attempt to remove it would substantially deface the flap, i.e. more than just a price-clip that a collector might reasonably expect to find on a jacket flap. Mr. Terry charges $22 a piece for his jackets (and reportedly offers a volume discount).

Mr. Terry tells us that some dealers, whom he will not name (but whose identities I think I could make a reasonable guess at), have urged him to create "aged" facsimile jackets without the facsimile statement. He tells us that he has always declined to do so.

Despite Mr. Terry's precautions, I have recently encountered otherwise "perfect" jackets that have been enhanced by (physical, as opposed to digital) "professional restoration" at the top of the jacket flaps were Mr. Terry's facsimile statement usually appears. I have handled, as most experienced dealers of modern books have, literally millions of jacketed books, and have perhaps seen a couple of dozen jackets that have been damaged from natural use in such a way as to make that sort of restoration necessary. My conclusion? Never, ever buy a jacketed book that has been restored at the ends of the flaps in this manner, and then multiply that caution in direct proportion to the cost of the book.

Terry reports that several different dealers have sold inferior color copies of his facsimile dustjackets on both eBay and ABE Books, and in one instance a U.K. dealer has reportedly created copies of his jackets without the facsimile statement and offered them for between $40 - $80 each, thus setting up the alarming but also mildly amusing situation that some purchasers will find themselves the owners of facsimiles of facsimile jackets. Where does it all end? Will first generation facsimiles become more valuable then second generation facsimiles and so forth? Does this give credence to the otherwise laughable assertion occasionally seen on eBay that an offered book comes supplied with a "genuine facsimile dustjacket"?

Lately, both the ABA and the ABAA have issued rules restricting the sales of facsimile jackets at book fairs, although at least in the case of the ABAA, I wish the restrictions had gone even further. At a regional (non-ABAA) book fair just a few weeks ago, I encountered an astute and very experienced collector, who took the time to show me what he had purchased at the fair, including an expensive and otherwise beautiful jacketed Agatha Christie first edition that bore one of Mr. Terry's clearly marked facsimile jackets that the collector had assumed to be original. Perhaps because of the superheated and harried atmosphere of a book fair, this collector hadn't taken the time, and the dealer, not well-known to me, but seemingly competent and otherwise apparently ethical, hadn't made it sufficiently clear to the collector just what it was that he was buying.

Collectors may well want to, and are certainly within their rights to add facsimile jackets to their books, but it seems to me that any attempt to sell them at book fairs is in some measure or other, whether intentional or not, likely to deceive. In short: I'm against it.

I am very intrigued by Mr. Terry's archive. I feel that it could be a substantial and valuable resource for librarians, scholars, collectors, and dealers should he ever determine to offer it for sale. On several occasions he has provided our firm with reference scans to compare with questionable or rare jackets. An example: just in the past couple of weeks, when we obtained what many in the trade considered to be the only known dustjacketed copy of the American edition of The Phantom of the Opera, he provided us with a scan of a jacket from a private collection which, although identical to ours in typography, text, and price, utilized entirely different jacket art! I am enough of a dustjacket geek that to me this was rather like the equivalent of discovering a new planet in the solar system, and the revelation immediately sent us scurrying off to do further research.

However, just as nuclear technology has its benevolent uses, one can only imagine the chaos that might ensue in the trade should such an archive fall into hands of the unscrupulous. Yikes indeed!

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2006 issue of Rare Book Review.