Saturday, March 8, 2014



In his landmark work Principles of Bibliographical Description, issued in 1955, Fredson Bowers scoffed:

"The craze for first impressions of first editions, and first issues of first impressions of first editions, and first states of first impressions of first editions, has occasionally resulted in speculation and bibliographical absurdity among collectors and dealers.... Any minor change made in the course of the original printing is immediately seized on as constituting an 'issue.' A trial binding used for perhaps twenty copies of salesmen's samples becomes a rare 'first issue.'"
But as anyone who has read him knows, Professor Bowers was a cantankerous old blowhard. (And, I have it on authority, notoriously slow to reach for the check at dinner. Just saying.)
"Edition," "impression," "issue," and "state" are terms with very precise bibliographical definitions, to be sure (for a concise discussion, see Terry Belanger's essay, "Descriptive Bibliography," pp. 97-99, in Jean Peters' Book Collecting: A Modern Guide). But for the modern collector, "first issue" is, for all intents and purposes, synonymous with "first edition," and when it comes to edition, First is King.
So. Let's pretend, for a moment, that you're a book. Let's pretend you're a very lucky book. You have been blessed with an editor with impeccable taste, a proofreader with an eagle eye, a printer whose inks are clear and true, a binder who checks his work not twice but thrice, and, most of all, an author who never, EVER, changes his mind.
You are, in all respects, PERFECT.
Yes. Well, that's that then.
Now let's pretend you're kind of, well, an ordinary book. Your editor has two kids under the age of three at home and hasn't slept in six months; your proofreader had a couple too many at bingo last night; your printer sometimes mistakes the green ink for the blue, or vice-versa; your binder has so many jobs waiting in the queue that he considers it a moral victory when he manages to get the title page bound in somewhere near the front half of the book; and your author just had a fight with her husband and, halfway through the print run, has decided to dedicate you, you poor abused, luckless tome, to the local cat rescue facility, instead.

Which brings us to the "points of issue."

First edition of The Great Gatsby
The making, printing, binding, and distribution of a book is a complicated and collaborative project. Mistakes are, to put it mildly, made. Typos are (hopefully) caught and corrected midway through print runs. Printers run out of paper and switch to a different brand after only a few hundred copies have been run off. Dust jackets sometimes mysteriously come off the press with the wrong colors, or lacking a photo credit or price, and are re-printed and replaced on as many volumes as have not actually left the factory.
This means that those earliest copies - the ones with the typos, the heavier-weight paper, the incorrect dust-jacket - are out there in the wild, ripe for the picking by the astute collector who knows that the true first issue of Ben Hur is dedicated "To The Wife of My Youth." (Later issues were re-dedicated "To The Wife of My Youth - Who Still Abides With Me" after Lew Wallace received thousands of letters of condolence - and not a few marriage proposals - from fans who thought that Susan Wallace - still very much alive - had died.)

Famous examples of first-issue "points" include...

  • A plethora of typos in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (as well as a missing blurb on the rear panel of the dust jacket)
  • A missing dedication page in Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beams Carpenters (later issues have the dedication page tipped in, hastily and wastily, at random spots)
  • Hemingway's Men Without Women has a number of points of issue, including a paper change which resulted in the earlier issue being heavier (printed on 80# paper) - so that copies printed later weigh only 15.8 ounces apiece.

More Resources for Points of Issue

There are field guides that can help you sort the wheat from the chaff, such as Bill McBride's Points of Issue and Allen and Patricia Ahearn's Collected Books, and of course there's much useful (though sometimes misleading - caveat emptor!) information on the Internet.
But sometimes a full-on author bibliography is called for. For instance, the Ahearns' guide will tell you about the addition to the wording in the dedication to Ben Hur. What they neglect to mention is that the first edition of the book (with the 6-word dedication) went through no fewer than 5 (or possibly 6!) different binding cloths, colors, and styles; at least 3 different states of the advertisements (bound in at the rear); and 2 different states of the title page. For that information, you need to turn to the definitive Wallace bibliography, the dauntingly titled Bibliographical Studies of Seven Authors of Crawfordsville, Indiana: Lew and Susan Wallace, Maurice and Will Thompson, Mary Hannah and Caroline Virginia Krout, and Meredith Nicholson, by Dorothy Ritter Russo and Thelma Lois Sullivan.
And, though Professor Bowers might be left cold by "These works [which] ... are a series of signposts leading the collector from 'point' to 'point' of the correct state of the impression to purchase," in this case, the collector (or dealer) might be forgiven for wanting to know the difference.
Because when it comes to market, a first edition Ben Hur with the correct dedication, title page, advertisements, and the pretty china-blue floral binding is an entirely different animal, price-wise, than all the rest!
cynthia gibson
Author Bio:
Formerly the founder and manager of the now-defunct Rare Books Department at Barnes & Noble, Cynthia Gibson is currently engaged in an exciting new venture,, which she hopes not to drive to a similar end. Further details of her sketchy life history can be found on her personal web site, She is eager to be reached at

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Taste of the blood upon his martyred lips, O pensioners, O demagogues & pay-men! This death was his belief though death is a stone. This man loved earth, not heaven, enough to die. The night wind blows upon the dreamer, bent Over words that are life's voluble utterance. — excerpt, "The Men That Are Falling" - Wallace Stevens

Happy Birthday Wallace, you salty old dog.

Wallace Stevens (October 2, 1879 – August 2, 1955) was an American Modernist poet. He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, educated at Harvard and then New York Law School, and he spent most of his life working as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems in 1955.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

37 Percent of People Completely Lost

This excellent article was forwarded to me by my sweet mother, a veteran news hound, and is a superb read. I am lifting it in its entirety from Common Dreams. -Sky

Six percent of Americans believe in unicorns. Thirty-six percent believe in UFOs. A whopping 24 percent believe dinosaurs and man hung out together. Eighteen percent still believe the sun revolves around the Earth. Nearly 30 percent believe cloud computing involves… actual clouds. A shockingly sad 18 percent, to this very day, believe the president is a Muslim. Aren’t they cute? And Floridian?

Do you believe in angels? Forty-five percent of Americans do. In fact, roughly 48 percent – Republicans and Democrats alike – believe in some form of creationism. A hilariously large percent of terrified right-wingers are convinced Obama is soon going to take away all their guns, so when the Newtown shooting happened and 20 young children were massacred due to America’s fetish for, obsession with and addiction to firearms, violence and fear, they bought more bullets. Because obviously.
In sum and all averaged out, it’s safe to say about 37 percent of Americans are just are not very bright. Or rather, quite shockingly dumb. Perhaps beyond reach. Perhaps beyond hope or redemption. Perhaps beyond caring about anything they have to say in the public sphere ever again. Sorry, Kansas.
Did you frown at that last paragraph? Was it a terribly elitist and unkind thing to say? Sort of. Probably. But I’m not sure it matters, because none of those people are reading this column right now, or any column for that matter, because reading anything even remotely complex or analytical is something only 42 percent of the population enjoy doing on a regular basis, which is why most TV shows, all reality shows, many major media blogs and all of Fox News is scripted for a 5th-grade education/attention span. OMG LOL kittens! 19 babies having a worse day than you. WTF is up with Justin Timberlake’s hair?!?
It is this bizarre, circular, catch-22 kind of question, asked almost exclusively by intellectual liberals because intellectual conservatives don’t actually exist, given how higher education leads to more developed critical thinking (you already know the vast majority of university professors and scientists identify as Democrat/progressive, right?) which leads straight to a more nimble, open-minded perspective. In short: The smarter you are, the less rigid/more liberal you become.
Until you get old. Or rich. And scared. And you forget. And you clamp down, seize up, fossilize. And the GOP grabs you like a mold.
Oh right! The question: How to reach the not-very-bright hordes, when they simply refuse to be reached by logic, fact, or modern mode? How to communicate obvious and vital truths (conservation, global warming, public health, sexuality, basic nutrition, religion as parable/myth, the general awfulness of Mumford & Sons) the lack of understanding of which keep the country straggling and embarrassing, the laughingstock of the civilized world?
And who are these people, exactly? And are they all really in Kentucky and Florida and Mississippi? Are they all in the Tea Party? Is failing education to blame? A dumbed-down media? Reality TV? In the wealthiest and most egomaniacal superpower in the world, why is the chasm so wide?
There is no easy answer, but there is a great deal of irony. It is a wicked conundrum that you and I can debate the definition of elitism, whether or not it’s fair to criticize those who believe that, say, gay marriage means kids will be indoctrinated into homosexuality, or that evolution is still a theory, or that Jesus literally flew up out of a cave and into the sky, when the discussion itself is, by nature, elitist, exclusionary, requiring fluid, abstract thinking the very people we’re discussing simply do not possess, and therefore cannot participate in.
Discussion of elitism is elitist. Intelligence can talk itself blue about what to do about all the dumb; the dumb will never hear it.
It’s a fact even recognized by Louisiana’s own Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had the nerve to defy his own state’s (and his own party’s) famously low IQ by saying, after the last election, “The GOP must stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults.”
Of course he’s right. But where would that leave their base? And who will tell the megachurches? And does Jindal not know Louisiana is where they teach that the existence of the Loch Ness monster is evidence that evolution is a lie?
Brings to mind a stunning study about facts and truths. Have you ever heard it? It goes something like: Here is hard evidence, scientific evidence, irrefutable proof that something is or is not true. Here is dinosaur bone, for example, which we know beyond a doubt is between 60 and 70 million years old. Amazing! Obviously!
But then comes the impossible snag: If you are hard-coded to believe otherwise, if your TV network or your ideology, your pastor or your lack of education tell you differently, you will still not believe it. No matter what. No matter how many facts, figures, common senses slap you upside the obvious. You will think there is conspiracy, collusion, trickery afoot. The Bible says that bone is only eight thousand years old. Science is elitist. Liberals hate God. The end.
It is not enough to say people believe what they want to believe. They will also believe it in the face of irrefutable counter-evidence and millennia of fundamental proof.
This! This is what stuns and stupefies liberals and progressives of every intellectual stripe. We cannot understand. We cannot compute. We think, “Well, if more people just had the facts, just heard a reasonable and cogent argument or read up on the real science, surely they would change their minds? Surely they would see the error in their thinking?”
Oh, liberals. All those smarts, and still so naïve.
Here is the body of Jesus! We found it! In a cave in a hole deep in an iron-gated alcove beneath the Vatican! Turns out he is not the Messiah after all! Turns out – look at those tribal tattoos! Those mala beads! That blond hair! – he’s a wild non-dualist guru from parts unknown. Christianity is a total fabrication! Always has been, always will be.
Here is hard evidence coupled with an ocean of common sense that more guns equal only more violence and death! Stat after stat, mass shooting after mass shooting proving we have it all wrong about protection and fear. Also! At least 2,605 people have died by gun violence in America since the Newtown shooting. Can we ban them now? No?
Here is overwhelming evidence that global warming is ravaging us like a furious god, and not only are we complicit, not only have we blindly raced forth into the abyss, we are, if all goes according to current trends and speeds and attitudes, totally f–king doomed.
Ah, unicorns. You look better every day.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book News from Sheppard's Newsletter No. 301

image from The New Yorker

International: Amazon to sell used e-books?
Amazon has a patent to sell used e-books. When I first scanned the headline, I thought it must be some Onion-esque gag, and I'm sure I wasn't alone. Used e-books? As in, rumpled up, dog-eared pdfs? Faded black-and-white kindle cover art, Calibri notes typed in the margins that you can't erase?
  Barely-amusing image aside, used e-books are for real. Or at least have a very real potential to become real. See, Amazon just cleared a patent for technology that would allow it to create an online marketplace for used e-books--essentially, if you own an e-book, you would theoretically be able to put it up for sale on a secondary market. Read more

USA: Longfellow Books, Maine
While many bookstores in the Northeast closed early and opened late after the Friday night blizzard and lost power for a time, sadly Longfellow Books, Portland, Maine, suffered disastrous water damage. But the community turned out to help recover the stock and restore the bookshop. Read more

USA: Amazon patents scheduled recurring deliveries
Chris Meadows writing in Teleread has highlighted not only the latest patent for reselling 'used' digital content but another one concerning recurring delivery of products'. It would appear that if someone buys a consumable product, Amazon will be able to send the purchaser another delivery without that repeat order being placed.
  Obviously it is too soon to see the wording on the purchase screens, but if it is not made clear that, when the original order is placed it is (a) a one-off, or (b) a repeating order, the company will be inviting some strife. Read more

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Mother Nature Belongs at the Bargaining Table

Original Link at Other Worlds:

December 5, 2012Op-Ed, 657 words

Friday, November 30, 2012