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Identifying first printings

Posted by Baronbern on October 13, 2010 at 4:08 PM

In their Tauchnitz bibliography, Todd & Bowden seem to have worked on the reasonable assumption that copies with fewer other titles listed on the back of the half-title pre-date those with a larger number, unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise. Such evidence could for instance come from paperback copies.

 

There are a number of cases though where the order of precedence looks questionable. Take for instance the sequence of M.E. Braddon novels, starting with volume 722, the first volume of ‘Henry Dunbar’. Tauchnitz had issued four other Braddon titles before this one, and the first printing would normally be expected to show these four titles. Copies in this format exist in several libraries. However the British Library has an early paperback copy (but not a true first printing) that lists no other titles, and so Todd & Bowden give this precedence. That may be right, but given that such a version is out of line with normal Tauchnitz practice, is there really any reason to suppose that it was issued first?

 

 

'Henry Dunbar' with no other titles on the half-title verso.  Todd & Bowden issue a -  but is it really a 1st printing?

 

Much the same situation exists for the next Braddon title, volume 748 ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. Copies exist both with five other titles issued (which is what you would expect to see in the first printing) and with no other titles. There is again no conclusive evidence to show which is earlier and so Todd & Bowden give precedence to the version with no other titles. The next Braddon title, volume 778 ‘Only a Clod’, exists with 6 other titles listed, and then volume 816 ‘Sir Jasper’s Tenant’, exists with 7 other titles. No copies with no titles listed have been identified for these two volumes. But the position reappears in volume 843 ‘’The Lady’s Mile’, which exists both with 8 titles and with no titles, again with no clear evidence to show which is first.

 

The existence of copies with no other titles listed for three of these five books suggests a deliberate policy rather than a mistake, but doesn’t explain why or when such copies were issued. Is it possible that both versions were issued simultaneously for some reason, perhaps in different markets? Might there also be versions of ‘Only a clod’ and ‘Sir Jasper’s tenant’ with no titles listed, as yet undiscovered?

 

The same problem exists for at least one Dickens title, volume 888 ‘Somebody’s luggage’. The natural number of titles listed for this volume would be 20 and copies exist in this form, including a paperback copy that is at least a very early printing, if not definitely the very earliest. But Todd & Bowden identified single hardback copies with no titles listed, and with 10 titles listed, and recorded these as the earlier printings.

 

'Somebody's luggage' with 20 other titles on the half-title verso.  Todd & Bowden issue c - but is it really a first printing?

 

Does any of this really matter? As far as the market for second hand books is concerned, probably not, as few dealers can identify first printings anyway. There’s little discernible difference in the prices for first printings or reprints. Maybe it’s of some importance though to collectors of Dickens or Mrs. Braddon.

 

For my own collection, I’m aiming to find first printings as far as can be identified, which usually means following Todd & Bowden. For these few titles though, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I’m happy enough to treat copies with the ‘right’ number of other titles listed, as being as good as first printings. Even Todd & Bowden may just occasionally have been wrong.

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