First editions are first tries, both for the author and the publisher. Their worth in the used and rare book field is often something to wonder about when you consider that the first edition of Gone with the Wind looks like the umpteenth printing. Fine bindings and good condition can’t help but hold sway. Yet the esteem for courage, that of an author or a publisher, is what makes a first edition a prize for the book collector.
Last summer, I found a collectible Saturday Evening Post, the March 31, 1945, issue containing J. D. Salinger’s short story “A Boy in France" besides having a Norman Rockwell cover. Beyond the enjoyment of paging through old magazines, I occasionally have the delight of finding the valuable one – usually after I’ve brought it home. My biggest thrill was finding early Dr. Seuss adult cartoons in a Judge magazine. I’d attended the huge sale of a book dealer closing his store, thousands of books, magazines, and prints. He laughed as hard as I laughed at the cartoons, finding out that I’d unknowingly found that magazine. Click here to look at early Seuss political cartoons.
Back to J. D. Salinger. The 1945 magazine reminded of my first rare book sale, a book I bought without thinking of its worth. J. D. Salinger self-published in 1940. He wasn’t very well known at that time and decided to publish a collection of short stories before he became published in national magazines like the Saturday Evening Post.
Before working at a used book and antiques store, I browsed at the paperback exchange shop in Duluth, Amazing Alonzo’s, a store with an eclectic stock. I was exchanging books for something new to read. In the fiction section, I found an odd paperback that looked like a literary journal. But this was headlined with J. D. Salinger’s name. In the 1960s, I read J. D. Salinger books and especially liked Franny and Zooey. The obscure short story collection from a known author was just what I wanted that day because I was working on short stories. It looked like this:
I took this paperback or literary publication to work and read it during lunch. Then it disappeared into a pile of magazines and literary journals, kept in a magazine holder. After I began working with used books and started my own collection, I cleaned out the toppling magazine holder. At the very bottom was the 1940 Salinger paperback. I looked inside it, curious after having some advice at my new job, and couldn’t find any publisher.
The paperback I almost threw out with the magazines was rare. Early works of well-known authors, often published in the worst wraps, are probably worth more than the first edition of their second well-received book. The advice is, if you find an unfamiliar title by a well-known author, be sure to hold onto it. The selling failures of a famous author might be very valuable.
That’s a cheerful note for anyone who feels that their best work hasn’t been published yet. On the second day (half price) of an estate sale, I found a book of Mario Puzo’s that wasn’t noticed by anyone attending the sale, a children’s novel called The Runaway Summer of Davie Shaw. It was his first book, a story about a California boy running off with his pony to New York. I liked what I read but Puzo was an unknown author then, a journalist, and writing while his children were growing up. After that, he wrote The Godfather.
Used book dealers look for these lost books and also those that are not confidently distributed by publishers. I picked up a dilapidated copy of Slaughterhouse Five, a first edition. But that probably didn’t mean anything, being published in the 1960s. Yet this first edition was valuable! Vonnegut’s first novel was so strange that the publisher didn’t print very many copies at first. What I had was very rare. The strangest thing of all was that it was used from an Air Force base library and the book was defaced with those markings. Perhaps those markings added to its worth.
To wind up here, I want to announce that I’m stuck with four copies of my “first edition” of The House in Windward Leaves.
I’ve re-published the book with a Bradley Wind cover (at the upper righthand column) and illustrations inside. (The main character Sadie looks into her crystal ball at left.)
If anyone would like to read the middle grade comic fantasy for the story itself and especially for review, simply contact me and I’ll send you the first paperback.
While I was re-publishing that book, I signed a contract for The Swan Bonnet with GMTA (Great Minds Think Aloud) Publishing. The Swan Bonnet was my Authonomy.com gold medal, reaching the HarperCollins Editor’s Desk.