Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ernest Hemingway, "The Old Man and the Sea" (First edition with facsimile jacket)

I finally got around to getting a facsimile jacket for my first edition of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. When I was in my early teens and discovered how to tell if a book is a first edition, I naturally went through every book in my parents's house to check if any of them might be worth something. My parents read a lot and I was lucky to grow up in such a book-centric household, and although they were not "collectors" I did find a worn out old copy of The Old Man and the Sea in the basement.

This belonged to my mother. She was surprised we still had it around, and even more surprised to find out it was a first edition. (She was also happy to let it live among my growing library.)

I learned from various websites online that a true first of The Old Man an the Sea needed a capital A in the colophon and the presence of the Scribner seal. This seal sets the book apart from the otherwise nearly-identical book club edition.

The lack of a dust jacket is problematic and ultimately the difference between a value of around $500 and $5000. For a while I thought there was some off-chance I'd find a first-state dust jacket in great shape with a book in terrible condition -- torn pages or something -- but then realized how completely unreasonable that kind of dream is and resigned to have a pretty ugly, very rare book in my collection.


But then, years later, I started looking into facsimile jackets. This is a tricky world of book collecting because it's kind of shady territory: it's essentially making your book look like it's worth a lot more and potentially misleading clients. For instance, there's a bookstore on the Upper East Side in NY that has an impressive collection of rare books and I was eyeing a first edition copy of The Crying of Lot 49 that was priced at remarkably low $300. I saw it in the window, asked the price, and walked off thinking maybe I'd start saving up. It was when I came back to discuss the book with the seller that I read the piece's full information: it was in great shape but had a facsimile jacket. The bookstore was completely open and professional about it, but I can't help but think there was something wrong with putting facsimile jackets in a display window. And what about those dishonest booksellers? Can you really trust a rare book on eBay, when anyone with a high-level Epson could've made the jacket you're buying?

Still, who wants a jacketless book? A faded, grey and silver-spined copy of the 1953 Pulitzer Prize winner? Considering the family history of my Old Man and the Sea and the fact that I'd no intentions of selling the book, why not get a facsimile jacket and at least make it look nice on the shelf? This was $20 from The Phantom Bookshop in Ventura, CA, and looks very handsome (it also explicitly says it's a facsimile on the back-flap, which is reassuring). It completes the book and makes it pop on the shelf; it feels odd to say, but only now do I really see that I've had a special book in my library all this time.

Currently reading:
The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim
Last Stories and Other Stories by William T. Vollmann

Currently listening to:
Max Richter, "Infra"

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