Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fantastic Frontispiece 1: "Wings" (1931)

This is the first in a new section I am calling "Fantastic Frontispiece."  As I described in my discussion of the parts of a book, a frontispiece is a decorative image that is on the facing page from the title page.  These can be beautiful additions to high-quality books and are worth looking for in the books you purchase.

This frontispiece is from a book entitled Wings by W.E. Johns, a collection of short stories published in 1931.

Share your favorite frontispieces and I'll post them up here.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Parts of a Book Part II: Inside

Previously, I featured a post that discussed the external parts of a book, today-as the next installment of our three part series-I wish to open the covers and explore the internal divisions of books.  The goal here is to provide you with the knowledge and, especially, vocabulary necessary to be able to evaluate, appropriately price and sell your books.

For this exploration of the interior architecture of books, I will start inside the front cover and work my way to the back.

Depending on the book, the first pages may in fact be blank.  These pages are called the gathers and are a product of the mechanical method in which books are created, which we will get to in our next segment.  Basically, there must be an equal number of pages in each subsection of the book when it is bound and if there are not, the machines put a few extra pages in the front to balance, hence the gathers.  Sometimes the gathers are at the end of the book, depending on the publisher.

Working in from the gathers, one next encounters the title page.  Here you'll find the full title of the work, the author, publisher and year.  This is an immensely important page for us as is the next page, the edition notice (or copyright page), which contains the ISBN number and the edition number (click for my posts on how to read ISBNs and how to identify first editions).  With these two pages, we have information on: the title, who wrote the book, when it was first published, what edition this copy is, who published it, where and what the ISBN is.

There are two minor variations on this theme: a "half title page" and a "frontispiece."  The half title contains nothing more than the main title (so no subtitles); the frontispiece is a decorative image which is on a page facing the title page, these are a bit old-fashioned and were often beautiful wood-cut prints.  A nice frontispiece can add value to a book.

When looking to see if a book has been signed by the author, check out the title page or the half title.

After these technical pages, we begin to come to more content-oriented pieces: the acknowledgement, the dedication, the table of contents, forwards, prefaces, introductions and prologues.  Of course, not all books have all of these things, unlike the title page and edition notice, which are standard for all commercially published books.  Together all of these elements, from the title page to the final prologue constitute the part of the book known as the Front Matter.

This is followed by the main body of the book, which is known as the Content Matter.  It is a bit ironic that while books are written for their content matter, it is often what is contained in the external condition of the book and in the information of the front matter that determines the value.  A terribly written text can become valuable simply because of who wrote it, when they wrote it or what condition it is in.  When evaluating books, however, I simply note what the contents are (if the book is well known or is in a subject that I believe sells well) and then move on.

Finally, we come to the last element of the interior of the book, the End Matter.  This includes epilogues, afterwords, glossaries, postscripts, appendices, the index and the bibliography.  This material influences price far less than either of the other two, in fact it can be missing altogether and still be a valuable book.  The only tiny footnote to this is that if you have a book that you believe may be valuable as an academic text, the absence of a good index and bibliography basically means that its value is limited to scholars, was put together shabbily or simply isn't a serious book.

This concludes our discussion of the interior geography of books, I hope it helps you not only to better evaluate the price of a book, but also to appreciate their craftsmanship.

Next Post: Part III- How Books are Made.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Report from the Syracuse Hazard Branch Library Sale

While sifting through Craigslist's Books and Magazines section last night I ran into an ad "$1 bag book sale tomorrow" at the Hazard Branch Library here in Syracuse.  While the Hazard isn't in my usual hunting range, it is close enough to warrant the trip.  The sale started at 9 and I got there a bit after 10 (what can I say... I like to sleep late on Saturdays).

The Hazard Branch is a pleasant, open space, on the big side for Syracuse's branch libraries.  Near Syracuse's beautiful Polish Sacred Heart Basilica, it obviously serves the large European ethnic communities in the neighborhood, with books in Polish, Ukrainian, and German as well as a Irish newspapers for the community based out of the Tipp Hill neighborhood.  These are old neighborhoods, high up on the city's western hills with ethnic communities going back over a century--it was originally popular with Catholic workers who were not welcome in the old city core (today's Downtown).  On my way home, I stopped by Harrison's Bakery which is just down the road from the library; the Bakery itself was worth the trip and I highly recommend a visit.

The book sale itself was decent, with around a dozen tables or racks sorted into fiction, nonfiction, mass market paperback, children's and non-English books (the had both Polish and German books).  There were only a handful of used library books, which is good as they a lower resale value.  Overall, the pickings were not fantastic, I found about $12 worth of resale textbooks (mostly cheap paperbacks bought for less than $0.50).  The fact that it was a bag sale freed me from having to be highly constrained by cost calculations, which was pleasant.

The one interesting find was a first edition of Aldou's Huxley's "Ape and Essence."  Huxley (the author of "Brave New World") wrote this dystopian novel in 1948.  The book had a bit of water damage, but was still well worth the price of a $1 bag sale.  I posted it up on ebay this afternoon, setting a beginning price of $4 and a buy it now of $6.50 ($3.50 shipping).  If the book wasn't 1st edition, the lack of dust jacket and the water damage (which is only to the cover) would make it pretty worthless, so I am hoping that the low price will bring in buyers who are not necessarily collectors but interested in the content as well.