Copyright Page or “Confusion Page of Anomalies”

by The bookworm on May 31, 2021 · Rare Book Education

Copyright pageThe publishing details for a book are usually printed on the back of the half title or, in some cases, the title page. This page is sometimes called the ‘copyright page‘ or the ‘publishing details page’. Through the years, publishers have used a number of copyright designations to specify the edition or the printing of a particular title. There is no standard specification or legal requirement that a publisher has to list certain copyright information. Because most publishers are not typically in the business of trading in rare and collectible books, they have not necessarily had a strong reason for a unified and consistent way of identifying first editions. As a result, publishers who have been in business for decades have used a variety of printing edition information through their long histories of operation.

Often times the copyright information serves some type of marketing initiative. Publishers have used the ‘copyright page’ to show that a book is so popular that it has gone through 10 printings, when in fact it only had a few copies sold. There is nothing to stop a publisher from skipping over a few printings to boost its popularity. With collectible books, the early printings are usually the most sought after and consequently the most valuable. Collectors, who lack the experience and specialized knowledge of a particular publisher’s practices, may be fooled into thinking that certain early printings are quite scarce when in fact they are non-existent.

During the early the 1930’s, semi-underground literature publisher Jack Kahane, who published some of the works by Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, Anaïs Nin and James Joyce, mixed serious work with smut, in his Obelisk Press publishing house. He took advantage of a legal hiatus whereby English-language books published in France were not subject to the censorship practiced in the UK and elsewhere. He also took advantage of the lack of any legal requirements to list the various editions or printings sequentially and deliberately skipped over early printings on some of the less popular titles published.

Another publicity stunt employed by publishers is to print statements such as: “Second printing before publication.” In other words, the first edition sold out before the book was even released, but, what it really means is that the book is a second printing if there was a “First printing before publication” published in the first place. While these pre-publication printings, including “advanced review copies,” are technically first editions, they tend to have limited appeal to collectors, who seek “true first”, (a symbolic sign of repetitive redundancy), editions.

A number line might show the printing and sometimes the year of publication in the copyright page. In most cases, the first number on that number line indicates the printing of a particular copy. With each subsequent printing, the publisher removes a number from the number line, thus allowing the lowest number on that line as an indicator of the book’s printing. In some cases, a number is removed from the left side of the line and other times from the right; sometimes the line includes the number ‘10’ and other times the number ‘0’; sometimes the numbers are in sequence  and other times the number sequence has all odd numbers to one side and even on the other side. The Random House hard covers’ line number, for example, when present, does not contain the number ‘1’. The second printings read with the same ‘23456789’ but have no “first edition” specified. Beginning with the years 2002-2003, the publisher sometimes includes ‘1’ in the number row and ‘First Edition’ specified.

Outside the number row the variations in ‘First printing’, ‘First state’, ‘First impression’ and ‘First issue’ designations, proliferate adding more complexity. The most straight forward rule for me is the “reprint house rule”, which applies to the few publishers that do not publish originals. Books from publishers: Sundial Press, Triangle Books, A. L. Burt, Grossett and Dunlap are always considered to be a reprint no matter what they have printed on their copyright page. Now that is simplicity without confusion and mental indigestion!

Quite often publishers neglect to provide the accurate date of edition or printing of the book. They either leave the original copyright date on the copyright page or they fail to provide one. Ideally a book should come with a printing history detailed with dates and actual number of copies in each printing. Many special editions indicate the number of copies produced, but again, there are no guarantees that the information is accurate. I have come across quite a few limited, numbered editions with copies that have no number specified. Sometimes these are identified as the “Not for trade” copies. However, publishers of limited number editions often publish unspecified, unnumbered extra copies for various undetermined other uses. All in all, the lack of standards or legal requirements has led to the creation of what I am calling the “Confusion Page of Anomalies”!

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