I'm one of those people who will have nothing at all to bring to the Antiques Roadshow
if it ever comes back to Portland. I have to admit to a bit of good-natured envy when people contact us to ask about selling their beloved first editions. Lately we've had many, many inquiries from people who have "first editions" of Mark Twain.
Mark Twain as an economic indicator ? Forbes should create an index for this phenomenon.
Sadly, what most people have are reprints from the early 1900s. Cheaply produced, often without copyright information, these copies can be found from Maine to Hawaii.
How can a first edition be identified? Is it as simple as seeing the words "first edition" printed somewhere on the title or copyright page?
This dull-looking book is the second volume of Jacob Blanck's Bibliography of American Literature. He took on the monumental task of viewing important American editions and recording the bibliographic information of each. He noted the publisher, date of publication, pagination, typographic mistakes, illustration variations, type of binding, and more.
Volume two of the BAL contains the bibliographic information for the publications of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, and it is the reference to use when identifying the first editions of Mark Twain.
Jacob Blanck might sound like an isolated case of obsessive-compulsive bibliographic behavior, but he is only one bibliographer in a world of many. For example, Norman Penzer wrote the definitive volume on identifying the editions of Richard Burton, and our friends at Lewis and Clark College recently published The Literature of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Audre Hanneman penned the definitive Hemingway bibliography, and the legendary Matthew Bruccoli is best known for the multi-volume First Printings of American Authors.
Perhaps the most obsessive ? and useful ? bibliographic reference is Edward N. Zempel's First Editions: A Guide to Identification. Statements from publishers regarding how they identify first printings are arranged, alphabetical by publisher. Below is the listing for Charles Scribner's Sons, the powerhouse publisher of the 1920s.
Book dealers rely on these tools to identify and describe their treasures. Many of these volumes are themselves scarce and expensive, often marked not with a price on the front free endpaper but with the letters NFS: Not for Sale. This being Powell's, we have a few of these references available.
The Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America has posted a very good article on collecting Mark Twain, reprinted from Firsts magazine. Twain possessed a sharp wit, and he still makes his readers laugh. Nice to know that the rumor of his death has been greatly exaggerated.