Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Breaking My Own Rules

Wharton's Age of Innocence.
When people ask me how I'm doing as a bookseller, I often tell them that I'm busy "getting and spending," trying with that to communicate that I am always keeping myself busy, but with all the Wordsworthian worry that I am also busily laying waste my own powers. But buying books is, at the same time, almost always a pleasant task, and it is almost always interesting.

One book I bought recently I thought might be interesting to share here, because when I bought it, I broke two of the rules of buying that I usually try to follow: Don't buy books that aren't first editions and Don't buy books with serious damage. Of course, when I buy manuscript fragments, I frequently break both rules, but they are still pretty good rules for buying twentieth-century literature, for example.

In this case, as I am sure the pictures have already revealed, the book I bought, knowingly breaking both of those rules, was Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence. This particular book was one of the high spots of Wharton's career, and it is a high point of American twentieth-century literature in general. (It is not, however, a Merle Johnson "high spot", although Ethan Frome is). The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (then called the Columbia Prize) in 1921. 

My copy is, indeed, a second printing, with a second state dust jacket, and both the book and jacket have severe water damage. In my defense, I should perhaps note that a first state of the book and jacket, in collectible condition, would probably be worth at least ten thousand dollars, and most of the first editions in jackets currently available on the market appear to have jackets salvaged from (and thus transferred from) later printings. My copy, probably because of the water damage, confirms that even second printing copies of the book were subsequent to the Columbia Prize award, and that second printing copies featured the second state dust jacket. In that sense, this copy's damage has perhaps helped it preserve this bit of bibliographically important detail.

Even with its flaws, I think it's still a nice book to own.

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