Years ago (while I was in college, so let’s say many years ago) I belonged to a book club. I was a theatre student and joining a theatre book club seemed a good way to build a library of scripts for my future as a Broadway director. Recently, I consigned the last of those book club editions to the Goodwill box. It’s not just that both my life and my book collecting have moved in a different direction; it’s also that those old book club editions feel . . . well to be honest they feel exactly what they are—cheap. The simple fact is that most collectors avoid book club editions, and it might be worth examining why.
If you frequently shop at flea markets, thrift shops, or charity book sales, chances are you have seen thousands of book club editions. These books, sold by mail to subscribers, are generally printed on a lower grade of paper that the regular, or trade editions. They are glued into their insubstantial bindings rather than stitched, and the bindings are paper covered instead of cloth backed or full cloth like most trade hardcovers.
Book club editions are avoided by most collectors because of this inexpensive production and also because most collectors of 20th century books (and this type of book club edition is a largely 20th-century phenomenon) prefer to acquire a particular book in the first trade edition, which usually precedes the book club edition. Book club editions are easy to identify once you have seen a few. Most have the words “Book Club Edition” printed on the front flap of the dust jacket, but even if the jacket is lacking you will soon recognize book club editions by the quality of the binding and paper.
Some book clubs issue copies of the trade edition of a book in unpriced dustjackets. While these volumes are not as widely shunned as other book club editions, they are still considered less desirable than copies of the regular trade edition of a book. Signs that a book may be from such a club include the absence of a price on the dust jacket, the presence of a book club notice on the jacket, and the presence of a small indentation, usually a circle or a square, on the bottom right corner of the book’s rear cover. Even some books that state “First Edition” on the copyright page are actually less valuable book club editions, so it’s worth checking for these signs.
Avoiding book club editions might seem snobbish, but it turns out there’s a pretty good reason that copy of The Old Man and the Sea you found at the library sale was priced at 50¢.