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Publishers Info: Identifying Book Club Editions

Book club editions frequently can drive very experienced dealers and collectors to distraction. Newbies can certainly be forgiven for not automatically recognizing all of the "clues".

There are major differences between the large book club groups, both in the physical quality of the books they distribute and in the manner in which they identify their books. While they both supply books, they are as different as apples and brussels sprouts. I prefer not to lump them all together, because in almost all cases, books released through Book-of-the-Month Club BOMC) are superior to "book club editions" (BCE) released by the Doubleday Clubs. I try to differentiate between BOMC and BCE when I discuss book club books.

The five-digit code (frequently black numbers in a white block) is a code for books released through the Doubleday Book Clubs (the major ones being Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, Mystery Guild, and Science Fiction Book Club). These books used to state "Book Club Edition" on the bottom corner of the front flap, but Doubleday discontinued this practice several years ago. Generally these books are smaller in size, have thinner paper and cheaper bindings and use a smaller, less legible typeface than the publisher's edition. BCE copies frequently lack the bar code on the back panel of the dust jacket.

A book club copy will always be a book club copy, even though it states "first edition". Book clubs frequently neglect to remove edition indicators from the plates before printing their copies. (Note: some book club editions do have some collectible value. Many paperback originals (PBOs) exist in hardcover only in a book club edition. This seems most common with science fiction titles. While this does not necessarily make a volume "rare", a collector who prefers hardcover or wants "one of everything" will be willing to pay a premium for a book club hardcover in fine condition. Some Dean Koontz titles come to mind.)

The other major book club group is the Book-of-the-Month Club, located in Camp Hill, PA. Their books are released through the BOMC, the History Book Club, the Quality Paperback Book Club and the Money Book Club (and perhaps a few others as well). Their books are often identical to those released through normal retail outlets, with a few exceptions:
  1. There is no price on the dust jacket.

  2. The endpapers may be a different color, frequently white, whereas the publisher's edition often has colored endpapers.

  3. The bar code on the back panel of the dust jacket (or on the back board if there is no dj) frequently is blank on the top right of the bars. Publishers sometimes but not always use the digits normally found in this location to indicate the book's price.

  4. Until several years ago, BOMC used to put a "blind stamp" on the back panel of the book (sometimes just an impression, round or square, sometimes with a color). BOMC dust jackets sometimes also have a "dot" on the bottom right corner of the rear panel.

  5. Sometimes BOMC copies will have a statement on the bottom of the copyright page indicating a book club release.

  6. A "Book-of-the-Month Club" notation on the book's front flap is not necessarily an indication that the copy in hand is a book club release. Occasionally the publisher will include the fact that the book has been selected by the BOMC as a means of advertising the popularity or importance of the title (a badge of honor of sorts).
Even without a dust jacket or a blind stamp on the back cover, it is frequently possible to identify a BOMC release. Unlike the BCE volumes, which put a code on the back panel of the dust jacket, BOMC volumes have a code printed sideways, top to bottom, at the bottom of the very last page inside the endpaper. This code is sometimes printed so close to the edge of the page that the glue covers it up. The only way to see it is to look at the other side of the page and read it through the page itself. Sometimes peeling the last page away from the endpaper will make this code a little more obvious.

The lack of a price is a significant clue on most books released by the major trade publishers (university press books frequently have no price, as do many books by major publishers who release identical titles in the U.S. and in England -- Oxford University Press is one that comes immediately to mind).

Another clue for "Book Club Edition" books is that there frequently is no "bar code" on the back panel of the dust jacket. The publisher's edition will have the bar code. "BOMC" editions generally have the bar code, but the number row on the top right of the bars is frequently blank.

Although most trade publications now include the Library of Congress'"Cataloging in Publication" information, "Book Club Editions" rarely include this information in their reprints. "BOMC" editions generally do include the CIP information.

While these are a few of the considerations in determining whether a book is a book club release, there may well be others. Perhaps other dealers will be able to expand upon or clarify these guidelines.

Additional comments:

While the lack of a price when the book is published by a major American publisher is the most common indicator of a book club edition, the fact that there is a price present doesn't always means that the book is trade edition. The two most common examples of book club editions having prices are:
  1. The Family Bookshelf (uses other names but they are all similiar.) These editions almost universally have a price on the dust jacket (at least through the early 80's), often (but not always) state "First edition" AND on the rear flap of the dust jacket they will have a statement "Family bookshelf edition" or something to that effect. These books are usually smaller and more cheaply produced than the regular trade edition, but if you haven't handled the trade edition, you might not know the difference. Common examples are the Miss Read books, biographies of people who have done a lot of good, memoirs of families who have adopted animals, etc. - in other words, good family reading. Probably 50% of these are misidentified as first editions at the online book sites.

  2. The Book of the Month Club included prices on their dust jackets for awhile in the 70's. These books will have the regular price on the front flap - at the top of the flap it will say "Selection of the Book of the Month Club" with an asterisk - at the bottom of the flap the asterisk explains "trademark of the Book of the Month Club." These books will sometimes state "first edition" etc - all of them have the blind-stamped dot on the back cover. Among the books which have these markings are Finney's TIME AND AGAIN, Greene's TRAVEL WITH MY AUNT and several others. (Do not confuse this with the simple statement "selection of the Book of the Month Club" which can appear on either flap and is just an advertising point.) The crucial thing is the presence of BOTH statements on the FRONT flap.
There are a few "oddball" BOMC editions which have no indication at all on the dust jacket that they are BOMC books - one title is Joan Williams' first book THE MORNING AND THE EVENING where most copies of the BOOK will have the blind-stamped dot (because the BOMC edition is FAR more common than the trade edition), but all of the dust jackets are identical to the trade dust jacket (this is not a case of a trade jacket being put on a BOMC book - there is no such thing as a book club dust jacket for this title.) Again, I will bet that most of the "first editions" listed online for this title have been misidentified. Other titles are Dee Brown's LET THE LONESOME WHISTLE BLOW and Bergman THE CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF THE NEGRO IN AMERICA.

It is important to remember that when a Book of the Month Club edition existed, the numbers in which it was issued were usually much larger than the trade edition. I read about one title where the trade edition was only 20,000 copies, the BOMC editions (some stated first, some did not) exceeded half a million copies. If you see a book which you know was a BOMC selection, if the corner of the dj is price-clipped, make sure to check for that blind-stamped dot.

Since earlier BOMC books did not use the blind dot, if you find a copy of a book which was a BOMC selection without a dustjacket, then using the logic that 90% of more of the copies published were BOMC editions, you should assume that this was also a BOMC edition. Unless you have a dustjacket with the price present, you cannot safely or honestly call it a first edition (unless you have provenance like the original purchase receipt laid in, etc.)

And one other comment: many Oxford University Press published in the U.S. DO have prices on the jacket.

And an observation:

Some of us were horrified to learn several years back that a few authors (particularly Ludlum and Michener) were published in such large quantities that no single printing house could handle the production. An embossed mark was put on these books to indicate from which printing house they came; the marks were usually something other than a dot (square, triangle, circle). We had all assumed that we owned book club editions when in fact we did not. There are such exceptions. Lack of a price on the dust jacket usually indicates a book club edition, but not always. University presses frequently do not print a price. I suspect in the future we may see more books without prices, to allow for price changing (up or down) or other situations requiring flexibility.
Primary content provided by Bill Chappelear, Buckeye Bookshop.

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