A reference for Used and Rare Books, Periodicals, and Paper Ephemera
courtesy of an International Co-Op of Independent Dealers.
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
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.
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
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