Book-collecting terminology in relationship to card-game rule-booklets: “editions”

Note:  This is a revised version of a post that I originally wrote on January 4, 2011.  This version is much longer.

Last night [that is, on January 3, or thereabouts], I began to write a post on Kuhn Kahn, a card-game rule-booklet by Nemo, the first edition of which apparently was dated 1912. But then I found that it was difficult to state succinctly the relationships of different versions of the booklet to each other.  The cause of this difficulty was to some degree connected with the rather elastic definitions of terms such as “edition,” “issue,” and “state.”

In a couple of previous posts, I have gotten into this subject.  This post deals with the topic from a slightly different angle, though certain points are repeated here.

Of course, a lot of the confusion surrounding such words tends to dissipate when one thinks about the words in the context in which they are used.

There are a few terms that I want to explain with particular reference to the manner in which they are used in this blog.  I’m not going to define a lot of book-collecting terms at the moment.  I may return to this subject in the future and fill in a few gaps.

In his post, I am going to focus on the term “edition.”

First and foremost, I think it can be said that the context in which the words are used may help in understanding what they mean, and what I mean when I use a term in this blog.  For example, if I say “first edition,” I am almost certainly using the term in the normal sense in which a book collector or book dealer uses it. Keeping it simple, I would define the “first edition” as the “first impression of the first edition,” or the “first printing of the first edition,” or, in other words, basically, “the first printing.”  (Many bibliographers would use the term “first edition” to include more than the first printing, but I am not going deeply into that in this post.  But see the next paragraph.)

It seems strange to define a term as being a subset of the same term–but again, it is clear from the context.  The collector’s “first edition” is the first printing of the “bibliographer’s first edition,” which in turn (see the final sentence of the preceding paragraph) is basically all copies derived from the first setting of type, regardless of when they were printed.

The long and the short of it is that, in book-collector’s parlance, a “first edition” is a “first printing.”  It is basically that simple.

You might say, “Okay, Tom, but what is a first printing?”  Well, that question is a little more complicated, but not much.  A first printing describes copies of a book printed at approximately the same time, from the same basic setting of type. With some books, this printing might take place all in one or two days, with no changes “in midstream.”  Or it could take a week, and in the process, small changes (such as correcting misspelled words, or even adding a few words here and there) might be made, but all the copies would still be considered part of the first printing — and hence, of the first edition (from the book collector’s standpoint).

I have tried to make the above discussion as black-and-white as possible.  In practice, there can be problems with applying those definitions.  (For instance, there is an inherent ambiguity in the phrase “approximately the same time.”)  But it is rare that exceptions will occur in the realm of card-game rule-booklets.

Now, there are some additional terms, which are often used in connection with the term “edition.”  Those terms include “issue” and “state,” but most collectors of card-game rule-booklets will rarely, if ever, need to know how to apply those definitions.  From a practical standpoint, a more useful term is “variant.”  I may get into those terms (“issues” and “states”) in future post, but the need to use them in connection with card-game rule-booklets is practically non-existent.  [Note:  I am not saying that there are not different issues and states of various rule booklets.  I am just saying that “variant” will probably be a more useful term.  T.A.S., 07-22-11]

You might ask, “If ‘first edition’ means ‘first printing,’ then why don’t you simply use the latter expression?”  I have thought about it, and here are the reasons that I have come up with.

1.  First of all, there is the history of the term.  Although the term is not necessarily defined each time it is used, people have been collecting “first editions” for a long period of time, and the term has been in use in that sense for a long time.

2.  Secondly, it sounds much cooler to say, “I collect first editions,” than it does to say, “I collect first printings.”  The former sounds romantic, while the latter sounds clinical.

In the process of determining what constitutes a first edition, the collector of card-game rule-booklets runs into many problems, some of which are probably insurmountable, in view of the limited information that is available.  One might look at Jessel and see the date of 1895 mentioned in connection with an edition of Professor Hoffmann’s Ecarte. Seeing no information that contradicts the notion, one might conclude that the year 1895 appears on the title page of the first edition. In the case of that particular work, that conclusion appears to be amply justified.

However, if one runs across a copy of Ecarte with the year 1895 on the title page, it does not automatically follow that the copy is a first edition.  After all, there could easily have been two or more printings during the year 1895, each with the date 1895 on the title page — yet only one would be the first edition.

You might say, “Yeah, but that has to be a really rare occurrence, and we can realistically ignore that.”  But, sadly, there is no reason to believe that that is true.

Professor Hoffmann’s Bridge had reached Ninth Edition by 1902.  The first edition appeared in 1899.  Apparently this actually meant that there were eight editions of Bridge Whist, and then the first edition of Bridge, under that title, was the Ninth Edition.  No matter how you slice it, though, that is two editions per year (on average) for four consecutive years.

I am not sure how Goodall (or De La Rue, for that matter) defined the term “edition.”  It is conceivable that they could have five printings of the ninth edition, and then decide to call the next edition the fourteenth edition.

I am also equipped with another very good illustration of this problem, to wit, the two different printings of Professor Hoffmann’s Auction Bridge, both dated 1912 on the title page.  I go into this in more detail in a July 12, 2011, post dealing with Auction Bridge.

Again, I doubt whether anyone know what Goodall’s definition of “edition” was.  I suspect that normally they meant “printing.”  So, a Forty-Third Edition would be the forty-third printing.  But when you are dealing with that many “editions” over a period of years, or when you have a large number of titles, with a handful of editions of each, there is ample room for miscalculations, changes in practices, and evolution of the publisher’s understanding of the term “edition.”

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