A continuation of the discussion in the preceding post, including a discussion of an earlier list that I prepared regarding scarcity and rarity in Professor Hoffmann’s works . . .

When I wrote the preceding post, I thought maybe I had undertaken a similar task before.  I just confirmed that I did so.  The list was most recently published in 1986, in The Hoffmann Collector:  The First Ten Years.  I had pretty much forgotten about it, but I just ran across it today.

Sometime I might reprint the whole article, but for now I will merely make a few comments about the list.  The earlier list, like the one in the previous post, focusses on first editions.  When the earlier list appeared, I indicated that in making the list, I stressed mainly the number of copies that I figured were in existence, but I tempered this with a consideration of how difficult it was to acquire copies.

Below are the top ten from each list.  My more recent assessments (from the preceding post) are on the left.

The Code of Civil Procedure    /   The Indian Penal Code
The Indian Penal Code              /   The Code of Civil Procedure
Home Gymnastics                     /   Home Gymnastics
Tips for Tricyclists                    /   Tips for Tricyclists
The Game of Skat                      /   Hoyle’s Games Modernized
Hoyle’s Games Modernized    /   The Modern Hoyle
The Modern Hoyle                    /   Dominoes and Draughts
Conjurer Dick                            /   Every Boy’s Book of Sport and Pastime
Dominoes and Draughts          /   Card Tricks Without Sleight-of-Hand
Card Tricks Without Sleight-of-Hand      /   Modern Magic

Please remember, these are assessments of first editions only.  If I were to evaluate the books based on “all editions,” the list would be very different.  For instance, Hoyle’s Games Modernized would go from being one of the scarcest, to one of the commonest — maybe the commonest.

So, the two “top ten” lists share eight titles.  Eight of the titles are either at the same rank, or within one or two of the same rank, on both lists.  There were two books on each list that upset the apple cart.  From the new list, those books are The Game of Skat and Conjurer Dick, which I ranked noticeably higher than before.  From the old list, the books are Every Boy’s Book of Sport and Pastime and  Modern Magic, which I moved down a ways.

Now I want to make some comments on a few specific titles.  Baccarat Fair and Foul is at number 17 in my new list.  That is probably too low — maybe it should even be as high as number 10 or so.  But copies were sold at auction in 2010 and 2011.  Byron Walker has two copies, including an unusual variant.  I suspect (but can’t prove) that most of the large magic collections begun a few decades or more ago have copies — such as the Adrian Smith collection, the Lund collection, and the Grossman collection. I’ll probably go into the topic in more detail in a future post, because the situation is rather complicated.

Regarding Hoffmann’s two law books, I do not know which is rarer.  I flipped the sequence from before, for no particular reason.  I believe that there were two printings of one of them, but I don’t know whether that implies anything about their relative scarcity.

As to The Game of Skat, I guess I was always reluctant to rank that very high, because I just couldn’t believe that it was all that scarce.  But it seldom comes up for sale.  This could be for a number of reasons, obviously.

But I think that collectors tend to think that the Baccarat book is “special” for various reasons.  Thus, I think it is likely that from time to time copies change hands behind the scenes.  The Skat book may be viewed as a little less enchanting, and hence one might figure that sales of the book might tend to be more “public.”  Yet, during the past six years, I can only think of three or so copies that I have seen for sale.  And by the way, a copy that was sold recently at auction went for, I believe, a bit over $400, including the buyer’s premium, according to what another collector told me.  (I’m not saying I have much of an explanation for that price.)

As to The Modern Hoyle, I have two 1887 copies, which I presume are first editions.  However, I don’t think I have ever seen any other 1887 copy for sale (other than in advertisements from the 1800s).  I am not naive enough to assume that just because I happen to have two copies, it can’t border on unobtainable.

As to Hoyle’s Games Modernized, 1898, I think I have two firsts of that — and again those are the only copies I have seen for sale, anywhere, ever, except perhaps in contemporary (i.e., old) advertisements.

As for Card Tricks Without Sleight-of-Hand, from the Warne’s Bijou Books series, that is not overall an uncommon book — well, it is not common, either — but the first edition is extremely scarce!  In the entire time I have been interested in Hoffmann, I can only recall hearing of three copies being sold.  One was J.B. Findlay’s copy.  As I recall, the other two — or maybe it was just one — I saw on eBay, and as I recall it was in awful condition.  Now I had better tell you my criterion for judging a copy of that book to be a first edition.  It’s not like I am positive that this is so — but I think it is likely that the copies with color frontispieces are first editions.  (It is possible that certain later printings may also have had color frontispieces.)  I have never owned a copy with the color frontispiece, nor have I had the opportunity to examine one closely, so my opinions on it are tentative.

I’ll probably return to this topic in the future!

—Tom Sawyer

May 5, 2014

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