ERB: In Focus

ERB in Focus

Robert Zeuschner



Not many of us can afford to collect first editions. Actually, most people don't care about first editions. Some care so much that they collect both first editions and reprint variants. If you are going to collect hardbacks, one place to start is with the A. L. Burt reprints.

The earliest American reprintings of Edgar Rice Burroughs books was undertaken by A. L. Burt. I believe that Burt may have been the official reprint house for McClurg (the first edition publisher) to bring out inexpensive reprints shortly after the hardback first edition had sold out. Burt purchased the right to use the first edition printing plates from McClurg, and so the Burt reprints are identical with the first editions in terms of interior page fonts, illustrations and page numberings.

There are only five Burt Edgar Rice Burroughs reprint titles and these reprints are the first five Tarzan books. I do not have any information as to why Burt did not reprint other Burroughs titles.

  1. Tarzan of the Apes
  2. The Return of Tarzan
  3. The Beasts of Tarzan
  4. The Son of Tarzan
  5. Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar

Burt first began reprinting ERB Tarzan stories in 1915 with "Tarzan of the Apes" and continued reprinting "Tarzan of the Apes" (probably at least yearly) until 1928. In fact, Burt continued to bring out and reprint the same five Tarzan tales over and over again all the way through 1928. The Burt reprints are not as well made as the McClurg first editions, but the McClurgs were designed to sell for $1.30-$2 apiece, and the Burt reprints were designed to sell for $0.50 apiece and still make a profit for the publisher and author. They cut back on paper quality, cloth quality, and dust jacket quality. The Burt dust jackets are flimsier than the McClurg jackets, and they have a generally distressing propensity to fade in direct sunlight, especially on the spines which had the title originally in a bright red color.

Each Burt title was reprinted numerous times, and each used the identical copyright page. Thus you cannot simply trust the copyright page information to determine the date of the Burt reprinting. Not one copyright page has accurate Burt publishing data. Not one.

For example, it is generally thought that the earliest A. L. Burt reprinting of "Tarzan of the Apes" was in 1915, and it is described as having a dark green cover, and bright white letters. The problem is that there are at least two different versions of this. They have differences in advertisements but still have the same green cloth and white letters. It follows that not all white letters are the first reprinting, but they are all early reprintings.

However, these minor variations do not pose a real problem, except for the person who wants one of every single Burt variant. In general collectors don't put much price differential for the various dates. In other words, a genuine first printing of a Burt in jacket isn't worth any more than a much later Burt reprinting in jacket. The key feature is the book's condition, not its actual year of publication.

Click any of the "small" images below to view a larger resolution image.

To provide an example of the wide range of actual variations, we might discuss the most significant Burt reprint, "Tarzan of the Apes." The original McClurg first edition has a brick red cloth color and has a two-line embossed pattern on the cover (difficult to describe, but easy to see in an image). There is an image of Tarzan in silhouette used for the title page. The first Burt reprinting is generally the same as the McClurg in the interior, except that the Tarzan silhouette has been moved to the facing page as a frontispiece. The cloth on the first Burt reprinting is described as having a dark green colored cover, and reproduces those same two embossed lines as the first. Let me call these with the embossed lines "Type A." It used to be thought that "Type A" with white letters was always the first reprinting, until it was discovered that "Type A" covers appear in several different shades of green and blue. In addition, some of these have no ads at the back (probably the earliest reprinting) and others have several pages of advertisements. Finally, some have the publisher's name A. L. Burt in what appears to be the Times Roman typeface, and others have it in a sans serif type font. There is at least one conclusion which can be drawn from this. Clearly, these sorts of changes make for major variants, and not all Burts with white lettering are the first reprinting. Then, there are "Type A" covers with black ink instead of white. These are later. However, I believe that all of the white print Burts belong to "Type A" embossed covers.

There is another type of Burt cover, this time with an embossed line in a rectangle all around the cover. I don't know if that was the next reprinting, or several dozen reprintings later. Without intending to argue that this is the next chronologically, I'll call this "Type B." There are several variant colors with "Type B" covers, and other changes.

In addition, there are other variations of the embossed rectangular line besides cover colors. There are three major variants just in terms of the placement of the name "Edgar Rice Burroughs" on the cover. In one type, the name appears in one line directly underneath the book's title. Call this variant "Type C."

Then, in another variant the name appears on one line at the bottom of the cover. Call this "Type D." There may be two different font type variations within the category Type D.

(Editor's note: "Font," a more popular term than TYPE FACE terminology used by printers, describes the visual appearance of text. The following example illustrates two different type faces, though neither of these type faces where ever used by A. L. Burt or any other publisher of Edgar Rice Burroughs works:)

In some Burt editions the author's name may appear in two different line variants at the cover's bottom. In one of them the "Edgar Rice" is flush left and the "Burroughs" is one line down, flush right. Shall we call this "Type E"?

Other Burts exhibit the author's name in one embossed rectangle, but the name "Edgar Rice" and next line "Burroughs" is on two lines on the bottom of the page, but centered! How about "Type F" for this one?

Finally, some Burt covers for "Tarzan of the Apes" do not have any embossed line at all. I suspect that all the type variations occur with these covers without any embossed lines.

Shall we call "Type G" the ones which have the name "Edgar Rice Burroughs" in one line at the bottom of the cover, and "Type H" as the one which has the name in two lines on the bottom of the cover, and "Type J" as the one which has two centered lines on the bottom?

I also suspect that each of these major types can occur in many different cloth covers, and with variations in the advertising pages which appear at the end of most Burt reprints.

I have a tentative theory on all of these variations. These editions feel too random to be different print runs from an identical press and bindery. My guess is that Burt had several printing factories doing the work, and different each printing company used different colored book cloth and, perhaps, different embossed line patterns according to the whim of whoever was in charge for each press or the style of that press. One printing company could have printed "Tarzan of the Apes" in 1915, and then again (using the same cover design) when it was next asked to print it, say 1923. Meanwhile printing company 2 used their printing stamps in 1916 and 1919, using whatever color cloth it happened to have handy that day.


All of the above listed Burt variants (and perhaps a few more!) are known to exist for "Tarzan of the Apes"! The remaining Burt Tarzan titles, to my knowledge, offer nearly as many variants (white ink vs. black ink, embossed lines vs. no embossed lines) besides the ever changing cloth cover color.

In addition to all of the variants noted above for "Tarzan of the Apes," there are at least four different dust jackets for this book as well. If you want to be a completest, you cannot stop with just one dust jacket for your book. There are several. The first one is an almost exact reproduction of the color scheme used for the McClurg first edition dust jacket. Then there is one where the palatte has been limited (I suspect that the First Edition Library used an A.L. Burt dust jacket for their reproduction of the McClurg "Tarzan of the Apes" since it is much more like the Burt color scheme than the original McClurg jacket). There is another one which is in a pale faded green. Finally, there is a variant which has a rather bizarre red sun!

If you want one of each Burt variant you have a lifetime of collecting ahead. If, on the other hand, you simply want one Burt reprint of each of the five Tarzan books published by A. L. Burt that can be accomplished without much effort.

Happy hunting!

Editor's note: See Zeuschner's ERB: In Focus WHAT IS A FIRST EDITION AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? (And What the Heck is A Re-Print?) for an extensive BURT cover pictorial index. (24 images) Some of those images have been used to illustrate this article.