ERB: In Focus

ERB in Focus

Robert Zeuschner


If you are a collector by nature, then you collect the things you love. You might buy Burroughs books simply because you love to read the stories. But, some of us want more. One focus is on collecting hardback books, and the most desirable Burroughs hardbacks are the first editions. They almost always have more interior illustrations than the reprints, and are published using higher quality paper. As with all book collectors, the condition of the book is critical to its value. There is a saying among rare book collectors: "Condition isn't just important; it is everything!" So, if you want to build a collection of first editions in poor condition, it can be done rather inexpensively. However, the value of the poor condition firsts will most likely not appreciate in value over the years the way a really good first edition will.

If you are contemplating building a hardback first edition collection, you need to know how to tell the first editions from the reprints. Sometimes this is a tricky proposition. Most of the first edition publishers also published reprints and their reprints are not often marked "Second printing" or something similar. The first edition status might be determined by the font used on the bottom of the copyright page ("Tarzan of the Apes"), or determined by the absence of a dedication page ("The Son of Tarzan"). Sometimes it is the color of the cloth cover that separates the first from the reprints. Every now and then, the actual weight of paper changes and a first edition might be thicker (or thinner) than the reprint from the same publishing house ("Thuvia, Maid of Mars").

What's a poor collector to do to keep from paying high prices for books that are not really firsts? The solution? Buy a good bibliography! The classic bibliography is the one published in 1965 by Henry Hardy Heins: "A Golden Anniversary Bibliography of Edgar Rice Burroughs" (published by Donald M. Grant). The book has been out of print for many decades, and commands rather high prices on the rare book market. Another bibliography is regularly published by Jim Bergen, who combines book descriptions with estimates of the values of the books. Some times the Bergen values are much too high, and sometimes a bit too low. Finally, an updated bibliography written by Robert Zeuschner was published by McFarland in 1996, with an incredibly long title: Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Exhaustive Scholar's and Collector's Descriptive Bibliography.

Although the following remarks will not replace the need for a good quality bibliography, they may help the beginning Burroughs collector who is interested in hardback first editions.

The primary first edition publishers are A. C. McClurg, and ERB, Inc. But there are several others. Here is a brief summary of the main points.

There are twenty-nine first editions pubished by A. C. McClurg from 1914 to 1929. These are the most desirable of all the first editions in terms of collectibility and value. Then Macaulay published "The Girl From Hollywood" (in at least seven reprintings as well). From 1929 to 1931 Metropolitan Books published two Tarzan books and "Tanar of Pellucidar" and "A Fighting Man of Mars." All Metropolitan books are first editions. Volland published the first edition of "The Tarzan Twins" (and at least seven reprintings, all clearly marked). Then ERB undertook to publish his own books. There are twenty-three first editions from ERB, Inc. published between 1931 and 1948, and then "I Am A Barbarian" was published in 1967, so there are twenty four firsts from ERB, Inc. Not all ERB, Inc. first editions are clearly marked "First Edition," but most are. ERB, Inc. also republished the titles twice more. In the 1960s "Burroughs Boom," Canaveral published four first editions, plus a reprinting of "Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins" which is also marked "First Edition" -- but actually this just combined two prior first editions, the Volland story and its sequel published as a Big Big Book by Whitman.

Bradford M. Day published "Beyond Thirty and the Man Eater" in 1957 (each one of these is a first edition and is so marked). Finally, Donald M. Grant published "Marcia of the Doorstep" and "You Lucky Girl!" in 1999.

Of all the first editions, the most expensive are likely to be a first of "Tarzan of the Apes" and "A Princess of Mars," not only because ERB collectors value these books, but because other non-ERB collectors value each book as well. "Tarzan of the Apes" is one of the cornerstones of any fine American fiction collection, and "A Princess of Mars" is the basis for any quality science-fiction collection. If you can find either of these in a very good condition original dust jacket, you have a genuine treasure!