ERB: In Focus

ERB in Focus

Robert Zeuschner


WHAT IS A FIRST EDITION AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

(And What the Heck is A Re-Print?)

As I understand it, the term "first edition" applies to the very first printing of a book. If errors are found in the first printing and are then corrected in a subsequent printing, one may have a second state of a first edition, or perhaps a third state on rare occasions. Items such as the latter are equally collectible "first editions," but because of the corrections made by the publisher, these volumes may not qualify as a true first edition.

Changes made to the original printing plates, such as a spelling correction or change of advertisements at the back of the book, or a different quality of paper, suggests you are looking at a reprint. There were several changes in the early books in this regard and, although A.C. McClurg is the first edition publisher for ERB books from 1914 to 1929, a McClurg can also be a reprint in the case of several known editions. This is why most collectors rely on specialized bibliographies to help them sort out the details. (Editor's note: see Zeushner's ERB bibliograpy)

There is another dimension to this issue. Some people by nature are book collectors. There are many variations of ERB collectors, but a very common mindset is the desire to own the very first printing of a book. That desire makes any first edition much more desirable than a later reprinting and the number of collectors interested in obtainining these limited first editions drives up the collectible value.

Dust jackets are especially important to collectors, because their fragile nature makes them rarer than the books themselves. Dust jackets are easily torn and were usually discarded. Most ERB jackets have beautiful color art on the covers, but not all of them do. In the case of most ERB books, a dust jacket in especially good condition can enhance the value of a book five to ten times over.

For example, a 1930s ERB, Inc. first edition of a Tarzan book without a dust jacket might sell for between $50 and $150. With a really nice dust jacket, the same book might sell for between $250-$500.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, Click for larger image

In the case of the A. C. McClurg printings, the jacket is even more desirable. For example, a McClurg first of "Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle" without a jacket might be worth $125-$175. In an especially nice dust jacket, the same book might sell for $800-$2000.

There are a few Burroughs books where the jacket makes even more of a difference. A really nice first edition of "Tarzan of the Apes" might sell for $700-$1200, but in an original dust jacket, the book's value goes to $30,000-$65,000! Similarly, "A Princess of Mars" without a jacket might sell for $300-$700, but with a nice jacket, it could sell for $12,000-$18,000.

Return of Tarzan, Wyeth

Probably the rarest of the rare would be the original jacket for "The Return of Tarzan." The only copy in fine jacket known to exist was stolen from the safe at ERB, Inc. many years ago. Since a "Return" in jacket has never been offered at a sale or auction, it is difficult to guess its value; however, I would not be surprised that a really beautiful "Return" jacket on a fine first edition might sell for between $15,000-$30,000.

Of course, if the book is reprinted by a new publisher (A. L. Burt or Grosset & Dunlap), then the title is definitely a reprint. The early Burts are nearly always a carbon copy of the McClurg editions and often include the first edition artwork, yet these remain reprints rather than First Editions.

If you are primarily a reader of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, then there is little need for you to have a first edition. The text of the story is very probably identical in the various hardback reprints--and it must be noted that the reprints cost considerably less than First Editions!

It was very common for the First Edition to be bound in high quality cloth and printed on a quality paper. The McClurgs, in general, are much nicer than the A. L. Burt reprints. Some Grosset & Dunlap reprints from the 1940s were cheaply made.

Reprints are, by definition, followups to successful First Editions. Back in the mid-1920s a 1925 McClurg printing might sell for $2 new, but the reprint could be made so cheaply that it could sell for $1 or less and still make a profit. Additionally, these reprints--particularly those of A. L. Burt and Gossett & Dunlap--come in so many variants that some collectors have devoted their energies towards obtaining at least one copy of each reprint variant. Unlike First Editions, which are by definition limited in variation as there is only one true First Edition, reprints from Burt and G&D offer sufficient variety to keep even the most dedicated (or lucky!) reprint collectors occupied for some time.

I have included images of two dozen A. L. Burt Tarzan of the Apes reprint editions to illustrate the complexity of collecting reprint variants. (Click on any image to obtain a larger view)

EARLY A.L. BURT REPRINTS OF TARZAN OF THE APES
Examples of Collecting Variants
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It must be said that collecting first editions is considerably more challenging (both financially and in terms of effort) than amassing a collection of hardback reprints, and collecting hardback reprints is more difficult than collecting paperback reprints, though even collecting the early paperback reprints remains a challenge; however, despite the fact that the average reader does not require a first edition to enjoy the storytelling genius of Edgar Rice Burroughs, there is a very real sensory pleasure that comes from holding a hardback volume in your hands. This pleasure is not found when one reads these stories of adventure and romance in the many paperback reprints. I do hope that every ERB reader can own at least a few hardbacks, first edition or reprint, just to experience the enjoyment and tactile sensations which have thrilled ERB fans since 1914.

Good luck!