ERB in Focus
TARZAN OF THE APES
Robert B. Zeuschner
Copyright © 2003
Click images for larger view and BACK to return to this document.
When it comes to hardback books, the one single most important factor affecting the value of a collectible Burroughs book is whether or not it has a dust jacket (and the jacket condition is very important). Of special significance are the dust jackets originally on the A. C. McClurg printings -- all are rare and very collectible, but there are two dust jackets that are the most significant and the rarest of all. One is the dust jacket for the A. C. McClurg printings of the "Return of Tarzan," whose great value lies in the fact that so very few jackets are known to exist (and it is not clear why there are so few). The other one is the dust jacket for the McClurg "Tarzan of the Apes" -- the most collectible of all the Burroughs books.
Most Burroughs hardback reprints published by Grosset & Dunlap and A. L. Burt used the same first edition dust jacket art for the numerous reprintings (at least until the 1950s), but this is not true for "Tarzan of the Apes." The A.C. McClurg jacket is not quite identical with the earliest A. L. Burt jacket, which is the first reprinting. In fact, A. L. Burt used three different jacket variants in their nearly continuous reprintings of this title from 1915 to 1927. When Grosset & Dunlap took over reprinting "Tarzan of the Apes" in 1927, someone commissioned a complete repainting of the dust jacket scene. The G&D jacket is not much like the first edition jacket. Finally, a few years ago the First Edition Library issued a "Tarzan of the Apes" volume which they identified as identical in every way with the A. C. McClurg first edition. However, the jacket they put on the book is not identical with the original McClurg first edition.
Let me begin with the first edition dust jacket for the McClurg "Tarzan of the Apes." It is a wrap-around painting by Fred J. Arting. I believe that the setting is intended to be nighttime, with the details bathed in bright moonlight. However, the artwork on the back side of the jacket is bright enough to be daylight. The colors are black, dark green, and yellow-gold used sparingly. On the front panel, Tarzan is just a black silhouette, with a yellow-gold full moon partly visible behind the dark green tree, casting a yellow reflection on what appears to be a river in the background. The lions on the back panel are also just silhouettes. The book title, "Tarzan of the Apes" is printed in dark green ink. The original uncoated paper stock was a greenish-grey, which influences the colors printed over it. The famous locket is visible hanging free of Tarzan's chest. There was also a Ben Day stipple pattern (appears as dots) on the bottom half of the jacket. The artist's name is clearly visible on the back panel. I am not certain whether there might be two variants of the McClurg jacket. I do not have an original in my own collection, but I do have scans of several McClurg jackets. One scan appears much warmer with more yellow than the bluish-grey stock described above. I am guessing that the color warmth was an artifact of the scanning process and was not there in the original, but I am not sure.
A. L. Burt began reprinting "Tarzan of the Apes" shortly after 1915, and their earliest dust jackets resemble the McClurg jackets closely, except that the paper stock is white rather than grey, which lends a different shade to the colors. The Ben Day stiple pattern on the bottom half of the jacket is still present and perhaps a bit more pronounced on the back. On the McClurg jacket, the name "Fred J. Arting" is clearly visible, but on some of the Burt jackets, the bottom half of the name has been cut off.
A few years later, the darker colors on the A.L. Burt jacket became paler, more pastel colors. Tarzan, the trunk of the tree, the branches, and lion are green and the leaves and lettering are a pale green. This is by far the most common A. L. Burt dust jacket.
Still later, in a third A. L. Burt variant the colors became a bit bizarre, with the moon over Tarzan's shoulder becoming a bright red color. It is not known why the colors changed, but my guess is that a separate publishing house reprinted the jackets, and either the quality control on the colors left something to be desired, or perhaps one of the printers decided to use his own creativity to make changes.
In their first 1927 reprinting, Grosset and Dunlap adapted the Arting dust jacket, changing the moonlit scene to full daylight, modifying Tarzan's position on the tree, adding flesh tones and colored details of leaves, grass, vines, rocks, and trees. What had been a silhouette is now a fully painted figure with facial details (personally, I find the face rather unprepossessing). To retain a sense of modesty, a loin cloth has been added. The locket is no longer hanging free, but is now delineated against Tarzan's chest. Robert R. Barrett has suggested that the Argosy artist Paul Stahr did the repainting for this G&D jacket, and I find his suggestion very compelling. The artwork certainly resembles Stahr's other Burroughs art for Argosy.
The First Edition Library dust jacket is not printed on the grey color paper stock, so the colors do not appear to be idential with the McClurg. Also, the Ben Day stipple pattern is missing, so the FEL jacket appears flatter in color compared to the early A. L. Burt and McClurg jackets. The lion and landscape which appear on the back are not complete, and the Fred J. Arting signature is not in the same location as the McClurg and Burt jackets.
Finally, the later 1960 reprinting of Tarzan of the Apes by Grosset and Dunlap has abandoned the traditional jacket, and has an entirely new scene painted by Gerald McCann.
Collecting one of each of the variant dust jackets is an endeavor usually reserved for the most fanatical and exacting of Burroughs collectors. Even if you don't want to own one of each, we bibliophiles find these sorts of details intriguing.
Author's note: Some of the original information on artists was supplied by Burroughs expert Robert Barrett for my bibliography published in 1996. I would also like to express my indebtedness to Phil Normand (who makes high quality recreations of the original jackets), whose clear explanations of some of the differences above I freely borrowed. My deep appreciation to both of these fine people.