Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bibliofile: Peter Smith Publishing

No book collecting topic has been discussed more at Bellairsia and the Compleat Bellairs over the years than the fine art of tracking down the hardcover first edition copies of John and Brad’s books with the wraparound dust-jacket artwork by Edward Gorey and doing so without shelling out fistfuls of money in the process.

We won’t pretend to know the production run or sales figures on any of the hardcover editions, but, since these are approaching the quarter-century mark, finding pristine “Very Good” or “Good” copies is something of a rarity. Likewise, the high-collectability of anything Edward Gorey means that the product will likely attract a high price tag, and what originally cost between $11 and $15 can now easily exceed $100 or $150. Collectors may be forced to accept the dreaded ex-library edition – something withdrawn or discarded from local libraries – that is littered with stamps, marks, and other signs of wear to complete their collection. That, or hope that a moderately priced hardcover edition surfaces and he or she is lucky enough to find it first.

And no type of book has garnered more questions (or displeasure) than the hardcover editions released in the early 2000s by Peter Smith Publishing (PSP), a seemingly tiny outfit out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Attracted by the description (hardcover) and the price ($20 or so), we purchased a couple titles of this publisher a couple years ago having such high hopes for completing his collection. Not so fast. While technically classified as a hardcover, the book was actually a cut-up paperback pasted to hardboard covers and therefore similar to the original Dial hardcover editions in exactly no way at all; we’re showing a copy of The Curse of the Blue Figurine and The Figure in the Shadows as examples.

As most of the PSP books were released around 1999-2001, the then-recent Puffin paperback covers from the mid-1990s were used (from what we've seen): Johnny Dixon and Lewis Barnavelt titles have cover art by Paul Zelinsky and Bart Goldman, respectively. But, as the image of Figure makes clear in the square cut-out, the covers are altered to remove all traces of Puffin.

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