Wednesday, April 30, 2014

BiblioFile: The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (Bantam, 1980)

We’ve carried a lot of love for the Bantam Skylark paperback editions from the 1980s because that’s how a lot of fans first discovered John’s books. (Yeah, some of you had public or school libraries with the original Dial hardcovers on their shelves and you got the full Bellairs and Gorey experience....) In a word, the Bantams are colorful nostalgia trips that bring back lots of memories. (Never mind that “colorful nostalgia trips” may conjure thoughts of the 1960s…let us not be silly.)

Here’s one memory that has mostly been forgotten. One of the first, if not the first, Bellairs title to appear from Bantam was The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn. This book itself stands out for a handful of reasons. Story wise it’s one of Bellairs’s only titles to not feature any supernatural elements – in short, none of the witches, mummies, or wizards that other titles boasted. Plus it was the only title not originally published in hardcover by Dial; instead Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (HBJ) released the book in 1978. Finding a first printing edition of this hardcover is a chore unto itself and a discussion for another post.

Two years later Treasure saw its push to paperback. The cover art of what was Bantam’s first printing in September 1980 is a bit spooky and suspenseful but also features what we’d wager is the worst spoiler in the entire series. (For the record, by our guess the frontispiece for 2001 Dial edition of The Tower at the End of the World comes in a distant, far-flung second.)

But it’s still a great piece of art and it’s the artwork we’re asking about today: who is the illustrator? Eagle-eyed (ha!) readers or those who own this edition will be quick to offer the initials RC. Those letters make up the small red blob seen to the right of Hugo’s shoes and to the left of the church steeple. And who is RC?

Our resident book collecting expert, Russ Bernard, provided us with some close-up scans of the cover and offered his thoughts on the mysterious artist:
“To me it looks like an R over a C but the R could be an N, I guess. The only R.C. artist that I can think of would be Richard Corben and I have never seen him sign his artwork this way. I was hoping that somewhere in or on the book they might mention the cover artist. All that I have found is ‘Cover art copyright 1980 by Bantam Books, Inc.’ on the copyright page. The artist seems to have some talent…the faces in the image seem especially good.”
We're pretty sure it's not Randolph Carter.

Anyway, there’s more that stands out about this edition and we’ll get to those oddities later. Right now we’re curious if anyone knows anything about the cover artist.

By the way: when Treasure was ready for a second printing in 1985, the folks at Bantam had by that point been issuing other titles in paperbacks but with Edward Gorey’s artwork. Although Gorey hadn’t illustrated the original hardcover edition for HBJ, someone got wise and commissioned him to create new artwork so the second printing would match the other titles in their Bellairs series.

Smart move.  But it's a shame it's made this edition forgotten.

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