Monday, April 27, 2020

The Library Edition That Wasn't

In early April, I saw an eBay listing for an unusual Hardy Boys book that appeared to be a library binding.

I probably spent five to 10 minutes staring at the images in the listing, trying to figure out exactly what I was seeing.  The cover has The Secret of the Caves, but the inside is What Happened at Midnight.  That can happen quite easily with library editions, since they have been rebound.

I was quite stymied by the bizarre appearance of this book.  The binding itself is odd for a library binding.  Library bindings have a certain texture that this book does not have.  The Gretta endpapers image on the cover is also strange.  I kept looking at each of the seller's photos of the outside of the book.  I considered whether someone could have traced the endpapers somehow onto the outside of the book.  I decided the quality was too good for that.

Really, I just didn't want to purchase someone's art project.  I decided that this had to be an unusual library binding and made the purchase.  I was intensely curious to see this book in person.

I received the book and was further mystified upon examining it.  I own well over one thousand library binding books.  I know them well, and this book does not fit.

1.  Library bindings typically do not exactly reproduce the original design of anything from the original book.  Usually, the illustrations on library bindings have been redrawn.  This book exactly reproduces the Gretta endpapers on the cover.  (Note:  Publisher-issued library bindings do exactly reproduce the cover art of the regular editions.  The Gretta endpapers are not cover art.  Besides, if this were a publisher-issued library binding, we already would have seen multiple examples.)

2.  The orange Gretta endpapers are fully present in the front and back of the book, both the pastedowns and the free endpapers in both places.  The pastedowns are never present in library rebound books, because those are destroyed when the text block is removed from the original binding.  The free endpapers are sometimes present, but never the full set.  (Note:  Publisher-issued library bindings do sometimes have the full set, but the set is always placed inside after blank pages that are in the usual endpapers position.)

The book also appears to be in its original binding, as completely bizarre as that sounds.

I had to conclude that this could not be a library edition.  I first thought that someone in a bindery had fun creating an interesting book.  I gradually realized that the book's qualities were too oddly similar to various characteristics of actual Grosset and Dunlap books for it to be just that.

By the way, some collectors with bookbinding skill have created books to complete sets in various formats.  An example would be to take the inside of an original text Nancy Drew #1 and place it inside the binding of the picture cover for Nancy Drew #1.  I couldn't rule out something like that having happened with this book.  I am not sure how I feel about that sort of thing.  It seems like cheating, and I don't know if I would want a book that someone created on purpose.  On the other hand, if an example were to drop into my hands, I'd probably enjoy the novelty.

The plan all along was to post about the book on Facebook, but I didn't want to express what I was beginning to think.  While I am quite knowledgeable about the Hardy Boys series, I have nowhere near the depth of knowledge that I do with Nancy Drew.  I do not know everything about the Hardy Boys series.  I did not think that a book like this was known to exist, but I could not be certain.  I wanted to see how the Hardy Boys collectors reacted before venturing any kind of opinion.

I posted photos of the book, mentioned its characteristics, and gave no indication about what I thought.  Here are the rest of the photos that I put up on Facebook.

Collectors who responded to my post quickly made some interesting observations.

1.  Tony Carpentieri pointed out that the Gretta endpapers image on the cover of this book shows more of the edges than what can be found on the Gretta endpapers.  Just think about the significance of that statement.  The cover of this book shows more of the Gretta endpapers than the actual Gretta endpapers do.  The only explanation is that the design on the cover of this book must have come from the equipment that printed the Gretta endpapers. 

2.  Frank Krieger looked up the post-text ad information and determinted that the inside of this book matches the 1932D-5 printing of What Happened at Midnight.  At that moment, I realized that the binding of this book is identical in texture and color to the Nancy Drew books of 1930 to 1932.  Absolutely identical.

3.  James Keeline mentioned that Kingsport Press, the bindery that bound the books for Grosset and Dunlap, had classes on topics like bookbinding.  He hypothesized that this book might have been the product of such a class.  James looked up the original owner, Carl Downa, whose name is inside the book.  James found that a Carl Houston Downa lived in Kingsport, Tennessee.

4.  I looked up my seller's location, which is Bristol, Tennessee.  Bristol is approximately 20 miles from Kingsport.

Taken together, this information provides strong circumstantial evidence that this book came from Kingsport Press and could have been a product of a class offered at Kingsport Press.  Carl Downa may very well have been the person who fabricated the book.

Therefore, I am confident that this book came from Kingsport Press.  The book has the blue Nancy Drew binding.  It has the orange Gretta endpapers.  It is the original binding.  The Gretta endpapers were printed on the cover.

Remember how I didn't want to end up with someone's art project?  Apparently that is exactly what happened.  However, I am quite pleased with this particular art project.  It is rather special.  I also wonder if any other odd books like this one from Kingsport Press exist somewhere out there.

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