Ephemera – Part I

Book collectors known as completists are a unique and sometimes strange group. They want everything by, about, or related to their favorite author. They don’t want just primary first editions and signed/limited editions. They want any and every kind of ephemera they can find. They want the first printings by all subsequent publishers of an author’s works, all the anthology and periodical appearances, and all the books written about “their guy.” They want film and theatre memorabilia related to their favorite. But this sort of broad-range collecting isn’t limited to completists. If To Have and Have Not is your favorite Hemingway book, you may want some stills from the film version, or a script, if you could find it.  Or maybe one of those large, 27-by-41-inch film posters. Maybe you’re into esoteric items; such as collecting William Faulkner periodical appearances that were not collected into a story compilation or that were not collected in some other manner. Why? Because a collection of Hemingway or Faulkner or Jack London first editions looks pretty much like your neighbor’s collection, but if you were to color the collection with those vintage periodical serializations of his stories, you would set your collection apart from the crowd. This sort of collecting–looking for the odd or unusual or unique–is usually limited to major authors rather than writers like Joe Doakes.

No offense, Mr. Doakes, but booksellers aren’t likely to stock that rare stage play adaptation of your seldom seen second book. They are, however, likely to stock every weird language translation of any title by F. Scott Fitzgerald that they can come up with. And there is plenty of material to find, because writing a novel or short story collection has never been a road to immediate financial security. But writers are smart: They know they can maximize their dollar intake if they can sell the same item many times over. Let’s take Wallace Stegner, for example. Before his big book, The Big Rock Candy Mountain, was published in September of 1943, Stegner managed to carve out no fewer than four sections to be published separately as short stories in periodicals. One example is his famous short story “Two Rivers.” It won the second place award in the O. Henry Memorial Prize Stories of 1942, which meant it was also published in that annual anthology of prize stories. And while some collectors might shake their heads at other collectors for having to have the “Two Rivers” appearance in the June 1942 issue of The Atlantic magazine as well as the Herschel Brickell-edited Prize Stories of 1942 and, of course, a first edition of The Big Rock Candy Mountain, others take pride in having all three items in their collection. Maybe it gives them bragging rights. Maybe they just have a silent pride that needs no explanation or expression. John Steinbeck is certainly one author who fits the profile of broad collecting. In fact, there may be as much Steinbeckiana sold as publications by the author himself. Next week we’ll look at some interesting Steinbeck ephemera.


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