Friday, 16 April 2010

Strike One

As a little aside to the previous post, despite my fretting over its whereabouts, I think I might have been a bit disappointed if my copy of Butcher's Moon had turned up any earlier. See, the strike-off line on the imprint page doesn't have a '1' on it. It runs "9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2".

For anyone who doesn't know, strike-off lines are what publishers use to keep track of which printing of a book is in circulation. If a book's strike-off line runs "10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1" (or "2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1" if the text is centred rather than ranged left), it usually (but not always) means it's a first printing. If the "1" is missing – or the "1" and the "2", or the "1", "2", "3", etc. – it means it's a second printing, or third printing, and so on. For book nerds like me, first printings are what it's all about. (Used to be the printer would manually scratch off a number on the plate for each printing, but in the days of in-house repro etc., that happens less often.)

So my copy of Butcher's Moon is a second printing, right? Well, no. After I ordered the book (and was assured by the seller it was a first printing as well as a first edition), I did some research on another Random House book from the same period. (Astute followers of this blog – if there are any; followers I mean, not astute people – might be able to work out which book, but we'll come back to that another time.) And it turns out that during the 1970s, when Random House used a strike-off line (they didn't always), they generally ended at "2". So the only way to be sure an RH book from that period is a first edition is if it says "First Edition" (or "First Printing") under the strike-off line. Which my copy does.

Bloody confusing, but at least I worked that out before the book arrived. So now I know. And, probably to your eternal regret if you've read this far, so do you.

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