One would be forgiven for thinking in the internet age that pretty much any edition of any old book a book-collecting body might desire would be (fairly readily) available online, if only said book-collecting body had sufficient funds. In fact some books still prove stubbornly elusive, irrespective of cost. I've been on the lookout for a 1965 British first edition of A Hive of Glass, perhaps the finest novel in cult crime/suspense writer P. M. Hubbard's queasily compelling canon, ever since Book Glutton got me into Hubbard's work four years ago, and though the occasional jacketless copy has hoved into view, a first edition in its wrapper has, until very recently, remained frustratingly out of reach. This has been especially maddening because there haven't even been any images of the British first's jacket available online, so I had no idea even what the thing looked like – an inexcusable state of affairs for a novel that I would consider to be among the ten best that I've read in the past half-dozen years.
Happily, I'm finally able to rectify that situation:
That there is the British first edition and first impression of A Hive of Glass, published by Michael Joseph in 1965 and purchased by me just last week. It's an ex-library copy:
but both book and jacket are in very good condition (despite having been borrowed from a Kesteven county library twenty-nine times over a five year period), with all pages (and indeed library dockets) present and correct and the wrapper quite bright and unclipped.
That wrapper, now added to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s, was designed by Ivan Lapper, an artist and illustrator whose best-known book jacket work is probably the 1966 Bodley Head edition of Graham Greene's The Comedians but who has latterly found wider fame as a painter. Those familiar with A Hive of Glass will recognise the curious object on the front of the jacket as a Venetian tazza (albeit one with the embellishment of a lid); those unfamiliar with the novel and wondering what the bloody hell a tazza is and why it should feature on the cover will just have to go and read the book (or maybe my review – or better still John Norris's).
There is more to this particular tale of book collecting, however; because not only have I at long last laid my hands on possibly the scarcest book in Hubbard's backlist, I've also laid my hands on something which, I'd hazard, is scarcer still:
An uncorrected proof of A Hive of Glass. I've only ever come across one other proof of a Hubbard novel – 1964's A Picture of Millie, still listed on AbeBooks (for about £100) as I type – so this one is rather a rare thing indeed. (And I should just like to state for the record, for those who are au fait with the novel, that no murders were committed in the acquisition of this item.) What's really interesting about it, aside from the little errors one expects to find in proof copies –
compare page 17 of the proof (top) with that of the first edition (bottom; click on the images to see them larger) – is its copyright page. The stamped date on the card cover gives the pub date as 11 January, 1965 (and the price, scrawled in pen, as 18 shillings, as per the first edition's jacket flap); but on the copyright page, the year of publication (and copyright date) is given as 1964:
Whereas on the copyright page of the first edition, the year of publication (and copyright date) is given as 1965:
In a way I suppose that's fair enough: the uncorrected proof was indeed 'published' – in the sense that it was printed and distributed (in presumably a very small edition) – in 1964, whereas the first edition wasn't published – in the sense of being made available for sale to the public – until the following year. But it's not something I think I've seen before with a proof and a finished edition, and it does lend some credence to the notion that an uncorrected proof is the true first edition of any book. Which, at least in this case, it's hard to argue that it isn't.
Gorgeous artwork! Where have you find the proofs?ReplyDelete
Usual place, Ray – ABE/Amazon, but it took some inquiries to determine what it was.Delete
Bravo! This has to rank with Sour Tales for Sweethearts as your top book-related experiences of the year.ReplyDelete
But I have to ask, where did you find the book? You say you bought it. From a dealer? An antiques shop? (An antiques shop where you casually tried to buy it without drawing attention from the clueless owner as to what a discovery you had made, just like in the book?) And as for the uncorrected proof - you write "I at long last laid my hands on possibly the scarcest book in Hubbard's backlist" and if that is not a suspicious declaration, I don't know what it is. Ebay? Or perhaps you found it in an isolated country house and secreted it out from under the owner's nose? Again, just like the book. One wonders.
All kidding aside, these are two amazing finds. My American copy does not have a cover and I never realized that I did not know what the British cover looked like. But now we know, thanks to you. This latest discovery prompted me to have a look at some of your older posts on Hubbard (and the Beautiful British Book Design pages) and you have collected and created something quite wonderful.
Thank you, BG, you are, as ever, far too kind.Delete
Thanks for the link to my review, Nick. This is still my favorite of Hubbard's books. Amazing artwork on this DJ. So cool to have finally been given the pleasure of seeing it. Congrats on the purchase! Very envious of course. I'll refrain from making more jokes about luring you to an open pit.ReplyDelete
But here are some quibbles. Is that really a true tazza? It appears to have a lid! Isn't a tazza supposed to be a glass stand for displaying food or some other object? Why is there that rounded top with what looks like a lamp's finial? Looks like the artist confused a tazza with a tureen.
Ah, well I'm led to believe by one of my researchers that tazzas can have lids, although the evidence there is conflicted. What we really need is an expert on Venetian glass to rule on the matter.Delete
Slightly tautological first para, the kind of thing that embarrass authors rather than getting up the nose of editors, unless they're particularly good.ReplyDelete
Is it really tautological to suggest that some books are still hard to find in the internet age and then detail a book that took me four years to find? Wouldn't a book that took four years to find online qualify as being 'stubbornly elusive'? What would be a reasonable length of time, in your learned opinion?Delete
Oops 'learned' yeah you'll havta look somewhere else for that. No I meant the proof, page 17.Delete
Ahhh, apologies, my mistake!Delete
Finally being able to see the cover art is almost as good as owning it, in this case.ReplyDelete
Yes, it was quite a relief when the book arrived and I was finally able to see the jacket.Delete
...Christ I'm sad...
No more Hubbard rarities to collect?ReplyDelete
Well... never say never.Delete