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.