December 2001 : IOBA Seminar Report from Attendees

The IOBA seminar on identifying first editions was held at Vic Zoschak’s shop in Alameda last fall. It was free of charge to IOBA members and to any interested folks in the area who could attend. A lucky few turned up for the midmorning to early afternoon workshop. We each introduced ourselves, delivering more-or-less book-related thumbnail histories.

Primary discussion, of course, pertained to the announced topic, but we wandered down many side paths, too, including digital cameras, costs-of-goods, forgeries, and so on.

Vic led our group very well, in particular demonstrating the need for specialized reference works in order to accurately describe the more arcane items one wishes to sell. The survey guides such as McBride and the Ahearn Book Collecting 2002 do not supply more than an outline, if that, in many cases, and to do a scarce book justice, sleuthing through some costly, limited print run bibliographies is vital. First editions of any era can have variants that may be significant and be more (or less) valuable, for a number of reasons.

Chris Volk, with partner Shep Iiams, attended the seminar, and definitely has the whole book club edition situation totally sussed. We were regaled with the rules for divots, dots, blindstamps, priced and unpriced jackets–which companies had which policies when…. Bob Erwin brought a book or two he was puzzled about, or just wished to demonstrate the ambiguity of in terms of printing. Vic showed several examples from his stock.

We were all treated by Vic to a splendid luncheon at a nearby Japanese restaurant and then we “talked shop” back at his shop awhile, before going our separate ways. He certainly has a trove of fascinating printed material, some of it fragile and expensive, of course, but he was open for biz on the main drag of a fairly typical town, and courteous and attentive to the folk who ambled up during our brainstorming.

I’m looking forward to participating in more of these functions, as all sorts of book collecting and selling issues get knocked around, and I acquired very helpful knowledge from this one. Not to mention the camaraderie engendered in encounters in “meatspace”, as the estimable Dusty Humphries refers to it.

Jim Pollock



Most of the booksellers attending this workshop were already familiar with identifying modern first editions and so the heart the workshop was an introduction to some of the most important Americana and other specialized reference books.

I think it is worth repeating Vic Zoschak’s comments, which Bob Erwin already mentioned, that reference books serve two functions: first of all, they will give you the essential information which you need to identify WHAT you have: is this a first edition? how do you identify a first edition? what were the differences between the different editions? etc., but even more importantly, reference books tell you WHY a particular book is important.

Every bookseller should have a goal of constantly improving and expanding his or her own personal library. Although the internet is a valuable source of information, it is not a substitute for a carefully selected reference library. (Just as an aside, a library such as this can also be an excellent investment!)

The following are just very brief comments about the books presented at the workshop.

The two most basic and important general Americana reference books are usually named in catalogue listings as simply ‘Sabin’ or ‘Howes’.

‘Sabin’ is “A Dictionary of Books Relating to America, from its Discovery to the Present Time” by Joseph Sabin. Originally published between 1868 and 1936 in 29 volumes, this was reprinted in a 2 volume, mini-print set.. It includes over 100,000 entries of books and pamphlets printed in the Western Hemisphere and work about America printed elsewhere.

‘Howes’ refers to “U.S.IANA 1650 – 1950” by Wright Howes, which was published in many editions – it is described as a selective bibliography which includes over 11,000 uncommon and significant books relating to the continental portion of the United States. While less comprehensive than Sabin, its’ focus on the most important books, including giving information about reprints and an indication of scarcity, makes it perhaps even more useful for a bookseller.

Other useful and important Americana reference works discussed (and actually looked at) in the workshop included:

  • Wagner & Camp on the opening of the American West (Henry R. Wagner and Charles L. Camp. THE PLAINS & THE ROCKIES. A Critical Bibliography of Exploration, Adventure and Travel in the American West. 1800-1865 the 4th edition is generally considered the best)
  • Chad J. Flake (A MORMON BIBLIOGRAPHY 1830-1930: Books, Pamphlets, Periodicals, and Broadsides Relating to the First Century of Mormonism – plus a later supplement Larry by Draper and Flake). While this reference is rather expensive and difficult to obtain right now, a new edition should be coming out soon.
  • Robert E. Cowan (many books on California history – with perhaps the most significant “A Bibliography of the history of California and the Pacific West 1510-1906” ).
  • Ramon Adams on gunfighters and cowboys (“Six-guns and Saddle Leather; a Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets on Western Outlaws and Gunmen” and “Rampaging Herd : A Bibliography of Books & Pamphlets on Men & Events in the Cattle Industry”.
  • Francis P. Farquhar (“Yosemite The Big Trees and the High Sierra – A Selective Bibliography”), and
  • L. W. Currey (who in addition to producing the definitive bibliography of science fiction, also co-authored one of the significant bibliographies on Yosemite: “Bibliography of Yosemite, the Central and the Southern High Sierra, and the Big Trees 1839-1900”).

Children’s reference books, references for medical books, and those relating to pre-1920 literature were the other main areas covered in terms of reference books.

However, the often wide-ranging discussion included information on identifying the first printings of older books (including the fact that the US did not recognize English copyrights until the 20th century and so when one sees a copyright in older US editions of works first published in England, often the copyright is for the illustrations or other material which might be unique to the US edition), and the traditional method of identifying the date a book was printed when cataloging books (if the date is on the title page, this appears in the catalogue entry as 1890, if on the copyright page, it will have parentheses around it (1890) and if the date does not appear in the book, but is known to the bibliographer or cataloguer it will have brackets around it [1890].).

Another issue which was touched on briefly was that of dustjackets – and the fact that far too often the assumption is made (and incorrectly stated in catalogue entries) that a book from the late 19th century or the early 20th century was issued without a dustjacket, when in fact the opposite is true – they were issued with dustjackets, but few of them have survived.

While written comments on a workshop like this might be able to include some of the factual information which was presented, what is lost is the ability to actually look at the books, to discuss them first-hand, and also the fact that those who attended each brought a different perspective and knowledge to the workshop. These factors are a large part of what makes attending a workshop like this so valuable – and they are the reason why I hope that the IOBA (either alone, or working with other regional booksellers associations) will be sponsoring many more in the future.

Christine Volk & Shep Iiams


I had the pleasure of hosting the first-ever IOBA educational seminar this last December at my shop in Alameda CA. 5 IOBA members, plus myself, gathered around one of my display cases for a few hours and discussed the challenges & problems inherent in first edition identification, with emphasis on the use of [actual] reference books in this task.

The other participants’ synopses of the day more than adequately summarize the specifics of what was covered, and Chris relates in some detail those books I deemed important enough to haul out and give reality to the reference citations perhaps only previously seen in descriptions on AddAll: Sabin, Wagner-Camp, Wing, NCBEL, the BAL, Wright, et al.

So let me use my remaining few lines of allowed print to explain my advocacy and philosophy for reference book use. Chris’ quote of my beginning seminar comments is a good place to begin–reference books can not only tell you WHAT you have, but also WHY it is important. The two aspects of book cataloguing have different functions but when used in conjunction with each other, they can contribute significantly to one’s success as a professional bookseller.

WHAT you have is important only if you’re involved in the First Edition game and a participant in the collectible book market, for most will agree that it is in this context that one’s reputation as a bookseller will suffer if the WHAT is [repeatedly] not identified correctly. Since most of IOBA members are sellers of [at least some] first editions and couple this with the fact that I am of the opinion that one’s reputation is especially critical to one’s success in these days of global e-commerce, my advocacy for the use of the appropriate reference(s) may be easily understood.

At this juncture, a comment or two on the use of the ‘net is warranted–that the ‘net has given access to lots of information is not in dispute. But I am of the firm opinion that it is not the ‘end all, be all’ with respect to book identification. It is another tool that is to be used, and the information garnered compared and contrasted with other facts that are known–information used without knowledge and context can be more damning than no information at all. Witness the fellow who cribbed another bookseller’s book description, citation and all. When the customer asked for an explanation and copy of the cited reference to accompany the book being purchased, the seller hadn’t a clue and experienced a bit of embarrassment when he was forced to admit that not only could he not supply a copy of ‘Gullans & Espey 303’, but that he didn’t know exactly what it was. One can just imagine that buyer’s thoughts on this particular ‘professional’ bookseller.

Perhaps a worthy corollary to WHAT it is, is WHAT it is not–that is, if you don’t know, I strongly suggest you don’t guess. Just ask yourself whether it’s worth the egg on your face if you’re wrong. Many buyers of first editions are very knowledgeable in their subject area, and often will know more than the generalist bookseller. ‘Guesses’ will quickly be returned should they be in error, and the premium in price sought by calling it a ‘first’ rarely compensates for the damaged reputation when it is discovered the bookseller really didn’t know.

So the WHAT is covered;the companion question is “WHY is it important? The answer to this question can sell the book being catalogued. Consider another 18th C. theology text…ho-hum, but if it be known that Ben Franklin worked in the print shop for this edition, well–wouldn’t that be a nice bit to use in the description*? So reference works can be of significant help in this regard, and perhaps one of my most used sets of general reference to answer this question is the ‘Oxford Companion’ series. They’re wonderful for providing a context with respect to an author and his/her works. Also very useful are the Dictionary of American Biography (DAB) and Dictionary of National Biography (DNB – British personalities). Even though weighted towards ‘dead white males’, the references have a wealth of information on significant personalities through the past centuries. I could go on and on, as there are many, many others that can be listed, but I think you get the idea.

So in summary, you’ve no doubt gathered that I am of the strong opinion that the use of reference books has a prominent and critical role in professional bookselling. I just hope I’ve convinced you to share that opinion. See you at the next seminar.

Vic Zoschak

* Can anybody identify this book?

Vic Zoschak provided a meeting place for the first seminar. Tavistock Books was centrally located for the Northern California IOBA members that attended. And, Vic has a extensive collection of reference works.

Three areas were discussed under the topic of identifying first editions. The first was Modern First Editions, then American, and finally Early Printed Books. Attendees brought reference materials that they use and others for catalogue subjects (detective fiction, science fiction, etc.) were discussed. Vic showed many of the American & California works that he uses.

A point that Vic made was very important. Reference works not only help identify which copies are first editions but also why a book is important. In other words, is it the author’s first book, does it introduce a series character, was it the first book on a particular subject.

As always, when you get more than one bookseller in a room, the subjects discussed weren’t always limited to the agenda. The various internet databases, cataloging tips, sources for finding good books, and many other topics were discussed.

We had six attendees for the first seminar. I hope that when the word gets around about how valuable these meetings can be the attendance will rise.

Bob Erwin


I recently attended the IOBA on-line bookselling seminar at Vic Zoschak’s store (Tavistock Books)in Alameda, CA.

I was especially impressed with Vic’s scholarly amd enthusiastic approach to identification and pricing of first edition books. He has a bibliographic reference library “to die for,” and the requisite personal eclecticism to go along with it. His specialty is Americana, and his store is stocked with many desirable and hard-to-find items in this genre. He also is a very careful businessman, and most other booksellers would do well to visit his small but fascinating and well-organized facility. Vic is an inspiring example of how one can be honest and ethical, and at the same time successfully operate a used, rare, and out-of-print book business.

Although only about 7 persons attended, we had an interesting time discussing many aspects of book connoisseurship, as well as the many opportunities and pitfalls of on-line bookselling. To celebrate this charter meeting, Vic treated all of us to a delicious luncheon at a nearby Japanese restaurant.

This was a highly successful start for this type of seminar, and I am looking forward to our next meeting.

John Reiland


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