Monday, February 18, 2008


Signature vs. inscription?

There are two schools of thought about signed books. Probably more, actually, knowing the vagaries and opinions of used book dealers. But for our purposes today, let's say two: first, the author's signature, plain, with perhaps a handwritten date from the year of the book's publication, nice, clean, tidy; second, a rambling inscription to someone we don't know from Adam, more of the author's handwriting, a quirky signature and date, messy somehow. In this case, and in most cases, give me the messy signature - I'd always rather have a caring author add a little extra to a good book, to give that copy of the book a collectible and loveable uniqueness. Certain authors signed a lot of books; certain authors cared about their readers and also had a lot of friends they liberally inscribed their books to. Certain authors were much-loved during their own lifetimes. You see where I'm heading here - Christopher Morley was one such. So here are two rambling messy interesting inscriptions from my Morley collection. One, in a rather homely Grosset & Dunlap 1930s reprint of Thunder on the Left (I bought it, as you can see, for $7.50):

What was the difficult question? What is the tentative answer the book provides?? Morley signed this in Honolulu, of all places. And wrote Ex Libris to boot. I'd so much rather have this copy than a copy that was merely signed on the endpaper or title page.

The other Morley inscription, in a first edition of Seacoast of Bohemia (Doubleday 1929):

The subject of this book is Morley's account of managing the Rialto Theatre in Hoboken, New Jersey, with a few friends of literary bent. This inscription was obviously written quickly with an open hand, and we can assume from the phrasing that he was signing copies at the Rialto during the run of the play After Dark. Again, wouldn't we rather have this copy than one that was merely signed? (This question is rhetorical, but I welcome comments on this issue nonetheless.)

By the by, I was interviewed recently by writer Marty Weil about another of my collecting obsessions - booksellers' tickets, this time - over at his Ephemera blog. The interview went up on his blog this morning. Thanks, Marty - I enjoyed revisiting the whys and wherefores of collecting tickets while I ruminated over your questions.

Is there any way of zeroing in on just the books you offering on Amazon?
God knows. I tried to figure it out and I can't... it's not like eBay where you can easily look up a seller by name. My Amazon listings are sort of odd-scholarly (is that a real subject category?). I think I have a hundred books listed at the moment - sometimes I have more, but you know, selling online just does not float my boat. It used to - I sold on eBay for a long time. No longer. Just a very litte bit on Amazon now. Look up "Flora Japonica" or "Six Masters of the Spanish Sonnet" to see how I list books.
I'm firmly in the inscription camp. The Morley inscriptions are a perfect example. You get a feel for the real person. Handwriting experts also prefer inscriptions because it gives them a full range of writing to inspect, so on that level, inscriptions are preferred. Alas, I think we are in the minority. A lot of book buyers seem to prefer the tidy solo signature.
I know - I admit I do have a few contemporary books with author signatures alone, and that really is fine - as I said, very tidy and collectible - but, even though I don't know who either of these Morley dedicatees were, now I have an affinity for them as human beings, just because Morley seemed to. And the era, the book, the reader, the fan, the author, all seem more connected and vivid because of inscriptions such as this.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?