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May 13, 1997

Book Collecting

by Dee Entrekin

To Kill A Mockingbird

There were only five thousand copies first printed of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. Because of Mobile's proximity to Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville and our interest in Alabama authors, there may still be a few undiscovered copies in our area. Recently, a copy was found in Mobile.

The book's collection was "good," meaning that it was the average used and worn book with all pages and leaves in tact. The book's corners were worn, and there were two small stains on the top page edges. The dust jacket was in "poor" condition with old masking tape covering all creases and a four-inch tear running up the front cover. Many collectable books found in this condition are routinely passed over. But Harper Lee's book is not easily found, and her signature on a first printing is scarce. The book was an inscribed copy.

Three booksellers in Atlanta, California, and New York were not interested because of the described condition. Linda Newman of Deep South Bookbinders removed the masking tape, the dried glue residue, and repaired the tears with an application of silk mending tissue. A well-known book authority, author, collector, and dealer paid our asking price upon examination.

The first printing of To Kill A Mockingbird was not well made. It has not held up well under even careful handling. The jacket rubs, chips, and tears easily. To find the perfect copy is always the goal of a collector, but unrealistic expectations leave many collectors wanting.

Some would say that condition is everything, and let condition dictate their every acquisition. Others would rather have a discarded library copy than none at all. Then there are the sensible collectors who know whether or not to expect to find or afford the perfect copy, who are flexible in their expectations, and who are willing to compromise when appropriate.

Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird was first published in Philadelphia and New York by Lippincott in 1960, with 296 pages. The copyright page states "First Edition." The front of the dust jacket is brown, green, and black, featuring a tree near the spine edge with a large limb jutting out toward the fore-edge. The dust jacket's back panel features a photograph of Harper Lee, taken by Truman Capote. The picture was eliminated on later printings.

Robin H. Smiley, publisher of the magazine First, in an article in the December 1996 issue relates a conversation with another bookseller. They were speculating on what would eventually be considered the most collectable book published in the last half of this century. Several standards surfaced in their discussion. It would likely be an author's first book with only a small number of copies printed, and not well made so that those copies surviving would be even fewer. The dust jacket would have a "point," distinguishing it from later printings. It would have to be a great book with not only literary merit but also having social significance. They concluded that To Kill A Mockingbird met their criteria.

Allen and Patricia Ahear's 1995 edition of Book Collecting shows that Harper Lee's book in "very good" to "fine" condition was valued in 1978 at $50, in 1986 at $250, and in 1996 at $2,500. Today, depending on the condition of the book, prices range from $2,500 to $5,000. A presentation copy recently brought $12,650 at auction.


Dee Entrekin owns Entrekin Book Center.


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