First Edition Points: A Confederacy of Dunces (New Discovery)
Tuesday, Aug 23, 2022 8:00 PM
For more than two decades I have been collecting and selling antiquarian books. As a scholar collector I am passionate about bibliography. Learning the history of a book’s publication helps me in acquiring every edition, printing, and state of titles that mean a great deal to me. More importantly, though, accurate bibliography is crucial when offering books to customers.
When I started putting together a reference library of one of my favorite books A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, I wanted to first focus on a theory I had about the first state dust jackets. It was commonly believed that in order to distinguish between a first state and second state dust jacket you had to follow the “Walker Percy Rule” which meant there is only one blurb on the rear panel (Percy’s). The second state jacket would be identified by the additional reviews from the Chicago Sun Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist. The first state dust jacket was believed to have been issued only on the first and second printing books and the second state jacket on third and subsequent printing books. The first printing had a very small run of 2,500 copies and the second printing 5,000 copies for a total of 7,500 first state dust jackets.
However, I noticed two differences between dust jackets on the first and second printing books that should have been the same according to the Walker Percy Rule. All the first printing books I had had white specks at the top of the front panel, back panel, and along the spine. All the second printing books I had did not have these marks. The other difference I observed is that the blue letters in the title of the first printing book dust jackets (with the specks) are faded to a beige color whereas the ones on second printing books (without the specks) are noticeably less faded.
My wife and I also own a print shop, so I first saw the specks more as a printer error (debris caught between the ink and paper during the printing process) than something intentional. Every example I had, though, had the marks in the same places on the jacket. This made me think that perhaps these marks are intentional. Could they possibly be stars in a nighttime sky?
I reached out to the LSU Press and asked if they could confirm whether the marks on the jacket are stars or not. I received a reply from James D. Wilson, Jr. who confirmed that the specks were intentionally put there by illustrator Ed Lindlof, they are indeed stars, and they were likely removed in error. Mr. Wilson was gracious enough to send me an image of part of the original mechanical used in printing the dust jacket showing the star effect by Lindlof.
Two weeks later Mr. Wilson sent me an email saying that my inquiry had lit a spark. Buried in the files at the LSU Press, he was able to locate a letter from Joanna V. Hill, the LSU Production Manager at the time, to Lindlof that conclusively states “I deleted the stars and intensified the color of the title in the reprint.” This admission from Hill is the smoking gun that disproves the long-held belief by collectors of the “Walker Percy Rule.” Now the way to distinguish between the first and second states is whether the jacket has the star effect or not. The letter also explains why the title on dust jackets with the star effect are faded to a beige color and the second printing jackets retain most of the original blue color.
We also now know that the first state dust jacket is far more scarcer than originally thought. Instead of a printing of 7,500 (combined first and second printing books) there were only 2,500 first state dust jackets produced.
Occasionally collectors will find a second issue dust jacket on a first printing book. This could be because the books were printed out of state and the dust jackets were printed in Baton Rouge, LA. Both components were then sent to the press warehouse at LSU and were jacketed by attendants who may have accidentally put a second state dust jacket on a first printing book. Another explanation is that collectors and dealers are known to add a dust jacket from a less expensive second printing book (believing the jacket to be a first state) and add it to a first printing book missing a jacket. This is a common practice called "marrying" a dust jacket to a book.
I believe an important bibliographical discovery such as this, on a book published so long ago, would be impossible with larger publishing houses today such as Random House, Knopf, Macmillan, etc. Therefore, I would like to give a sincere thank you to Mr. Wilson and the LSU Press for their enthusiasm and support in proving this theory.
Thank you to Rebecca Rego Barry for including this discovery in Fine Books & Collections magazine "Current Events & Trends" November, 2022.