Rediscovered: Arcane Arkham Arch-Collectors Corner No. 4

As is his wont, Brian Leno was moping around on eBay the other day and noticed a copy of the Arkham House edition of A. E. Coppard’s Fearful Pleasures — it sold for $108.27. The trick angle was that a stamp at the bottom of the inside dustwrapper flap IDed it as a BOOK CLUB EDITION.

Brian realized that he’d never heard of any kind of Book Club Edition for any Arkham, and asked me about it. To the best of my memory, I’d never heard about it, either.

Well, if you’ve got a mystery, you go to Sherlock Holmes, right? — or in the case of bizarre Arkham arcana, what I do is to forward the query to Paul Dobish.

“I am not sure which of the ‘remainder’ entity/entities was/were actually involved — Greenberg’s Pick-A-Book or Readers Service Book Club or whichever,” Paul responded, “but Derleth remaindered some titles (at least two, but reportedly several more).  

“The Arkham House copies were ‘regular’ copies, but the remainder house sold them with the pre-printed prices clipped and with (in blank ink) BOOK CLUB EDITION — even though they were not really such — rubber-stamped to the bottom of the front flap.

“Just to be clear: every BOOK CLUB EDITION from Arkham I have seen has been price-clipped. I do not know whether the clipping was done at Arkham or by the remainder entity.

“The two ‘common’ Arkham House BOOK CLUB EDITION titles are Coppard’s Fearful Pleasures and Wakefield’s The Clock Strikes Twelve. Over the years I have seen several copies of each offered for sale, with the Coppard perhaps more often than the Wakefield. I have an example of each in my Arkham collection.

“However, I know of one collector who wrote to tell me that he had a BOOK CLUB EDITION of Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland — that is the only other such title that I recall ever hearing about actually existing. Which is not to say that others do not.

“Derleth’s was not the only small/specialty press to do so. All of the remaindered titles were offered at a discount (sometimes significantly so) from their MSRP.

“Some FPCI publications were also remaindered. Some were bound books, some with and some without the original/new Dust Wrappers. Some were sheets that were bound (and in at least some instances in black bindings that stated Gnome Press instead of FPCI as the publisher). 

“At least one title even had a new Readers Service Book Club title leaf printed and bound in. 

“And some FPCI DWs were rubber-stamped BOOK CLUB EDITION similarly to the AH titles. A number of other such titles were advertised back then (1950s-ish), but I have never managed to acquire any such.   

“As to their apparent rarity (or even their actual existence), I do not know.

“I happen to have a Readers Service Book Club piece that offered titles from a number of the small/specialty presses — e.g., Arkham House, FPCI, Fantasy Press, Gnome Press. But in this particular piece the books were offered at full MSRP.

“For example, Hornbook for Witches was offered at the original $2.10 Arkham MSRP. (Although it was noted that ordering qualified you for some kind of bonus credit. Hence, the ‘book club’ aspect.)

“Alas, I do not have every such offering from every remainder seller of the period. So I am unable to confirm who offered what specifically and at what specific — discount versus full MSRP — pricing and at what dates.”

In the ordinary course of book collecting, purists avoid any dustjacket that is price-clipped.

Remainder markings also severely dilute the desirability of an item. Spray painting the bottom of a text block — or, just pulled off the shelf to my left, the little red Random House building logo stamped onto the bottom of the text block in my copy of the 1974 Random House first edition of The Continental Op. A remainder mark. Meaning this copy isn’t worth as much as a first without a remainder mark, but if you’re picking up a book to read and don’t mind saving a few bucks, hey, that’s the appeal of the remainder market.

In the case of Arkham House, it’s possible Derleth invoked enough magic during his run that it negates the normal remainder stigma. If you’ve got to collect each and every variation. . . .

But not every Arkham Completist is tempted. Our pal John D. Haefele reports, “I don’t actually have, or want, these books. Not different editions, or modified printings (as happened to Portals of Tomorrow), but last out of first issued, with BOOK CLUB EDITION stamped on the existing jacket.

“By the way, I think Derleth remaindered some issues of The Arkham Sampler, too.”

I find the remainder angle highly interesting as part of the 1950s saga, when the fantasy small presses were turning belly-up one after another — and it reminds me of the bit in the Sam Moskowitz memoir of Derleth about how he almost sank himself with these editions of Brit authors that regular customers of Arkham House didn’t want.

Haefele agrees, of course, but notes: “Only one of about a DOZEN different obstacles and setbacks, any ONE of which would have stopped a lesser man dead in his tracks.”

I’m looking forward to Haefele’s August Derleth of Arkham House, and for me that bleak era of the 1950s looms as potentially the most fascinating in the history.

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