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June 2005



Suspended prison sentence for false description on eBay

An eBay seller has been sentenced to a suspended term of 6 months imprisonment at Hove Crown Court and ordered to pay £1000 compensation to the buyer for the sale of a fake designer handbag, claimed to be a 'Louis Vuitton' but which was given a false provenance.

Judge Anthony Niblett issued a stern warning to those who knowingly sell fake merchandise on eBay, saying that the offence 'undermines the confidence of the public and in particular those who deal on eBay where the honesty and integrity of the users is absolutely vital'.

New Children's Laureate: Jaqueline Wilson

The successor to Michael Morpurgo as Children's Laureate will be Jaqueline Wilson. The appointment recognises the importance of children's authors in creating the readers of tomorrow.

She has written many books for children, and her sensitive understanding of modern children, the way they live and the problems they encounter, together with her sense of humour, have made her an extremely popular author, particularly with the nine to eleven year age range. She has won or been shortlisted for a number prestigious awards and was awarded the OBE for services to literacy in schools in 2002.

Saudi writers jailed for having views!

Saudi poet and author Ali al-Dimeeni languishes in a desert prison where many others have done time for their political views. Already serving a one year, he recently had nine years added to his sentence, “for sowing dissent, disobeying his rulers and sedition”. His sentence and that of two Saudi scholars convicted with him drew international condemnation and astonished Arab literary and reform circles for its severity.

Abdullah al-Hamed, an academic, was sentenced to seven years in prison and the writer Matrouk al-Faleh to six years. The three men had written a letter to the kingdom's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, calling for political, economic and social reforms -- including parliamentary elections in a kingdom that just this year allowed its first, limited elections for weak local councils. They could have withdrawn from their campaign and been freed but refused to do so.

Al-Dimeeni has been a long-time critic of the Saudi and has been jailed from time to time since 1986. Before his latest detention, he'd published two collections of poetry -- "Winds of Positions" and "Whiteness of Times." He also wrote "A Time for Prison, A Time for Freedom."

Jackets Required Reading Too: A Guide to Identifying Fake Dustjackets
by Jessica Mulley of The Virtual Bookshelf

First editions, in fine condition, of modern classics such as F Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (New York, 1925) or Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (New York/London, 1930) can sell for tens of thousands of pounds.  Some collected books rarely appear on the market in genuinely fine condition and, when they do, the premium will be significant.  The level of that premium will be determined, almost entirely, on condition. A small nick on a single page can have a startling affect on value - reducing the price that collectors are prepared to pay by as much as half.  The absence of an original dust jacket however can have an even greater effect, knocking as much as 95 per cent off the value of the book.  For instance, in Guide to First Edition Prices, R B Russell estimates a jacketed first edition of The Maltese Falcon at £15,000.  The same book, in the same condition, but without a dust jacket is valued at £500.  The celebrated book collectors, Allen and Patricia Ahearn, quote the rule of the thumb that the absence of a dust jacket on fiction firsts from the early part of the 20th century reduces the value by 75 per cent.  More recent fiction firsts can generally be considered almost without value to the collector unless in a pristine dust jacket.

Reputable booksellers from time to time fit jacketless books with facsimiles for genuine and legitimate reasons.  Although such copies have no collectable value, they do serve a practical purpose in much the same way as the original jacket would have done - enhancing the appearance of the book, protecting it from dust and damage and possibility increasing its saleability: some collectors may prefer to have a facsimile unless and until they have the opportunity and the means to acquire the real thing. Reputable booksellers will of course identify facsimiles as such. Here at the Virtual Bookshelf, when fitting facsimile dust jackets, we print "facsimile dust jacket fitted by The Virtual Bookshelf" followed by the year on underside of each one and place a small label with the same message on the inside front flap.  Even so, we check with every potential buyer that they are aware that the jacket is a reproduction.  Other reputable dealers will have similar practices.

Given the dramatic difference between the prices that can be realised for collectable books with their original dust jacket and those without, it is unsurprising that some unscrupulous individuals will fit fake dust jackets and attempt to pass them off as genuine.  Equally, it possible that an honest but inexperienced dealer may legitimately acquire a first edition which has been fitted with a facsimile but may fail to spot it and hence sell it on as the genuine article.  However the misrepresentation has come about, the wise book collector will want to determine the status of the dust jacket before making a significant purchase.

The first step should be a visual inspection of the jacket.  Carefully remove the jacket from the book and remove any protective sleeve that may have been fitted.  Examine the underside closely. A dust jacket that is 50 or more years old is unlikely to be uniformly bright.  While looking at the underside, inspect the spine area and edges in particular.  Even a few handlings can cause uneven folds or creasing around the spine which can be emphasised by long-term shelving. If the underside looks fresh and crisp or the jacket resists curving over the spine you may be looking at a fake.

Next, inspect the printed surface of the jacket.  Look for any apparent creases, chips or tears.  Gently and lightly run a very clean finger over the affected area.  On an original jacket you will be able to feel any imperfections in the paper. On a fake, although the impression of any damage is likely to have been reproduced, the finish is likely to be smooth.  Similarly, examine the outer side for any apparent printing flaws, again running a clean, dry finger over the area.  Most printing flaws have one of three causes - an imperfection in the original paper, a variation in the amount of ink applied to a particular area or a foreign body coming between the roller and the paper. In each of these three circumstances you should be able to feel the imperfection as well as see it if the dust jacket is an original.

Few books will survive the shelving and re-shelving that takes place over the years without suffering any indentations to the edges of the jacket, particularly on the lower edge and at the head of the spine, so pay particular attention to these areas.  Perfection should be questioned. Exercise particular caution if the jacket appears slightly smaller than the book itself as some disreputable sellers will cut down the edges on fakes to remove the reproduced flaws.

The next step is to look at the book itself. Does it look like a volume that has been protected by a jacket for much of its life?  Fading to a cloth spine, or soiled or stained boards suggest that the book has been exposed, especially if there are no markings consistent with such flaws on the jacket itself.  Pay careful attention to the upper text block edge. Is it dusty, or dirty, or faded?  One might expect the upper edges of the inside of the dust jacket to be similarly affected if the two have always been together.  Then look at the ends of the spine of the book.  If the spine tips are rubbed or bumped, it is unlikely that spine tips of the dust jacket would be perfect.  Inconsistencies between the condition of the book and the jacket should never be taken as conclusive proof of a fake jacket: it may be a genuine jacket from another copy.  It is nevertheless a useful indicator.

It is also worth comparing the colouring of the dust jacket to a known original, if one is available.  Even the best operators, using professional, well-calibrated scanners, have difficultly in matching colours precisely and in some cases the precise ink colours are no longer available.  Colour copies, effectively photographs, are harder to spot through visual comparisons.

On occasion a little research can help. The first step is to ascertain whether the first edition in question was actually issued with a dust jacket.  Experts argue over the precise date of the earliest jackets but they are known to have been used as far back as the1830. Very few books however were issued with dust jackets in the 19th century and surviving examples are extremely rare.  Dust jackets were briefly popular in the first decade of the 20th century but the austerity brought on by the first world war made them impractical.  Dust jackets did not become commonplace until the inter-war years.

It is also worth checking any relevant points of issue against a reliable reference work.  Author bibliographies (usually available from your local library or through the inter-library loan scheme) often give details of original dust jackets as well as the volume itself. For the most collectable books a general reference work such as the Ahearns' Collected Books may suffice.  Returning to the example of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, we learn from Collected Books that a first state dust jacket should carry a lower case 'j' in 'jay Gatsby' on the 14th line of the blurb but that on most copies the printer's error has been hand-corrected or over-stamped with a capital 'J'.  Such alterations should be easy to see and feel on an original but probably only seen on a fake.  Of course, if there's no lower case 'j', you are not looking at a first state jacket at all.

If, after all your inspections and research - and careful quizzing of the seller - you still have doubts, splash out a tenner or so on a hand-held microscope.  30x magnification is more than enough.  Modern day printing tends to shoot - or 'jet'- ink onto paper. Solid areas of 'jetted' ink appear relatively uniform under the microscope.  In contrast, the majority of dust jackets from the early part of the 20th century will have be produced by offset lithography which involves pressing the ink onto the surface of the paper, using a certain amount of pressure.  As a result the ink is pushed to the edges of the colour area where it gathers more thickly. Single colour areas printed by offset lithography therefore appear to have more strongly defined edges than those produced digitally.  Similarly the heavier patches of ink at the edges are less pronounced on later colour copies. Take a few moments to examine some older jackets at home and compare them to modern digital printing and you'll soon get the hang of it.


More books for the Visually Impaired

Visually impaired children across the UK will be able to read books shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal - thanks to a grant to the National Library for the Blind from the Camelot Foundation.

The National Library for the Blind (NLB) will be making titles from the shortlist, available in Braille and Giant Print so that young visually impaired readers can enjoy reading them along with their sighted friends. Only 5% of all books published in the UK ever make it into a format that blind and partially sighted people can read, such as Braille, giant print or audio.

The CILIP Carnegie Medal is just one of the recent book prizes which NLB has worked alongside to improve accessibility for visually impaired readers. The Library has recently made available some of the winning titles from the Whitbread Prize, and has also produced seven winners from the Dagger Awards.

Book restorers overstretched in China

16,000 volumes collected in the National Library of China, especially a 5,000 metres long ancient text, are in urgent need of repair. The total amount of ancient documents in various libraries and museums across the country stands at 300 million, most of which are seriously damaged. There does seem to be a problem with funding and resources, as the library services employs only 10 skilled book repairers and there are only about 100 in the whole country.

The Harry Potter Saga continues.....

With the sixth Harry Potter title 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince' due to be published next month the betting has resumed (with prohibitive odds) on the identity of a principal character expected to die. Betting was suspended for a while after a flurry of bets were placed on 'Dumbledore' in the Bungay area of Suffolk, where the book is being printed.

And in Kettering two men were arrested after what is thought to have been a newspaper attempt to buy a stolen copy of the text. Police said a person "in possession of firearms" had tried to sell a copy of the new Potter novel, but no weapon had yet been found despite a search. The Sun newspaper said it had intended to obtain the book and inform the police.

Next Month: The feature for July 2005 will be by Alba Books


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