Monday, March 5, 2018

From the readers: Treasured copy of "Andersen's Fairy Tales"


Jenny, contacting me through Goodreads, recently sent this query:
Hi there Chris,
I was trying to find the value of an extremely old OLD book. Then I came across your book that your wife gave you for Christmas and it looked very similar to the one I have. Unfortunately I am not good on the computer for the most part so I would not know how to send you a picture on the computer, only on text (sad, I know).

On the cover is a number 0742 in small print. On the cover also is, "Charles E. Graham & Co. New York. Made in the USA"

On the inside second page it says, "Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales." Then, "Translated from the Danish by Carl Siewers." Then, "Charles E. Graham & Co. Newark, N.J. -- New York." On the fifth page it says, "Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales. The Tinder-box."

The cover is in pretty rough shape for sure!! The inside pages (not including the first page that is torn off, but is there) are in decent shape. They are the color of paper bags from the grocery store. At first I thought it was typed by hand because each letter is indented a little on the paper. The binding is tight and I don't dare open the book all the way because the paper will crack off because it is so old and dry ... but to me it is a true treasure!!!

My parents were antique book dealers in their own stores, renting space from nice stores in Minnesota, and then online. My sweet father passed away when I was 29 years old (I saw you are 47 and so am I) and now my mother is in assisted living. She had to leave her house after breaking her hip and as I was going through the THOUSANDS of books they had stored in the house and huge garage, I found this gem of a book just as I was about to leave the house for the last time.

I have tried researching it, but your book is the ONLY one that resembled my book.

Is there any information you could share with me about your book or mine? I don't think I will be selling it, but would love to know the value of it. S.O.S. Chris!! You are my only hope to learn about this old of a book by Hans Andersen.


* * *

Chris says: Three things to start with: (1) Thank you for taking the time to write to me and share your story. I love hearing tales of discoveries such as this one. (2) Please understand that, in book-sleuthing matters, I am a rank amateur, just like Christopher Reeve in The Remains of the Day, and cannot be considered an expert or final word. There are folks who do this for a living. I just dabble on the Internet. (3) The most important thing you wrote was "to me it is a true treasure!!!" For so many books, the value is what we assign to them, based on memories, experiences and personal connections. You clearly have a strong connection to this book, given the family business and how you discovered it.

So, starting off, it seems as if you and I have nearly identical copies of Andersen's Fairy Tales. The only differences, based on your notes:

  • The number printed on the bottom of the cover is 0546 on mine and 0742 on yours. I'm not sure what that number represents.
  • Your book makes reference to Newark, New Jersey, on the title page. Mine does not.

When I did my original (brief) research on this book a few years ago, I could not determine a date of publication. I guessed that it was "likely between 1880 to 1910." I still think that's correct, probably toward the later part of that range. It's almost certain that there were multiple editions, each slightly different, during that time period.

I found a listing for a book similar to ours on Amazon.com. The cover is identical. This one is listed as being published by Graham & Matlack. Neither of our books make reference to Matlack, which is an interesting clue. I found a 1918 obituary for Lee R. Matlack in a journal called "The Bookseller, Newsdealer and Stationer" that states:
"Lee R. Matlack, formerly a partner in the firm of Graham & Matlack, publishers in New York, died at his home in Philadelphia on August 21st, aged forty-five.

"Mr. Matlack was well known to the booksellers of the country as a salesman. While a boy he started in the book business with the old firm of Porter & Coates. Afterward he went with the J.B. Lippincott Company, and for many years he travelled for the Henry Altemus Company. Ten years ago he became a salesman for Hurst & Co. and then, in 1912, he joined with Charles E. Graham and established the publishing firm of Graham & Matlack. Genial and always honorable and square, he made hosts of friends, who will sadly miss him."
If we are to take that obituary information at face value, then the Graham & Matlack editions of Andersen's Fairy Tales were published in 1912 or after, while our editions are sometime prior to 1912, before Charles Graham added his partner.

Whether it's just Graham or Graham & Matlack, I don't think they can be considered top-flight or prestige publishers. They focused, perhaps, on works that did not fall under copyright and that could provide maximum profit. A website by Stephen Railton and the University of Virginia that focuses on the history of Uncle Tom's Cabin contains a short mention of a Graham & Matlack edition of that book. You can see that the cover design and binding are similar to that of Andersen's Fairy Tales. Railton writes:
"This cheaply illustrated and printed book is a good example of how much borrowing went on among many of the publishers who brought out versions of Uncle Tom's Cabin in the decades after the copyright lapsed. Although the only author credited is Stowe herself, the text below was almost certainly derived (without acknowledgment) from the adaptation 'by Mary E. Blaine' published by Barse and Hopkins in their PLEASANT HOUR SERIES children's book, which earlier (also without acknowledgment) had been derived from an adaption by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall's c.1904 TOLD TO THE CHILDREN EDITION. In addition, Matlack and Graham re-used the dozen black-and-white illustrations from this edition in their PICTURE BOOK version of the novel, intended for younger readers."
You can see some other Matlack & Graham editions, all with colorful and imaginative covers, at this eBay search.

So what is the value of our editions of Andersen's Fairy Tales? In terms of the vintage-book market, I would say it's not much. Both of our books, especially as you have described yours, are in fair to poor shape. Tears and damage and brittle pages matter to buyers. Browsing various websites (Amazon, AbeBooks, etc.), the few copies I could find are selling for less than $10 in most cases. A couple copies have higher prices ($60-$70), but I'm almost certain those are pie-in-the-sky figures and that it's unlikely there would be a buyer at that price.

And so I would return to what I stated at the beginning. The only value of these books that matters is what they mean to us personally. That's something you cannot put a price on. Congratulations on your find, and I'm glad that it's a treasure in your eyes.

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