A customer came to me in 2008 to show off his copy of THE SAND
PEBBLES. Alas, I had to tell him it was a
book club. "But," he said, "it says FIRST EDITION." "Yes," I replied, "I know - but it
lies. Welcome to the world of book collecting." This is what is known as
a false first. Another current
well known example is THE DA VINCI CODE.
I went on the 'net and bought a copy of THE SAND
PEBBLES for the customer. When
it arrived I gasped: "Ah-HA". It was different from the copy in my
collection. What's going on here ?
For those who might be unfamiliar with this book it was first serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1962
and then went on to become a spectacular best seller in 1963 - being on the New York
Times best seller list for seven months. In 1966 it was made into a movie, nominated for eight academy awards,
and considered one of the high points of the movie career of Steve McQueen. On Amazon it has sixteen reviews - all
of which award it five out of five stars.
Pictured on the right are two copies
of THE SAND PEBBLES by Richard McKenna. Which
one is the true first edition ? Both of them say "FIRST EDITION" on the copyright page.
Both copies are identical except:
Copy I-M is coded "I-M" on the copyright page. Harper intends this to mean the book
was printed in September 1962. This copy measures 4.8 cm wide.
Copy A-N is coded "A-N" which means January 1963. This copy is printed on thinner
paper and is 3.9 cm wide.
The two dust jackets are almost identical. Both have a code "0163" on the bottom of the front flap, both are
priced at $5.95. However, the I-M dust jacket is 53 cm in width, the A-N dust jacket is 52 cm. And it's
not that the later one was simply trimmed, the art work itself was reduced in size. So, even though they
have the same code, they are different dust jackets.
There is a Book-of-the-Month Club (BOMC) version of this book. To add to the confusion, it also says
"FIRST EDITION" and "I-M" on the copyright page. However, it has a book club indentation on the back
cover and it lacks a headband. The book club dust jacket is not priced and lacks the "0163" code. There are a couple
of other small differences.
So, which is the first edition ?
(A) Copy I-M is the first edition because it has the earlier date.
(B) Copy A-N's date, January 1963 matches the date on the dust jacket.
Copy I-M is some kind of advance copy or first printing before publication.
(C) Some other copy not yet seen is the true first edition. Maybe there are copies out there with
an even earlier coding, H-M for example.
There is a book on points by Bill McBride. The SAND PEBBLES is not mentioned. I wrote
to McBride. He replied saying he hadn't heard of this problem, it seemed interesting, and that I should
investigate it and then he might include it in the next edition of his book.
Next, I wrote to Allen Ahearn. He has written two books with prices of first editions. He hadn't indicated there
were points associated with the SAND PEBBLES and I believe he now says he wasn't aware of a problem with the book.
In June I began a survey ; eMailing dealers with the highest priced copies on ABE.
The dealer Second Foundation Bookstore has a copy inscribed and dated 11/22/62 which is said to have been an author's
copy. What I'd love to hear about is a review slip and also the BOMC promotional material.
A few months into this project I bought a later printing. It is coded "B-N" on the copyright page,
meaning February, 1963. It is 3.9 cm in width.
But, to add to the confusion, it came with a dust jacket also coded "0163".
Over a period of five months starting in May 2008 I made a survey of the twenty highest priced copies on the
listing services. Eight dealers say "I-M".
Two dealers, after discussion, changed their listing to say, in effect, "second state" meaning "A-N". One dealer had a
signed later printing. The remaining nine copies were being sold by people I think of as Klowns. They didn't reply
to two emails, or they couldn't be emailed, or they persist in calling a book club a first edition. I find this high
percentage of Klowns deeply disturbing. On a positive note I can see (by early 2009) that some dealers are now
mentioning the codes in their ads on the listing services.
The SAND PEBBLES was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post for the three issues beginning November 17, 1962 through
December 1, 1962. I bought a copy of the November 17 issue and on page 3 it says: "McKenna completed the SAND
PEBBLES in May, just in time to enter it in the 1963 Harper Prize novel Contest. Not only was it picked over
544 other entries for the $10,000 first prize and accepted for publication by Harper & Row, but it was chosen as next
January's Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Movie rights have been sold to Mirisch Pictures for a reported
These facts lead me to believe the following took place: The book was originally scheduled by Harper, in conjunction
with BOMC, for release in September
1962. Copies of the book, coded "I-M", were printed and bound. Then Harpers and BOMC were notified of the
serialization in the Saturday Evening Post beginning in November. This would be a big publicity boost so they gleefully slipped the publication date to January. Next, they finally
got around to printing dust jackets which were coded, of course, with the January date. The positive reaction to the book
encouraged Harpers to order another
printing which was coded "A-N". They either simply forgot to remove the "First Edition" slug from the A-N copies
or reasoned that it was still the first edition because the book had not yet been published. A publisher such as Knopf would have added a line saying "Second printing before publication". But they did revise the dust
jacket, making it slightly smaller because they used thinner paper in this printing. The next printing after that was coded
"B-N" and the words "First Edition" were removed.
My conclusion is that the first edition of THE SAND PEBBLES is coded "I-M" and the corresponding dust jacket
is coded "0163" and is 53 cm. wide.