I’m now reading Robert Penn Warren’s World Enough and Time, published in 1950, which is when my copy dates from. I don’t collect first editions, but I don’t discriminate against them! Collecting first editions seems to me a fairly silly mania: I would guess that more than three quarters of books published over the last fifty years never got to a second printing: though in these days of vigilant inventory control, this percentage may increase. If rarity is the collector’s motivation it would be more logical to collect second printings!

The bestselling book of 1950 was The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson: who’s read that one? World Enough and Time didn’t even make it into the top ten bestsellers of the year, but then nor did All the King’s Men four years earlier, and that must be RPW’s best known book.

The spine just tore, revealing the structure of the book.

I find this quite impressive: a lot better binding than you’d find if you tore apart a current bestseller. Down the right hand side of the broken spine you can see the criss-cross pattern which is the first lining, a mull (loose-weave cloth). That little band running across the spine at the top is the inner fold of the cloth itself, and it is covering the top end of the crash, that crinkly paper, the second lining. Hidden behind it there’s a rather elegant red & gold headband, matched by one at the bottom. To the left of the picture you can see the edge of the cloth with a paper liner which was part of the case.

The evidence for that claim can be seen in this second picture, where you can see that the paper was in place when the cover was stamped. The spine has two hits of foil, a black panel with a design motif of an hour-glass dropping out showing the brown cloth, and gold with a box and the author/title/publisher information. The pressure of the die stamping has indented the paper, showing it was there when the cases were stamped. The title is also stamped on the front cover. One might comment that that spine liner is a pretty thin and flimsy piece of “board”.

Although the book is unsewn, Random House obviously gave extra care and attention to its design. I suspect that a solid case binding like this was probably standard for a trade book back then, but not every novel got the two-color stamping treatment and a top stain which may have started out black but is now a greyish color. The book was designed by Marshall Lee, still a big name even when I hit these shores twenty-five years later. The text is printed in two colors: the chapter numbers are in a brown ink tactfully matching the cloth. Quite a neat package, though I’m not totally sold on that first line of caps — maybe it’s just the drop that makes me feel a bit queasy — I think I’d prefer the chapter number to be raised three or four picas allowing four or so more lines of text on the page. But we do have to thank Mr Lee for insisting on the excellent letter spacing in that first line.