Pocket Book 23


Here's another great Paperback Oddity submitted by Kenneth R. Johnson:


I recently took some old clothes to Goodwill.  When I took them to the thrift store, I spotted a copy of Pocket Book 23, Ben Franklin's Autobiography.  It was a "first printing: November 1939."  When I got home I checked it against my shelf copy.  It had the same cover, of course.  So I checked to see what printing that one was.  My old one said: "first printing: March 1940."  What the Hell??

I spent about an hour comparing the 2 books side-by-side to see what the differences were.

Nov 1939 is 278 pages long.  Mar 1940 is 384 pages.  Besides the Autobiography both books contain a sampling of letters, essays and other of Franklin's misc. writings; the 1940 printing has a LOT more of them.  The Autobiography itself is not quite the same in the two editions.

Nov 1939 is divided into chapters; Mar 1940 is not.  Mar 1940 has a preface that Nov 1939 does not and has 5 more pages at the end.  Both books are labeled as complete and unabridged, although it would seem that Nov 1939 is neither.

I suspect that something got screwed up in the production of the 1939 edition and it wasn't typeset correctly.  I have no idea if they called back that printing or if it sold out before they had time to respond.  Whatever the case, they obviously discovered the error and re-typeset it and issued a new first printing, from which all the later printings would be numbered. 

Later, Ken did some more research on this odd book (research is just what Ken does), and he solved the mystery! Here's what he wrote me:


I was going through a microfilmed run of the American News Trade Journal today looking for scraps of info on digest paperbacks and stumbled across two "news items" that help to explain one of the discoveries I described for your "oddities" section.
From the May 1940 issue:


           "Last November, Carl Van Doren wasn't enthusiastic about the 25 Pocket Book edition of the "Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin," so the publishers asked Mr. Doren to prepare a selection from Franklin especially for Pocket Books.  And he has done it."
From the March 1941 issue:


             "Over a year ago last Fall, Pocket Books published the famous Franklin "Autobiography" only to find out later that mistakenly they had used the old Sparks edition.  This edition had been badly translated from the French.  As soon as Robert deGraff, Pocket Book publisher, discovered the error, he persuaded Carl Van Doren to edit another edition of the complete "Autobiography," with the best of Franklin's other writings.  He did."
The two texts are slightly different but not nearly as much as one would expect if one is the original English text and the other was translated back into English from a French translation. The best I can find out at the moment is that the first English edition was translated from French, but I haven't been able to find out which language he wrote it in.