Typos can do more than damage the credibility of a publication. Penguin books in Australia recently had to reprint 7,000 copies of a now-collectible book because one of the recipes called for "salt and freshly ground black people." Correcting that typo will empty the publisher's pockets of nearly $19,000. But if you find a book with a similar mistake, it could fill yours.
When typos and mistakes appear, they're usually corrected quickly, sometimes even during printing. This makes them extraordinarily appealing to collectors, who want to own the very first copies of a work, says Vasilis Terpsopoulos, manager of the rare book department at New York City's Strand Books.
Check your personal library shelves and garage sales for these rare editions, because when publishers fail to recall every incorrect copy, collectors can make a windfall.
► In 1631, about 1,000 copies of the King James Bible were produced, and in Exodus 20:14, the seventh of the Ten Commandments was rendered thus: "Thou shalt commit adultery." Some historians think the typesetter was trying to get back at the printer for something, and it worked -- his license was revoked. However it happened, for want of a single "not," this edition became known as the "Wicked Bible," and it's estimated that only 11 copies survived the bonfire King Charles I ordered lit for them, putting its value around the $100,000 range.
► In 1968, Western writer Larry McMurtry turned in a manuscript for In a Narrow Grave that was so riddled with uncorrected goofs ("skyscraper" became "skycraper," for starters), the publisher had to pulp most of its copies. Only about a dozen of this so-called "Skycraper Edition" escaped the net, and now the rarity can go for $17,500. Let's hope a few of those copies belong to the book's copy editor, who probably lost that job over the oversights.
► The first 1885 edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is rare enough, but it also contains a minor typo that was corrected in subsequent editions: a mix-up of the word "saw" with "was." Buying a copy of the book in terrific condition will set you back about $18,600, although when a book is this seminal, it's hard to quantify just how much a misprint elevates its value. "When you get into a lot of early Mark Twain books, they're not settled bibliographically," says Terpsopoulos. "There are often a lot of mixed printings, and while one copy will have one mistake and not another, a second will have different mistakes. To have all the mistakes lined up, that's when you get something that would be the finest example you could get, even though they're all first editions."
► The first editions of the British Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban had a copyright page credited to "Joanne Rowling" instead of her pen name, J.K. Rowling. The gaffe was corrected for the second printing. Sydney Charles Books in England wants as much as $10,000 for an as-new copy of it, complete with the dust jacket.
► Often they're not just changes in the book, but they're also on the dust jacket. Take the example of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 1970 masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude. Some early copies have an exclamation point in the blurb printed at end of the first paragraph on the flap of the dust jacket. That was quickly replaced with a period, but the two jackets are otherwise identical. Terpsopoulos says he estimates the exclamatory version to be worth about $740 versus $400. "That's what collectors really are looking for," he says. "They want to get as close as they can to the very first edition," and the presence of the typo proves that.
► On page 181, line 26, of the first 1926 edition of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises the word "stopped" is printed as "stoppped," with three p's. That's a distinguishing point. "The value would be 90% based on whether it has a dust jacket and what condition it's in, but I would say a first edition of that book in excellent condition with a dust jacket would be $40,000 or $60,000," says Terpsopoulos. Without that extra p, expect returns of $1,500 to $2,500.
► The first edition of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections needed a correction of its own. The book famously ended Oprah's Book Club's most triumphant period when, after Winfrey selected it as a choice, Franzen whined, in a series of ill-advised interviews, that he hated seeing her logo on his book jacket and he never stooped to watch her show. But even before printing, the book had a lot of buzz, and Oprah's endorsement, in its pocket. The first printing, which accidentally switched the order of pages 430 and 431, was enormous. Right after the Oprah flap, you could sell your copy for several times the cover price. Now, because there are so many of these copies floating around, you'd be lucky to give it away for free (although some sellers still try getting away with offering it for around $125). Who has the last laugh now, Franzen?
► One copy of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code was so garbled by misprints that the guy who purchased it became convinced the mistakes were inserted intentionally as clues. This guy is trying to sell his copy for half a million bucks. Would you shell out $500,000 for printing errors?
► In general, comic book misprints don't do much for the value. In fact, they may hurt it. But rare alternate versions are another story. The first issue of the 1977 Star Wars comic book had a standard price of 30 cents, but Marvel published about 1,500 with a variant price of 35 cents (not so much a misprint as a limited edition). Find that one, and according to the pricing guide at ComicBookRealm.com, you'll get $2,300 as opposed to $95 for the correct version.
Generally speaking, printing errors usually only make a book more valuable when it was rare to begin with. The sheer volume of Harry Potter printings made for lots of goofs (such as upside-down pages and transposed signatures in the binding process), but they only had market value for a short while, during the peak of the craze.
"Unless you really study this stuff and sort through the bibliography, there's no way to really know or even to remember these fine points," says Terpsopoulos.
As with all collectibles, there's a very big catch: Your goodies are only worth something if someone is willing to pay for them. Otherwise, they're just lovely decorations.
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