Friday, February 3, 2012

Richard Matheson's I Am Legend - A Field Guide to the Science Fiction Book Club Editions

One of the most common questions I get through The I Am Legend Archive is, "How can I tell if my hardcover book club edition of I Am Legend is a first edition."

The Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC) edition has been the source of much confusion throughout the years. First off, it's dated 1954, the year the Gold Medal paperback original was released, and the publisher is listed as Nelson Doubleday. The first world hardcover edition of I Am Legend was published in 1970 by Walker & Company. The book club edition didn't debut until March 1980 as part of a series of science-fiction classics with matching designs and cover illustrations by Tony Gleeson.

Thanks to Geary Gravel, who saved his monthly SFBC solicitation flyers ("Things to Come"), I can share with you the original listing for the book.

After more than 30 years of collecting more than 175 editions of I Am Legend from around the world, I think I have solved the riddle of how to identify a 'first edition' of the book club edition.

I have three distinct binding variations of the book in the archive. If you have or are aware of any others, please contact me so I can incorporate that information on the site. 

The Black and Gold Edition 
  • 1/4 bound in black faux-leather with black paper boards. 
  • Gold lettering on the spine (I Am Legend - MATHESON - the only version that matches the lettering on the dust jacket spine).
  • Evenly cut pages. 
  • Pages 75 and 77 have no markings on the lower page gutter. 

The black and gold edition on the right is the only one with evenly cut page edges.

Due to the elaborate binding, and in the absence of the printing artifacts present on the other editions, my opinion is that the black and gold edition is the first book club edition.

The Red Edition
  • Bound in red faux-leather boards. 
  • Orange lettering on the spine (I Am Legend - RICHARD MATHESON). 
  • Deckled edge page cut. 
  • Page 75 and 77 have a black bar on the lower page gutter that would remain in subsequent editions. 
  • This edition has no number on the back of the dust jacket—it has 3684 on the inner back flap.

The Blue Edition
  • Bound in blue paper boards.
  • Black lettering on the spine (I Am Legend - RICHARD MATHESON).  
  • Deckled edge page cut. 
  • Page 75 and 77 have a black bar on the lower page gutter. 
My copy was purchased directly from the SFBC when offered late in the 90s, so I know that this represents the final run that they offered.

Thanks to reader William Thompson, you can check the date of your edition using the SFBC gutter codes. The first (black) edition and last few years of the blue editions don't have a gutter code, but if you check in the gutter of page 150, you can cross reference against the list on this page to determine the year of your printing.  
I hope you find this information helpful. If you share this info, please reference the I AM LEGEND ARCHIVE, and if possible include a link back to the site. That would be greatly appreciated!


WestcoastTony said...

As the cover artist for the Doubleday edition, perhaps I can shed some light on the question of its publication date. The SFBC seems to have simply reprinted from the galleys of an older edition-- they did this with several books for which I did the covers, notably Theodore Sturgeon's "Golden Helix"-- without revising any copyright or publication information inside and simply adding a new cover. I did the artwork in late 1979 and the book was published in 1980.

John Scoleri said...

Thanks for providing that additional confirmation, Tony! The book will forever be referred to as a 1954 Doubleday edition in the absence of any other details in the book itself. After years of searching for a copy of the SFBC 'Things to Come' issue in which this was first offered, I have to admit that I was disappointed that they didn't show off all of your covers for this series of sci-fi classics. I've got one of your signed and numbered prints of the cover art in the Archives, and have a sketch of Neville you did for me in one my copies at the L.A. Paperback shows year ago.

WestcoastTony said...

Thanks for the splendid memories! You'll have to come by the paperback show again in future years, we are still going strong. It's funny, but after all these years and (literally) a thousand illustrations, IAL is still the item I'm most asked to sign and probably best known for. Go figure. Yeah, the SFBC's economical method (their prime directive of "non-interference" with the original galleys?) info has often resulted in misidentification.

John Scoleri said...

We still make it to the show every year (pandemic notwithstanding!) — though in the last few years we've been setting up to sell our ( wares, so not nearly enough time to make it around the show proper! I will definitely stop by and say hello next year!

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