Friday, October 22, 2010


When you buy items online you have to trust the seller. Generally if inexpensive items are described incorrectly, you just bite the bullet. But what about when a very expensive item is described wrong. Whose ultimate responsibility is it?

Here is the case in point. As some may know I am working on a bibliography of the H. M. Caldwell Company. This publisher was in business between 1896-1913. Here is his "Start-up" announcement from Publishers' Weekly in April, 1896. During that year and for several years thereafter Caldwell published the Illustrated Library of Famous Books by Famous Authors.

Initially the imprint just noted the New York site of business but by 1898 both New York and Boston could be found below the Caldwell imprint on the title page.

Here is a title page of a book and ad for a recent auction. As a Caldwell book it could not have been published before 1896. With the Boston and New York Imprints this book is at least an 1898 book. The ad as you can see says a Charles Darwin signed book. Well unless Darwin's theory of evolution included reincarnation this book was published and signed after his death in 1882.

The ad:

"Charles Darwin(1809-1882). English scientist. While still a student at Cambridge, he became a naturalist aboard The Beagle where he began to assemble data on plant and animal life in the Galapagos Islands. His theories of the natural evolution of species, as expounded in The Origin of Species by Natural Selection, first published in 1859, remain controversial to this day.

Signed book: Descent of Man. By Charles Darwin. Hard cover, 5x7.5, no jacket. Illustrations. New York: H. M. Caldwell, (1874?). 672 pages, indexed. Second edition. Black ink signature "Ch Darwin" on front free endpaper. Darwin’s second great book on evolutionary theory, in which he applies his findings to human evolution and details his theory of sexual selection. Laid in loose is a flyleaf from another book signed "Ch. Darwin" in black ink."

Perhaps the laid in autograph is worth the money but the buyer paid $4700 for a book not autographed by Darwin. I don't know about you but I am glad I do not know who "won" this book because I would not like to be the bearer of bad news.