A couple days ago a new friend of this blog sent me an e-mail and made a joking reference to a signed first edition of the 1924 Newbery Medal winner THE DARK FRIGATE by Charles Boardman Hawes.
In my own defense, I did hesitate for a moment -- almost long enough to hear the warning bells going off in some dim recess of my brain -- but did I listen? No. Instead, I immediately responded, "I have a first edition of DARK FRIGATE in a dustjacket! I wish mine was signed!"
My friend then wrote back and cooly informed me, "I do not believe that there are any signed copies of DARK FRIGATE. I believe that Hawes died before the book was published."
I knew that.
I think I knew that.
I just wasn't anticipating a TRICK QUESTION!
Even though I state right at the top of this blog that I'm not an expert, there's nothing I hate more than being wrong about children's books. In this case, if I'd thought about it a little longer, I would have remembered reading Hawes's Newbery acceptance speech, which was delivered by his widow. Heck, I could even have looked it up in a reference book. (What a concept!)
This whole incident taught me a couple good lessons:
1) Treat every question like a "trick question."
2) I'm not nearly as smart as I thought I was.
Actually, I've been aware of #2 for a long time -- probably since the very first time I tried to read THE DARK FRIGATE as a kid and found the book confusing and difficult. I knew I was in trouble when I immediately got tangled up in the long subtitle ("Wherein is told the story of Philip Marsham who lived in the time of King Charles and was bred a sailor but came home to England after many hazards by sea and land and fought for the King at Newbury and lost a great inheritance and departed for Barbados in the same ship, by curious chance, in which he had long before adventured with the pirates.") It was all downhill from there. Now I think I was probably just too young for the book, as I've been assured by several people that THE DARK FRIGATE is actually a great swashbuckling adventure well deserving of the Newbery. Maybe it's time I let bygones by bygones and gave the book a second chance, nearly forty years after my first attempt at reading it.
I actually have my own copy of the book now. First editions without dustjackets can often be found for as low as $30, though copies with dustjackets may be priced as high as $500. Imagine my shock when, some years back, I saw a first edition with dustjacket offered online for only $75. There was only one problem: it was a couple weeks before the holidays and I was broke from Christmas shopping. Penniless, every day I'd go online, checking to see if the book was still available. At that point in time, the economy was doing well and books listed on line were often snapped up within hours. But I kept checking...December 19...December 20....December 21...and, through some Christmas miracle, the book remained unsold day after day. Finally it was the morning of December 25 and my family gathered around the tree to exchange presents. I was lucky enough to receive some money as a gift so, as soon as all the presents were unwrapped, I sat down at the computer -- still in my pajamas -- and ordered that copy of THE DARK FRIGATE at ten o'clock in the morning on Christmas Day.
Since this book is a little difficult to identify in first edition, let me show some of the points. Here's the dustjacket:It's pale yellow in color and the front and back flaps are very narrow -- about half the size of most flaps. There is a price of $2.00 at the top of the front flap and the back flap has reviews for Hawes's novels THE MUTINEEERS and THE GREAT QUEST. The back panel has a large advertisement for The Charles Boardman Hawes Prize of $2000 for a book written in the tradition of Hawes's novels.
The cover of the book is orange and printed on a thick paper that almost has a ribbed, rubbery texture. The dustjacket illustration is stamped on this cover in black ink:
There is a black-and-white frontispiece on glossy paper:
and the copyright page states:
COPYRIGHT 1923 BY THE TORBELL COMPANY
(Publishers of THE OPEN ROAD)
COPYRIGHT 1923 BY THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY PRESS, INC.
At the bottom of the page, it says, "PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA."
It's sad that Charles Boardman Hawes did not live to see his novel published and win the Newbery Medal, but THE DARK FRIGATE -- still in print after more than eighty years -- has helped him achieve a kind of literary immortality.