Cat In The Hat dust jacket

The collecting world probably seems nuts to sane people. In books, as with other things, it is astonishing how very small things that would pass unnoticed to a novice can keep serious collectors up at night.


“Dear Mr. Dawson,

            I saw your website and wanted to see if you would be interested in a Dr. Seuss Cat in the Hat (1957) first edition (second or third printing, not sure). There is no DJ, but the cover is in very good condition and the inside pages are in excellent condition.

            Let me know what specific information would be helpful. I can also forward pictures.

Best, John”


Dear John,

Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat is certainly one of the top children’s books ever written. Bibliographical details on this book and many other of Seuss’ books can be very confusing. Fortunately, I have a copy of First Editions of Dr. Seuss Books A Guide to Identification written by Helen and Marc Younger and Dan Hirsch published by Custom Communications in 2002. It is considered the authority on Dr. Seuss books.

Your copy sounds like it is in very good condition, but is missing the dust jacket. The dust jacket is the colorfully printed paper cover that is folded around the covers of a hardback book. Serious book collectors are nuts for dust jackets and their absence is always a serious flaw to any collectible book that came with a dust jacket because collectors want books in as close to original condition as possible. Because the paper dust jackets were fragile many have gotten damaged or lost through the years. Some people threw them away as soon as they bought the book! Thus on a collectible book that would be worth say $1,000 with a dust jacket in fine condition, the value might plummet to $250, or $100 or even less if the dust jacket was missing. The jacket can literally be 75% to 90% of the value of a collectible book. It is like what you see on the PBS Antiques Roadshow, where the box the old toy came in is worth more than the toy, because so few boxes have survived. And as we know, collectors can go nuts for rare things that few other collectors have.

Now very early books did not have dust jackets. Dust jackets came into being in the later part of the 19th century. At first they were little more than plain brown paper with maybe some printing on them. But by the early 1900s, they started to be printed with color illustrations on the front to better attract buyers. The very first dust jackets can be quite scarce. In point of fact, in 1995, a copy of the first “edition” of L. Frank Baum’s The Marvelous Land of Oz printed in 1904 sold for $27,000 at auction. It was the ONLY known copy to still have its dust jacket.

So now we know that because your copy of Cat in the Hat is missing its dust jacket, it would be worth only a fraction of what it would be worth if it had its jacket. But wait, it gets even worse for your copy. Sometimes dust jackets have information that is crucial to the identification of the printing of a book. Information that is not on the book itself. And that, unfortunately, is the case with your The Cat in the Hat. According to the Seuss bibliography, the printing of the book can only be determined by the information on the dust jacket. In this case it is the price 200/200 on the front flap of the jacket, by the jacket having been printed on flat and not glossy paper, and with no mention of the Beginner Book series on the rear panel. Sometimes identification comes down to very small differences between one copy and another.

Just like there is usually a huge price difference between a first edition that has its dust jacket and one that doesn’t, there is usually a big price difference between a first edition (i.e. first printing) and a second, third or later printing. Unfortunately, the language is confusing. Even though they say first edition, what dealers and collectors really mean when they say first edition is first edition first printing. An edition of a book is the number of copies they ran off at one time. If those sold out, they would print another batch which would be the second printing, etc. A very popular best seller might have dozens of printings. Now if they corrected or changed something in the text, that would change things. A small change would be an issue, a big change would make it a new edition.

It can get complicated, but it comes down to the fact that the earliest form of a collectible book is usually the most valuable because while there can be only one first edition (i.e. first edition first printing) there can theoretically be an unlimited number of reprints. And with few exceptions, reprints don’t usually interest collectors. Or at least not the way, the first printing would. Now there could be some exceptions, for example if the author was famous and had autographed the reprint. But still it wouldn’t be worth as much as a first printing that had been autographed.

Dust jackets of collectible books are desirable and valuable. Be aware that sometimes there is no difference between the dust jacket of a first “edition” and the dust jacket of a later, but still early printing. That is the dirty secret of the modern book collecting market that I have never seen anyone address, so some people would take the dust jacket from a reprint that was worth a few dollars and put it on a valuable first edition that was missing its dust jacket. Sometimes to someone with a sharp eye it is easy to tell if this has been done, sometimes not. This type of switch is called a marriage. And if this marriage is noted by the seller, then it is OK. If not, then it is sneaky at best and fraud at worst. And usually the later dust jackets are different, so beware of switching them. For example, a dust jacket of a 1925 5th printing of a book that was first printed in 1910 might contain an ad on it for a book that was published in 1920! Obviously a book not printed until 1920 couldn’t have been advertised for sale on a book printed in 1910! Sometimes the only difference on the later jackets is that the price was changed, so a jacket with the price clipped off can be a warning the jacket on the book now is a later replacement.

Also be aware that there are reproduction dust jackets of valuable books for sale on line. These are nicely done and reasonably priced, and also they are properly labeled as being reproductions. There is absolutely nothing wrong with putting a reproduction dust jacket on an old book as long as someone doesn’t try to commit fraud with it. And I have heard of cases where someone paid big money for a collectible book online or in a shop only to find out later that what they thought was the original jacket was a modern copy and so the book turned out to be only worth a fraction of what they paid. A reproduction dust jacket would only add a couple of dollars to the value of a book. And let me add that it is not the makers or sellers of the reproduction dust jackets who are doing this. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a repro dust jacket on your valuable old book, so long as you know that it is a repro. If a book is valuable enough, you might not be able to afford a copy with an original dust jacket anyway! So a repro. is the next best thing.

Sometimes by comparing an original jacket with a repro. jacket under high magnification, the process used for the printing is probably noticeably different between the old jacket and the new. Also, look at the back. The paper is probably slightly different, too. It will also be newer, but, of course, there are ways to artificially age the appearance of paper.

But back to Seuss. I will pass on it. Your copy could very well be a first printing, but without its dust jacket, that could never be proven. So we must assume that it is one of the many reprints of it that were done and so probably would have minimal value.


James Dawson is the owner of Unicorn Bookshop in Trappe, Maryland.

First published by The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles.




The production of richly illuminated manuscripts continued well after the invention of the printing press. A good example of their value for research in cultural history, in particular the history of portraits1 , is provided by the sumptuous manuscript of Petrarch’s poems in Italian (4648 Bd. Ms 24+) produced in Florence around 1465-70 and acquired by Daniel Willard Fiske (1831-1904) for the Cornell University Library at the end of the 19th century. In addition to abundantly decorated medallions and borders with vegetation, animals, “lace”, and putti, the volume contains two initials ornamented with remarkable portraits of the poet, on folios 2r and 41r.

The first initial [ills. 1 and 2 DETAIL] contains an allegorical portrait showing Petrarch resting his head on his hand and dreaming and/or sighing while Time retreats on crutches, an illustration of the beginning of the first Triumph, TRIUMPHUS CUPIDINIS:

Nel tempo che rinnova i miei sospiri
per la dolce memoria di quel giorno
che fu principio a sì lunghi martiri…


[The time when my sighing is renewed
Had come, stirring the memory of that day
Whereon my love and suffering began…]

[ill. 1]

[ills. 1]

[ill. 2]

[ills. 2]

       As Maria Ruvoldt points out, many illuminated manuscripts of Petrarch (mostly for the Trionfi) show the poet asleep in his study or (as is the case here) in a landscape, “giving visual form to the imagery of the poem. The anonymous author of the Songe du Vergier, a popular medieval French text, is likewise depicted as a dreamer, asleep in the garden of his dream-text.” 2 Dreams were very important in Petrarch’s life. A true “born-again ancient in Christian times” (Aldo Bernardo), he was very familiar with the Greek and Roman tradition that considered visions in dreams as the main source of the poetic inspiration. He gave this tradition a gallant turn, drawing on Virgil’s famous line, “Credimus? An qui amant ipsi sibi somnia fingunt?” (Must we believe them? Or do lovers make up their dreams for themselves?): the dream seemingly allows the lover to abolish distance in space and time, and to “love” the other, notwithstanding physical separation and even death.

        The position of the poet (sitting and resting his head on his hand) is found in other portraits, for example in the “Codice Trivulziano”, a copy of the Rime and the Trionfi of the 1470s (Biblioteca Trivulziana, Milan, codex 905) [ill. 3]

       Indeed, this position became so popular that it would be used in retrospect to portray ancient authors, for instance Lactantius Firmianus (c. 250-325), “whose Divinae Institutiones [were] frequently presented as a bridge between the classical tradition [especially Cicero] and the later Christian thought”.3 Petrarch quoted him, especially on otium, the idea of withdrawing from one’s daily business (negotium) or affairs in order to engage in intellectual self-development. In the 1509 Paris edition of his works by Jehan Petit, Lactantius is shown dreaming and/or thinking (and sighing?) in his study, like Petrarch [ill. 4].

ill. 3

ill. 3

ill. 4

ill. 4

           It is worth noting, however, that in the Cornell manuscript, the dreamer finds himself, not in a study surrounded by books, but alone in a landscape. Petrarch’s lonely character and sensitivity to nature are well-known. Indeed, like many poets since Antiquity , he occasionally had to defend himself against accusations of aloofness and associability. Petrarch eventually left his retreat in Vaucluse for the courts and the cities, but he spent his last years in religious contemplation in the Euganean Hills near Padua, Italy. One may argue that the Renaissance was more acceptant of individualism, and saw time as a threat to individual achievements.

       Precisely, the second “character” in the image is an allegory of Time as a very old man with wings and crutches. This iconography seems to be posterior to Petrarch: according to Simona Cohen, it is first attested in the early 1440s.5 After that, it becomes quite common in illuminations, prints, but also on wedding chests and of course on tarot cards. For example, one finds the image of an old bearded man on crutches in a c. 1450 illustration for Petrarch’s “Triumph of Time” by the so-called “Master of the Riccardian Virgil” (Riccardiana Library Ms. 1129, f. 42), and later in a 1482-4 Florentine printed book, which offers striking similarities with the Cornell manuscript when it comes to the image of “Time” [ill. 5]. This is another instance of continuity between manuscript production and print.

ill. 5

ill. 5

The second initial [ills. 6 and 7 DETAIL] is an institutional portrait showing Petrarch as the poet laureate, with the crown of laurels and the red/purple robe of Julius Caesar (who himself wanted to emulate Romulus) and/or the canons of Padua, in which he was thought to have been buried — whereas in fact Petrarch chose the humble black tunic to appear in front of his God.

ill. 7

ill. 7

ill. 6

ill. 6

               Let us remember what Jacob Burckhardt (1818-97) wrote about the cult of artists as one of the distinctive features of the Renaissance: “It was a point of honor for the different cities to possess the bones of their celebrities… Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, or the jurist Zanobi Della Strada, had magnificent tombs erected to them… Petrarch’s likeness found its way in every part of Italy, and it became the classic instance of public fame in the fourteenth century.” One thinks of the charming c. 1400 Venetian portrait of Petrarch at his lectern. Here as well he appears in the middle of a big initial “V[oi]”, dressed in red and holding a book, but without laurels — in fol. 1 of Petrarch’s Canzoniere, British Library King’s 321. [ill. 8]

ill. 8

ill. 8

       Burckhardt goes on, “Later, [the portrait of Petrarch] appeared in a kind of triumvirate with Dante and Boccaccio, or else with Giotto and Dante… In the fifteenth century, as art perfected its power to individualize, images of this kind became even more prevalent than before… What counted was not the pursuit of a genuine portrait likeness, but the creation of characters and figures for those singled out by fame [as] in the famous frescoes by Andrea del Castagno [for the Villa Pandolfini near Florence, around 1448-51].”6 [ill. 9: the fresco painting, kept at the Uffizi nowadays, showing Petrarch wearing the red robe and hoodie]

       The two portraits, the allegorical one and the institutional one, work together. Logically, the portrait with the written book and the laurels (the reward for the book) come second. The crown brings to mind the famous line in Canzone 23.167-8, ne per nova figura il primo alloro / seppi lassar = Nor could I leave the first laurel for a new figure, which has been elegantly interpreted by Gur Zak: “The final note of the poem renews with full force the hope of overcoming the flux of time through the writing of poetry of desire: his longing for the laurel, the poet stresses, is never-changing, [he always returns to] the first laurel, a metaphor of his desire of triumph over the passing of time”.7 Poetry transcends time, and gives access to eternity.

ill. 9

ill. 9

ill. 10

ill. 10

         The last notable feature of the Cornell manuscript is the presence of the arms of the first owner, a member of the Scanderbeg family of landowners, generals, and patrons of the arts. The most famous member of this family, Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu or Scanderbeg/k (1405-68) [ill. 10: his portrait, also at the Uffizi] was an Albanian nobleman born in in the Shëgjerth neighborhood of Sinë, a village in Dibra (Macedonia). Sultan Murad II took him hostage when he was seven, and he was raised as a Muslim and then forced to serve in the Ottoman army during the next twenty years of his life. In 1443, he deserted the Ottomans during the Battle of Niš. He subsequently fought against the Ottoman Empire for twenty-five years, along with Venice and her allies. He is considered a national hero by the Albanians.

       We must think of the Mediterranean as a complex, both conflicted and multicultural area: after all, despite the crusades and territorial disputes, the refined Sultan Mehmet II (1451-81) had his portrait made by the Venetian painter Gentile Bellini, and collected Greek and Byzantine manuscripts. This doesn’t mean, however, that there wasn’t already an “imagined community”8 called Europe and defined by common references, manners, and values.9 In that sense, if “Petrarchism offered a literary model for emergently national vernaculars soon to be codified throughout Europe10 , it was also a marker of cultural identity in a supra-national way. By commissioning a sumptuous manuscript of Petrarch’s poems in the vernacular, the Italianized Skanderbegs were making a statement: they decidedly belonged to the European, Greek-Latin, and Roman Christian culture. By joining the community of readers and collectors of Petrarch11 , and by associating their name with the Florentine and European poet over several generations12 , the family was also acquiring a piece of eternity.


1 One of the very first “realistic portraits immortalizing loved ones” we know of was painted by Simone Martini for Petrarch to capture the beauty and spirit of the poet’s beloved Muse Laura.

 2 The Italian Renaissance Imagery of Inspiration: Metaphors of Sex, Sleep, and Dream, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p. 17

3 Alexander Lee, Petrarch and St. Augustine: Classical Scholarship, Christian Theology and the Origins of the Renaissance in Italy, Brill, 2002, p. 141.

4  One thinks here of the rhetoric deployed by one of the lawyers in Tacitus’s Dialogue of the Orators: “reliquenda conversation amicorum et jucunditas Urbis, deserenda cetera official utque ipsi dicunt, in nemora et lucos, id est in solitudinem sededendum est” (Dialogus de oratoribus, IX)

 5 Simona Cohen, “The Early Renaissance Personification of Time and Changing Concepts of Temporality” (Renaissance Studies vol. 14 no. 3 (2000) pp. 301-328).

 6  Italian Renaissance Painting According to Genres [1885-1993], reed. Getty Publications, 2005, p. 193. See also the chapter “The Modern Idea of Fame” of Burckhardt’s monumental Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860).

7 Petrarch’s Humanism and the Care of the Self, Cambridge University Press, 2010, p. 70.

8 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, London and New York: Verso, 1983

9 See Jeanne Bem and André Guyaux (eds.), Ernst Robert Curtius et l’idée d’Europe, Champion, Paris 1995.

10 William J. Kennedy, The Site of Petrarchism: Early Modern National Sentiment in Italy, France, and England, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, p. 262.

11 In the second initial, the poet emerges from the V of “Voi”: a poet is inseparable for the reception of his work.

12 Irene Skanderbeg, the wife of Gjergj Kastrioti’s son Ferrante, co-designed an emblem and a poetic motto inspired by Petrarch’s Rime, reproduced by Ruscelli in 1584.


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