If you want to start an argument among booksellers — and who doesn’t? — mention the word “facsimilie.” Facsimilies are reproductioins of books (or dust jackets) that are made to look and feel like first editions of collectible, desirable, or valuable books, yet with much lower price tags. Some booksellers see nothing wrong with facsimlies — so long as they are clearly identified as facsimiilies — while others regard them with the same contempt that they have for something they got on the bottom of their shoe.
We’re among the group that thinks there’s nothing wrong with facsimilies. They can be an affordable substitute for a first edition that is beyond your financial reach (like the copies of Tom Sawyer, The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men pictured above), or a dust jacket that is beyond repair, or missing altogether (replaced above on the first edition of The Yearling). Facsimilies that are created to deceive are another matter: One story is that the British Museum itself was fooled by a carefully produced facsimilie of The Compleat Angler. Even experts can be fooled sometimes. Every ethical bookseller and every ethical publisher will clearly mark a facsimilie as a facsimilie — such as the facsimilies above, which were produced by the First Edition Library, and the dust jacket, which was produced by a vendor in San Francisco. (We can provide contact information if you want it.)
According to John Carter in “ABC for Book Collectors,” the most common and most deceptive kind of facsimilie is one supplied to make an imperfect book better — maybe a leaf or two or part of a torn page. If such a step takes the form of the same edition, that’s a good thing, for no one would prefer an imperfect copy of a book. Many collectors, faced with the choice in a very early or a very rare book, would agree. The alteration must be disclosed, though — and problems can arise when the book passes from one owner to the next. In our experience, these kinds of things are few and far between.
But for the bibliophile who can’t afford a first of Gatsby ($70,000? More?), a facsimilie for $100 might be a good substitute. And if you spill coffee on the substitute, you’re less likely to have a heart attack.