Monday, December 12, 2011

The Most Pirated Novel of the 20th Century

by Stephen J. Gertz

"O, so you've got a copy of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover,'
exclaimed Bob and Pearl, and they proceeded to make themselves
perfectly at home in a strange house. Their hostess has about given up
thoughts of a bridge game."

From a cartoon pasted into a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover
(Florence: Privately Printed [New York: Samuel Roth, 1928,
the foremost pirated edition]). Special Collections, Morris Library,
Southern Illinois University.

In 1928, when you write a novel with sexual frankness and unprintable words it will be considered legally obscene and not be afforded copyright protection. You, the author, know that. No one in your home nation will print and publish it without cuts to the text so you have it printed and published n Italy, where printers are unlikely to be able to read your scandalous English prose and the publisher is sympathetic to you and your work. 

You have only 1000 numbered and signed copies printed. You know you're going to be ripped-off by other publishers but you put it out there, anyway; the book needed to be written. It needs to be read. 

In 2011, if you're a collector of D.H. Lawrence or rare book dealer and a purported first edition copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover is offered to you, beware. Buccaneers in England and especially the United States clandestinely flooded the market with, according to Jay A. Gertman (A Descriptive Bibliography of Lady Chatterley's Lover, with Essays Toward a Publishing History of the Book), thirty-one unauthorized reprints with enough similarities to send catalogers to Bedlam and collectors to an early grave. 

And that's only the piracies that have been formally accounted for; there remain others as yet recorded by bibliographers. It's a minefield out there, as potentially explosive as Connie and Mellors's illicit affair in the novel. You walk through this one with steel boots and protective cup, otherwise known as reference books, lest you get lost and step on TNT.

D.H. Lawrence.

Once upon a time last week, a finely rebound first edition of Lady Chatterley... landed on my desk. I knew it was on the way. My employer was excited. I was dubious; I'd marched through this brier patch before and had been seriously scratched. This copy looked like a true first, felt like a true first, but on close, painstaking inspection proved to be a false first edition.

The signature was present, copy number and autograph in blue ink as they're supposed to be. The signature was extremely close to many other samples of D.H. Lawrence's that I'd seen over the years. But it was too close, too neat, too perfect. A person signing 1000 books, even if only fifty to hundred a day, will not be signing their name with an ideal hand. More to the point, nobody, when signing their name in cursive script as they've been doing for decades, stops in the middle of their surname before finishing their signature. This signature had a space between the "w" and "r" in "Lawrence" as if the signatory stopped for a bite to eat before completing it. In every other signature sample the "r" flows continuously from the "w." It was a probable but not positive forgery.

The proper leaf measurement for the true first is 8 15/16 x 6 3/8 inches. As the top edge had been gilt and gauffered, the height measurement would obviously be off. But the width measurement? 6 3/16 inches. No good.

The smoking strike three, however, and the absolutely key bibliographical point to the true first edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover, was the text block bulk measurement. The true first's is 20.1 mm of lightweight, smooth white laid paper without watermark. No other edition, authorized or piracy, has their text block measure to that exact width. It is the one fact that can, unequivocally, distinguish a true first edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover from all the pretenders. This copy bulked to 25.7 mm, the exact measurement of two known, if slightly different, pirated editions.

When queried (as in, we want our money back) the dealer who we bought it from told us that they had once managed a used bookshop in a small city in a heartland, U.S.A. state, and that the book was a walk-in offer from around ten years ago. Let me tell you that, while located in middle America and away from New York (where  most clandestine erotica was published), there was no shortage of pirate copies Lady Chatterley's Lover distributed by mail-order to the hinterlands, even though the chances of Post Office seizure were strong.

The odds for  one of the 1000 copies of the true first edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover safely reaching dead-center America were, however, weak; it was originally sold by subscription only and you had to know the author, the publisher (Florentine bookseller Pino Orioli), or someone who did  to order a copy. Once ordered, you prayed that it wouldn't be seized by Customs and, having gotten through, hoped that it wouldn't be subsequently intercepted by the Post Office. While 500 copies were intended for the United States, "most copies were sold in England," according to  Lawrence scholar Michael Squires (as cited by Gertzman, p. 4). If a copy finally made it  to Middletown its owner would not  later be selling it to a used book shop but, rather, to a respected rare book dealer (who, if the collector was not an original subscriber, had originally sold it to him), or another dealer of stature in the trade who would understand what it was and its worth.

It is, however,  a very well-done piracy. It's in letterpress, with European-style quotation marks, and not a photo-offset reprint. At the front, the mulberry paper with black-stamped phoenix that covered the boards is preserved; the shade is darker, however,  than the true first's. It is, as far as I've been able to determine, heretofore unrecorded.

A true first edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover in fine condition is a $20,000 book. This rebound, purported first was offered at $6,000, its rebinding, as with all rare books, negatively affecting the value of the copy. (Two rebound genuine firsts are currently being offered, one at  $8,500, the other at $7,500). Now that the copy is known to be a piracy, its  value will decline to that of a very attractive pirated edition in a collectible binding.

As always caveat emptor. You don't want a copy of,  and Mellors would certainly object to being referred to as, Lady Chatterley's Dubious Lover. Which leads to this post's denouement, a tasty bibliographical tidbit:

Lawrence's original title for Lady Chatterley's Lover was John Thomas and Lady Jane. Booktryst readers from the U.K. will immediately recognize the English slang terms of endearment for the male and female genitalia. At first the novel's subtitle, Lawrence used it as the full title at the suggestion of Juliette Huxley but changed it back to Lady Chatterley's Lover and deleted the racy subtitle at the behest of the British (Secker) and American (Knopf) publishers who ultimately refused to issue an unexpurgated edition under any title.

LAWRENCE, D.H. Lady Chatterley's Lover. [Florence]: Privately Printed, 1928. First edition, limited to 1000 numbered and signed copies in blue ink. Octavo (8 15/16 x 6 3/8 in). iv, 366, [2] pp, total bulk 20.1 mm. Mulberry paper-covered boards with stamped black phoenix, white paper spine label printed in black, Lady / Chatterley's / Lover / D.H. / Lawrence. Top edge rough trimmed, others untrimmed. Printed by the Tipografia Giuntina, directed by L. Franceschini.

Roberts and Poplawski A42. Gertzman 1.1.a.

When, in 1959, it was finally openly published in the United States in an unexpurgated edition, it caused a sensation, so much so that even Field and Stream magazine reviewed Lady Chatterley's Lover.


  1. I have a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover published by Alfred A. Knopf. The title page says "Authorized Abridged Edition." It also says 1933 in Roman numerals. The back of the title page says "First American Edition." The book matches the description of the "first authorized expurgated edition" that I read in a biograaphy of Lawrence (p. 139-141 or so)at Google Books, including the colors and decoration of the binding, the copy on all the pages and the number of pages (328). Can anyone tell me the value of this edition? It is in great condition. And where would I look to sell it?


  2. I didn't know about the title change! What a great post, thank you!

  3. I'm afraid I have another copy of that knock-off in my hands. It was donated to a non-profit and about to be sold in a fund-raiser. It's beautifully rebound in 3/4 leather, rather recently. Top edge was trimmed for the rebinding, but with untrimmed fore-edge it measures the same short width and bulk as the phony. It's printed on off-white laid paper, and has the same Law-rence break you describe in the signature. Thanks for saving me from great embarrasment.


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