I’ve always loved proof copies, genuine proof copies that is from before the recent publishing phenomena of issuing limited edition “proof copies” as manufactured collectables. To me, manuscript aside (love them too!), the proof is as close as you can get to the author’s warts and all original text in book form. Pre-1970 UK proofs were nearly always in house documents, produced in small numbers purely to edit, polish and finalise a text ready for print and future publication. Despite being a dustwrapper man, in a dustwrapper business, there is something very appealing about the utilitarian drabness of an [often] buff wrapper offering little or no printed clue to the contents, perhaps an ink stamp or manuscript note concerning state (corrected or uncorrected) or proposed publication date and price. Often discarded once they had served their purpose, these ugly ducklings of the publishing trade have long been unappreciated for their importance and comparative rarity.
It is highly likely that fewer than 20 proof copies for the then unknown author John Le Carre’s first book will have been produced by the publisher, and fewer than that will have survived today. We have only ever seen one, and been lucky enough to own it briefly twice. This was the novel that introduced George Smiley and the beginning of a literary career that spans 57 years and 24 novels which have been translated into 36 languages and adapted for film, television and radio.

The author’s best known novel, and first international bestseller, is The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. Published in 1963 the book won both the Gold Dagger award (from the Crime Writers’ Association) and the Edgar Award (from the Mystery Writers of America) for best novel, the first work ever to win both titles.

On the 50th anniversary of the Dagger Awards in 2005, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was awarded the “Dagger of Daggers”, a one-time award given to the stand-out novel among all 50 winners over the history of the Crime Writers’ Association. The novel, in 1965 received early film treatment starring Richard Burton.

This is the uncorrected proof of that breakthrough novel and the only one we have ever seen or are aware of. Interestingly though we have seen the proof dustjacket twice, both times without the book, one turned up at a London antiquarian bookfair wrapped around a regular blue cloth first edition (snapped up by a quicker bookseller than I) and the second was contained within in the Victor Gollancz archive of correspondence between the author and publisher (sold by Rick Gekoski). The proof state dustwrapper is immediately identifiable by it’s colour, it is yellow as with the two previous novels whilst for the first edition they actually went with red.

The author has bequeathed his entire literary archive to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The archive which filled the space of a Cornish barn includes drafts, manuscripts, photographs, correspondence and one would imagine (although not noted) proof copies.

The importance of proof copies in the publishing process is well illustrated in this copy of Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Having completed and amended several typescript drafts, his novel was passed to the publisher to produce the uncorrected proof copies. By this time Fleming and James Bond were huge so the print-runs for the proofs and first editions increased massively. In this case Cape issued 500 copies on October 1962 (compared to as few as 20 of Casino Royale, although the exact number is unknown). As with previous novels one copy was sent to Aubrey Forshaw who was head of Pan Books (publisher of the James Bond novels in paperback) but more importantly Ian Fleming’s expert for technical information concerning James Bond’s cars. He was asked by Fleming to read the proof and correct any errors relating to the car.
Aubrey’s corrections appear in pencil to the margins with further corrections, suggestions and typographical errors noted throughout. He then sends the marked up proof back, in this instance to Michael Howard who was head of Jonathan Cape and he sees to it that all of the corrections are adopted into the first edition text of the published book.

So the proof becomes part of the manuscript without which, the book as we know it wouldn’t exist. A grateful author on receipt of his newly published novel sends a copy to his friend and collaborator, inscribing the front endpaper in blue ball point pen “To Aubrey / who wrote some of it! / from Ian”.

There are some instances when a finished book might never make it to publication whether for legal, personal or political reasons. In 1972 London publisher New English Library embarked a book called “Power To The People: The Political Thoughts Of John Lennon” compiled from interviews given by Lennon over 1970 and 1971. The project made it all the way to uncorrected proof stage with original artwork for the dustwrapper and internal illustrations commissioned and print ready and a publication date slated for April 1972. Given John Lennon’s popularity at this time it would have almost certainly been a bestseller but for reasons unknown, publication was pulled at the last minute.

This copy belonged to the NEL editorial director Peter Haining and laid in is a note by him, signed and inscribed “The compiler of this little opportunist book which was never published!”. Of the handful of copies known, this is the only example to have the Tony Lamb proof cover artwork. So there you have it, the best John Lennon book never published!

The proof is a genuine working document, an essential piece of the process in that book’s history and in owning it, to my mind you are infinitely closer to the author and their original text. That’s why I love them.

To see a list of proof copies available on the Lucius Books website click here.

[Gilbert, Jon: IAN FLEMING, The Bibliography]