PLAYER PIANO: About a Book #1

Here at the Iliad Bookshop we’re inaugurating a series of blog essays about some of the more interesting volumes in our selection of rare and collectible books. We want to talk about books that are both rare (and that we have copies of for sale), and interesting for other reasons, be it the future standing of the author, a scarce signature, a unique subject, gorgeous binding, whatever. We’re starting with Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano. We hope you enjoy learning more about this modern classic.


 

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Although Kurt Vonnegut may be most well known for his 1969 time-tripping neo-classic Slaughterhouse-Five (still a popular choice for high school English courses), his first novel Player Piano (1952) was highly regarded during its initial release, with influential journals like Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction calling it one of the “year’s best.” Vonnegut had been working at General Electric, where he’d seen the beginnings of mechanization on the factory line. For his first novel he created a dystopian future where workers have been replaced by machines, and he titled his novel after one of the original mechanical wonders, the player piano.

playerpiano5Vonnegut sold his novel to Charles Scribner’s Sons, for publication in hardback. However, Scribner’s evidently had a great deal of faith in the book and their new author, and they decided to release a few advance copies to garner reviews and interest. These advance copies were large paperbacks; the covers (or “wraps,” as they’re known in the book trade) copied the art of the hardback’s paper dust jacket. The flaps of an actual jacket were cut off and pasted inside the front cover of the advance copies. The advance copies were printed from the same plates used for the hardcover printing, and even contain the signature Scribner’s seal and the letter “A” on the copyright page.

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The Official Author Price Guides to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. lists this edition of Player Piano as 001a (the first listing in the book) and notes, “Advance copies for review using dustwrapper as self wraps with flaps pasted on front pastedown and endpaper.”

Incidentally, in 1954 Bantam books issued the first mass market paperback edition of the book under the title Utopia 14, with a colorful new cover that emphasized the book’s science fiction aspects.

It’s been estimated that Scribner’s produced 25 to 30 of these advance copies of Player Piano; the influential genre expert L. W. Currey notes that a “handful” are still extant.

Our copy of Player Piano‘s advance isn’t the prettiest one out there, but it’s complete and (for this very scarce book) affordable. We are calling this copy’s condition only fair – the book is stained and chewed along the spine, has light staining to the page edges (interior pages are almost completely clean, however), and the corners are slightly bent.

We are pleased to offer this advance copy of Player Piano for $1,000. This would be a major addition to any collector of Vonnegut, modern fiction, or science fiction. Feel free to drop us a line if you’re interested…or if you’d just like to talk more about the book!

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