--- In firstname.lastname@example.org, David Rachels <RachelsDA@...> wrote:
> A random question, prompted by Jeff's awesome list: Does anyone know
> what the symbols on the spines of some GM paperbacks mean? (They are
> near the top, underneath the catalog number.) Looking at the shelf
> in front of me, for example, I see a red heart on #380, a black X on
> #409, a black box on #448, a black hourglass on #522, a black circle
> on #500, a green club on #224, etc. etc., but the majority of them do
> not have these markings.
I can't give a complete answer, but I have some information.
The "spine symbols" (as I've always called them) fall into three
1. From 213 through 225 (and maybe 226 and 227, copies of which I,
alas, do not own), each book carries a spine symbol that's either a star
or a card-suit (club, diamond, heart, spade), and is either red green or
black. I can't see any pattern to them. There are no repetitions; that
is, for instance, 225 and no other has a red spade, 216 and no other has
a green diamond, etc. The only book in this group that was reprinted
with the same stock number is 222 (Vin Packer's SPRING FIRE), and both
printings show the same black club.
2. Then there were no more spine symbols until 244 (or maybe 243, which
I'm missing). From 244 to d387, there is a spine symbol in red green or
black on every book, with a very few exceptions. (313 doesn't have a
symbol at all; Red Seals 13 through 28, which fall into this time
period, have spine symbols in white yellow or red, contrasting with
their spine colours; and some of the Gold Medal covers that feature
wraparound paintings instead of the usual gold spine have symbols in a
contrasting white.) The symbols themselves are much more various in
this period, including not only card-suits and stars, but letters, rings
and circles, arrangements of four squares, plus-marks, vertical and
horizontal oblongs, triangles, squares, bowties, arrows ... you get the
The only pattern I've been able to see is that each month's publications
have a sort of similar theme to all their spine symbols, without any
actual repetitions within the month. For instance, books published in
August 1952 feature a square in their spine symbols -- 250 has a black
square, 251 has a green square with a line next to it, 252 has a green
square with no line, 253 has a black square with a line, 254 has a red
square, 255 has a red square with a line; even Red Seal 17, published
that same month, has a white square. But it's only August with squares;
July has circles, September has little triangles.
Besides that, though, all bets are off about seeing patterns. Sometimes
two colours appear in the same spine symbol (348 has a green S with a
black I, 352 has a black S with a red plus, 353 a red S with a black
plus, etc.). Invariably, later printings of the same stock number have
the same spine symbol.
3. From 388 through 566 the spine symbols are all black (except on a
couple of wraparound paintings); and from 567 through 675 they're all
red. In this range, the "monthly theme" seems to have been dropped, but
there is a kind of discernible pattern. The spine symbols, with some
exceptions to the cycle, become kind of periodic, with a period of 10.
If the last digit of the book number is 0, the spine symbol is a circle;
if the last digit is 1, it's a vertical bar; 2 a bowtie; 3 a triangle; 4
a diamond; 5 a star; 6 a horizontal bar; 7 a cross; 8 a square; and 9 a
letter X. (The symbols were clearly chosen with the corresponding
number in mind, as the 0, 1, 3, 4, 5 show.)
The exceptions (the black diamond on s403, black square on 553, black
triangle on 554, and possibly some more) probably indicate times when
the order of publication was changed at the last minute.
After 675 there are no more spine symbols, except that at least three
(s774, 914, and 972) have spine symbols left over from earlier printings of the same titles that nobody (apparently) remembered to remove from the cover art.
Lots of information ... but why they bothered with spine symbols at all,
I have no idea.
-- John Woolley (What me, obsessed?)
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