Re: RARA-AVIS: A Complete List of Gold Medal Paperbacks from 1949-1968

From: jwwoolley (
Date: 28 Jan 2010

  • Next message: Joy Matkowski: "Re: RARA-AVIS: A Complete List of Gold Medal Paperbacks from 1949-1968"

    --- In, 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 periods.

    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 picture.

    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?)

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 28 Jan 2010 EST