First Edition Points: A Confederacy of Dunces

First Edition Points: A Confederacy of Dunces

Tuesday, Aug 23, 2022 8:00 PM

There were 2,500 first printing books in 1980 (the custom for newly published Louisiana University Press books). These books do NOT state first edition and do NOT state first printing on the copyright page. 

The first state jacket is distinguished by having stars present in the nighttime sky. The jacket is illustrated by Ed Lindlof. Lindlof originally added stars that are present on the front, rear, and spine of the jacket.  After the first printing of 2,500 LSU Production Manager Joanna V. Hill made two changes to the jacket. The first was that she removed the stars because she thought that they looked like spots from debris caught between the ink and paper during the printing process. The second change that Hill made was to intensify the blue letters in the title.  

The second state jacket (5,000 print run) has the stars deleted and blue color intensified in the title. 

Below (circled in red) are the stars from a first state dust jacket found on first printing books next to a second state dust jacket found on second printing books. Notice that the second state jacket does not have stars and the blue color is brighter. 

I reached out to the LSU Press and asked if they could confirm whether the marks on the jacket are stars or not. I received a reply from James D. Wilson, Jr. who confirmed that the specks were intentionally put there by illustrator Ed Lindlof, they are indeed stars, and they were likely removed in error. Mr. Wilson was gracious enough to send me an image of part of the original mechanical used in printing the dust jacket showing the star effect by Lindlof.

Two weeks later Mr. Wilson sent me an email saying that my inquiry had lit a spark. Buried in the files at the LSU Press, he was able to locate a letter from Joanna V. Hill, the LSU Production Manager at the time, to Lindlof that conclusively states “I deleted the stars and intensified the color of the title in the reprint.” This admission from Hill is the smoking gun that disproves the long-held belief by collectors of the “Walker Percy Rule.” The way to actually distinguish between the first and second states is whether the jacket has the star effect or not. The letter also explains why the title on dust jackets with the star effect are faded to a beige color and the second printing jackets retain most of the original blue color. 

We also now know that the first state dust jacket is far more scarcer than originally thought. Instead of a printing of 7,500 (combined first and second printing books) there were only 2,500 first state dust jackets produced. 


Occasionally collectors will find a second issue dust jacket on a first printing book. This could be because the books were printed out of state and the dust jackets were printed in Baton Rouge, LA. Both components were then sent to the press warehouse at LSU and were jacketed by attendants who may have accidentally put a second state dust jacket on a first printing book. Another explanation is that collectors and dealers are known to add a dust jacket from a less expensive second printing book (believing the jacket to be a first state) and add it to a first printing book missing a jacket. This is a common practice called "marrying" a dust jacket to a book.

I believe an important bibliographical discovery such as this, on a book published so long ago, would be impossible with larger publishing houses today such as Random House, Knopf, Macmillan, etc. Therefore, I would like to give a sincere thank you to Mr. Wilson and the LSU Press for their enthusiasm and support in proving this theory.


Patrick Mullins


Thank you to Rebecca Rego Barry for including this discovery in Fine Books & Collections magazine "Current Events & Trends" November, 2022.