Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cold Case -- Errors In Books

This is another in my new series, "Cold Case -- The Trivial Stuff." Today, errors in books.

As you may recall from yesterday, "CC--TTS" focuses on investigating the smaller indiscretions, mistakes, and possible crimes of the past. The way I see it, the demands of justice are such that nothing should be overlooked. Otherwise injustice is allowed to prevail. Some might say, those days are over and done with, why reopen old wounds? But you can see, if that plea is allowed to stand, there's equally no reason to deal with current-day troubles. If you let one slide, the other should slide as well.

I have a case today of an error in a book. There's been lots of times in the past that I've seen errors in books and have just overlooked them, figuring various things. One, I've figured the publishing company was just sloppy. But usually I think of the typesetters of those days and the fact that they may have been tired or underpaid and just hit the wrong button on their Linotype machines. Then, perhaps knowing they made an error, they just proceeded on their way, figuring a proofreader would catch it. But these days, I'm not going to overlook it anymore. I've seen so many errors in books it's getting ridiculous.

The error I spotted recently, perhaps some would say the case has gone way cold. That's probably true. But the demands of justice, as stated above, must be served. And I believe with diligence we can have some satisfaction.

Let me describe the case.

The book is called "Hurlbut's Story of the Bible," by Rev. Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, D.D. Looking at the beginning of the book, the only date mentioned is 1904.

The error I spotted is on the page number of one of the color plates. In the listing of color illustrations, it says "Paul in the Storm at Sea" is to be found facing page 736. In actual fact, however, that illustration is facing page 712. There is no illustration facing page 736 whatsoever.

Someone messed up, prompting me to check the publisher information. W.E. Scull appears to be the publisher, since W.E. Scull entered the book in 1904 in the office of the librarian of Congress at Washington, D.C. My first thought was to email Scull (and maybe call him a numbscull for this stupid error) or send a letter. But when I started checking around, it doesn't appear that there's any current address, and no email address whatsoever. The domain is not even registered!

Clearly this is someone trying to duck out of sight and avoid scrutiny and thereby responsibility. How many of Scull's other books were chock-full of errors? I'm seriously going to be making a survey of libraries and my own bookshelves. I want to see if we have a pattern here, or if, perhaps, this error was a rare thing. I'm thinking, No contact information, perhaps they made so many errors they're already out of business, in which case that'd be a form of justice.

A thorough investigation, with resources that go beyond mine alone, would get to the bottom of this. I would like to see the original publication files, the background materials, what the artists, typesetters, proofreaders, and editors were working with. At what point did someone drop the ball? I think we'd be able to pull apart the signatures and compare the placement of the other plates, which were all right, to see how things finally went so wrong. The illustration in question was the last of the color plates, except for maps at the very end of the book. Something went wrong right at the end.

A good guess would be: The typesetter typed the contents page just like instructed. But someone who designed the book gave him the wrong information. Then when the picture ended up facing page 712 instead of page 736 -- the color illustrations probably being inserted after the rest was printed -- they already had the contents page printed.

A close investigation would need to take the whole book apart. Plus, we might compare other known copies of the same book to see if all of them (or some of them) are wrong. Then when all the information is gathered, we can start assigning guilt. Once guilt is assigned, assuming we can get the publisher records from storage somewhere, we can contact the person responsible. If that person turns out to be dead -- which is entirely likely, since the book is already 105 years old -- we can still take whatever action seems appropriate.

UPDATE - This very edition of the book is at Google Books. At page 30, you can see the listing of color illustrations, with page 736 referring to the illustration in question. Then you go to page 712 and there it is!

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