Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Prentice Hall Book About Space Travel (1954)

Temple, William F. Illustrated by Billings, Henry. Prentice-Hall Book about Space Travel. New York: Prentice-Hall Inc. (142 p.) 22 cm. Cloth, DJ.

This is an unfinished story. Part of the fun of collecting is the stories you discover about books. People make fun of collectors because of the obsessiveness to have multiple copies of things or “all” the editions. The interesting story of this book for me is the one I may never know the answer to.

When I first started getting serious about children space books I was learning what was out there. I searched all sorts of book sites from various used books listings to rare book sites. ABE was one of the early places you could search through lists of books by various dealers. I would use keywords like “space” and “children” mixed with dates like 1952 or 1968 and see what titles came up. One ad said “Original book art by Henry Billings from science fiction author’s estate, The Prentice Hall Book About Space Travel”. I called the dealer and spoke to him and it was as he claimed. He was helping dispose of William Temple’s estate and he found a set of scratch board illustrations of a book Mr. Temple had authored.

I had seen the book recently so I knew I would like to have this and arranged payment. I also hunted down a copy of the book. I was pleased to find it was as promised, every illustration from the book. Here are the illustrations:

I was pretty happy because of the variety of space vehicles and history they covered. I had illustrations of Icarus, the From the Earth to the Moon gun-powered ship, the Bumper-Rocket, Space stations, moon landings, and flying saucers. But that turns out it was not the end of the story.

Then I learned of this book:

Temple, William. Illustrated by Quinn, Gerard. The True Book About Space-Travel. London : Frederick Mueller Ltd. (144 p.) 19 cm. Cloth, DJ.

Since they were both published in 1954, which one came first? The only way to answer the question was to look at this book next to mine and see what was going on.

As soon as I looked at the illustrations I realized that my book: The Prentice Hall Book About Space Travel had to be the reprint from the British edition. The reason being that the illustrations in my book were much cruder than those done by Gerard Quinn. Evidently the rights for the illustrations had not been negotiated (or something) so Henry Billings was asked to copy (as best he could) every illustration from the British edition so the book could be reprinted. I will probably never know why.

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