Identifying the edition of a book can be a complicated matter. It is not always easy to tell from the book itself, especially with older books or where, as is the case with Harper and Brothers, the publisher uses baffling codes for its various editions.

Harper and Brothers Publishers, established in 1817 as they proudly proclaimed on many of their publications, was founded as J and J Harper by James and John Harper.  Shortly afterwards they were joined in their endeavour by their brothers, Joseph and Fletcher, and the company was renamed Harper and Brothers in 1833. Its headquarters were on Pearl Street in Manhattan (where the approach to Brooklyn Bridge is today). The company published a suite of magazines, such as Harper’s Weekly and Harpers’ Bazar (which became Harper’s Bazaar in 1913 and is still published under the name Bazaar), as well as books.  It attracted a number of well known authors, such as Thornton Wilder, Aldous Huxley, Howard Spring, and Amistead Maupin. In 1962 Harper Brothers merged with another published, Row Peterson and Company, to become Harper and Row. Harper and Row was acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation in 1987.  News Corporation also owned the UK publisher, William Collins and the two firms were merged in 1990 to become HarperCollins, which is today one of the largest publishers in the world.

Between 1912 and 1968, Harper and Brothers used a series of codes in its books, on the copyright page, which can help book collectors and others interested in such things to determine the date on which a book was printed and its issue.  The code will be something like ‘I-G’, but look closely as its often printed in a very small font.  The first letter designates the month of printing, the second indicates the year.  The table below decodes the letters.  The matter is made a little more complicated because Harper and Brothers, in 1937, began to recycle the ‘year letter’, but it’s usually possible to tell from the book itself whether it is pre or post 1937.

Key to Harper’s Printing Codes

First letter is month: A= January, B=February, C=March, D=April, E=May, F=June, G=July, H=August, I=September; The list skips J. K=October, L=November, M=December.

M=1912; N=1913; O=1914; P=1915; Q=1916; R=1917; S=1918; T=1919; U=1920; V=1921; W=1922; X=1923; Y=1924; Z=1925; A=1926; B=1927; C=1928; D=1929; E=1930; F=1931; G=1932; H=1933; I=1934; K=1935; L=1936

Recycled Dates Beginning in 1937

M=1937, N=1938, O=1939, P=1940, Q=1941, R=1942, S=1943, T=1944, U=1945, V=1946, W=1947, X=1948, Y=1949, Z=1950, A=1951, B=1952, C=1953, D=1954, E=1955, F=1956, G=1957, H=1958, I=1959, K=1960, L=1961, M=1962, N=1963, O=1964, P=1965, Q=1966, R=1967, S=1968

So, using this decoding table, I can tell that the copy of Pyle’s Book of Pirates (a fabulously illustrated classic, if improbable and impractical guide to pirating which we have just acquired for our shop stock) which has the code I-W on the copyright page was printed in September 1922.