01Jul What Are Association Copies?

What is an association copy?

An association copy can often be the pinnacle of collecting for a particular book. A book is designated an association copy if it was owned, at some time, by someone associated with the book. This can be somewhat tenuous, and the less tenuous the association the better. Expanding the definition further one could specify an association copy to meet one (or more) of the following criteria:

1. A book owned by the book's author.

  • Isaac Asimov's copy of Foundation
  • Clark Ashton Smith's annotated proof of Spells and Philtres
  • Stephen Baxter's typescript of Raft (see note)

2. A book owned by someone involved in the book's production; the illustrator, the publisher, etc.

  • Quentin Blake's copy of The BFG.
  • Dan Simmons' Hyperion inscribed to his editor.
  • Victor Gollancz's copy of a book he published.

3. A book owned by someone connected closely with the book's author

  • Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle inscribed to his wife.
  • Frankenstein inscribed to Lord Byron.
  • Neil Gaiman's American Gods inscribed to Terry Pratchett (the pair wrote Good Omens together).

4. A book owned by someone connected directly with the book's content.

  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland inscribed by Alice Liddell.
  • Perry Smith's copy of In Cold Blood.

5. A book owned by someone connected tangentially with the book's content.

  • Philip Pullman's annotated copy of Paradise Lost inscribed by him
  • Tolkien's copy of The Marvellous Land of the Snergs
  • Robin Hobb's copy of a book about the behaviour of wolves
  • A copy of A Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy inscribed by Adams to Ray Bradbury (whilst there's no direct connection between the two as far as the book is concerned, they are linked tangentially through science fiction writing).

What isn't an association copy?

1. A book owned or signed by a famous person.

A copy of Consider Phlebas owned by Al Pacino is not an association copy as there's no connection between the two. Even if Banks had signed the book to Pacino, it is still not an association copy as the two are not directly connected. If Pacino were mentioned in Consider Phlebas, or if he was friends with Banks, or penned an adaptation it would be classed as an association copy.

2.  A book with a very tenuous connection.

It would be possible to make an association between any book and any person if you tried hard enough, but you'd be really stretching the definition. A copy of Fahrenheit 451 owned by a fireman is not an association copy. 

3. A book with an author's plate in it or stamp on it.

These can be association copies but only if the provenance is intact, and it's intimately associated with the author's writing or life. There are hundreds of labels out there signed by Arthur C. Clarke bearing the text 'From the Library of Arthur C. Clarke'. Most (perhaps all) never spent a day on Clarke's shelves. That said, many authors would have bookplates designed and printed for use in their personal libraries, and these can make nice association copies.

4. A book owned by an author with no connection to the author's writing. 

Robin Hobb's copy of a book about Wolves is associated with her work because there's a good chance it was used to assist in writing sections in her books about Wolves. A book owned by her on car maintenance may not be associated.

How can you tell if it's truly an association copy?

It comes down to the bookseller really. As you build up a relationship with a bookseller you'll get to understand their idiosyncrasies and how optimistic they are about cataloguing. Most booksellers would, for example, state that a book on wolves that came from the library of Robin Hobb was simply a book on wolves from the library of Robin Hobb. They might expand on that an speculate on it's influence on the novels, and perhaps even read the book and look for signs of its usage. The optimistic seller might note that 'it was the book that Hobb used to craft all the sections about, unfathomably influencing the novel and the landscape of fantasy thereafter'. We'd suggest picking a dealer who is more inclined towards the under-describing.

Does an association copy need a signature or hand-written notes?

Not always, no, but it helps and usually will make the book more desirable. An association copy inscribed by the author makes for a wonderful collectable. If the copy is inscribed by the author to the dedicatee (i.e. the person to whom the author has dedicated the book in the introduction or on a dedicated printed leaf 'for Mary', 'This book is written for John'). This is called the dedication copy, and there can only be as many as there are dedicatees. If the book simply comes from the author's library, and is associated with the author's work, then it's still a great artefact; it'd be a wonderful thing to own Tim Powers's copy of The Works of Coleridge.

Remember too that the inscription or annotations go along way to help with the provenance.

What's a presentation copy?

A presentation copy can sometimes be an association copy as well, but usually isn't. A presentation copy is simply one presented by the author to a recipient. It's distinct from an inscribed copy, by virtue of the fact that the author (or sometimes the publisher etc.) has given or presented the book to the recipient rather than merely responding to a request for a signature. Ideally, the presentation copy would be a personalised inscription to someone from the author. Less ideal would be a stamp, or a signature 'from the author', or a note denoting the copy a presentation copy signed by someone such as the author's secretary.


One would rarely class a manuscript as an association copy given that they are by default associated directly with the author but we've included it here as a point to think on really given that the term association copy is primarily a marketing concept, and it does help to consider the association of a manuscript. 

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