Indian Facsimile Books

This is rather interesting. I only ran across it because I was searching ABE for a copy of a very obscure old novel (Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd – a once quite legendary but now rather forgotten hollow earth novel from 1895), and hemming over the not particularly good-looking newer editions that various people had re-released into the storm of books that we live among today. Among them, however, were a lot of copies apparently coming from India, illustrated with generic, anonymous place-holder images of leather-bound volumes. And I was puzzled, trying to work out what they were. The prices were not too bad, but the listings looked extremely automated. Mechanised listings with no specifics whatsoever. And in this age of online distrust, I was even wondering whether they could be fake.

It took a bit of digging and chatting with some Indian contacts to find out what was going on here. It seems that it’s basically a POD system that is quite big in the country, basically trawling for versions of old public domain titles in online archives and offering them as facsimile books that are made to order. Not so different to many many other presses who release these older volumes with greater or lesser love and attention. But there was one thing here that was very different. In addition to the usual paperbacks and hardbacks, there were some other versions available – deluxe and super-deluxe editions. Essentially print on demand leatherbound volumes! Again, hand-made to order. And that got my attention very quickly. It’s one thing to dump these old texts lifted from the Internet Archive or wherever into a basic book and launch it out into the world – but these looked good. The pictures were appealing and beautifully classical book porn. I have to say, I was still a bit dubious – not at all sure what I was going to get. Maybe they’d be low quality – maybe put together using weird source PDFs – maybe even fake listings leading to nothing. But in the end, I placed an order for the deluxe edition of that very obscure old novel, figuring that if it turned out to be a disaster, I hadn’t lost so much. The prices were not bad, after all, and by this point, I was really curious.

And then … I waited. I knew they took quite a while to make and send, so I waited – waited as India was suddenly in the news, filled with Covid horror. I was almost starting to think that it might never happen, under the circumstances, my curiosity unanswered and still not knowing what I was dealing with. Until at the height of the Covid outbreak there, it quietly arrived.

And – it’s beautiful! It really is. Subtly different to many other higher-end books, with that hand-made feel. But it feels well-bound so far, the paper is soft and nice – a solid and good-looking volume. And for what it is, the price is really quite appealing. What this company isn’t is a publisher as such … it’s a system for producing facsimiles. BUT, if you want to get hold of a nice copy of an old work, this actually seems a bloody good way to do it. The quality will of course partly depend on the original or the PDF or whatever. Problems with that will be copied right over – but that’s what a facsimile book is, and if one goes into it knowing that then it almost becomes part of the fun. One thing I would advise is, if at all possible, check the PDF first. The company often lists multiple versions of the same title, where their system has found multiple PDFs – and I could be wrong, but I think they copy across the original file names as catalogue entries. That can be awkward in some senses (I’m not sure what to make of “Kepler, Somnium Notes, Rosen” in their catalogue, for instance. IS that Kepler’s very early sci-fi novel? I will research more!), but maybe one can use these to track down and check the original PDF release on the Internet Archive or wherever.

The company is Gyan Books – https://www.gyanbooks.com/ – and at some point, I must try out one of their cheaper ‘trade’ hardcovers to see just what I get. The super-deluxe edition is even grander, but somewhat outside my wallet.

Published in: on May 22, 2021 at 12:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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