The gutter code was used by Doubleday, both for their trade and book club printings, from mid-1958 to mid-1987. Collectors have deciphered this code as an indicator of when the book was manufactured. The codes are stamped in the gutter of one of the last printed pages in a publication, usually the last page of text. Non-first edition trade printings and book club edition (BCE) printings do not contain explicit statements of edition or printing dates, so the gutter code is the only way to date them reliably if secondary sources such as book club announcement fliers are not available.
Please note that "gutter code" is an informal name used by book collectors. Doubleday and the Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC) have never formally acknowledged their existence.
The gutter code is usually a letter followed by two digits. The letter indicates the year and the two digits are the week of the year. Sometimes the components are reversed and you will see two digits followed by the letter. Occasionally when a book is printed early in the year, there may or may not be a leading zero to complete the two-digit sequence. In 1985, gutter codes consisting of two letters and two digits began to appear. It was also in 1985, that many of the "P" codes consisted of the letter and three digits, the first of which was a leading zero.
Here is an example of the gutter code found in The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories published by Doubleday. In this case the gutter code H 03 translates to either January 1966 or January 1977. As the copyright is 1976 we can be pretty sure that this publication was printed in January 1977.
Please be aware that the gutter code translates into a manufacturing date which can be four to six weeks before a publication is made available to the public. Thus the gutter codes are at best, a useful guide to help date a publication. If possible, consult the Locus list of books received, and/or the book club's monthly fliers to better establish a publication's release date.
The gutter code can also be useful in identifying the second or even later printings of Doubleday trade editions. For example, Asimov's Foundation's Edge was first printed in September 1982 with the gutter code "M36". This printing carries the "First Edition" statement on its copyright page. Within the same month there was a second printing with code "M39". The edition statement was removed from this printing.
Sometimes the book club edition is the first edition and the gutter code can be a useful tool in establishing whether it was printed earlier than the retail/trade edition. As noted earlier, it should be emphasized though that the gutter code is the manufacturing date and that the book is actually "published" (in the case of BCEs, mailed to members) as much as six weeks later. Thus a gutter code which indicates a printing within a few weeks of the retail/trade release offers only a hint, and can not be used to prove that the book club edition was the first edition. Then again, the trade edition's stated publication date is only a guideline as well. Quite often books can find themselves in retail outlets weeks before the stated month of publication.
The letter part of a gutter code
This table will help you translate the gutter code's letter to a specific year.
In 1970, publications with letter code "A" began to appear (Sequence 2), even though the normal sequence continued as well. This may indicate that a second printing press was implemented with the codes starting with "A". The original press would have continued its regular numbering system. Because of this conflict, you may need to look at the copyright date to determine if the publication is coded using the first or second letter sequence.
In the years 1973 through 1976, another series of codes cropped up that were out of sequence (Sequence 3). The letters P, Q, R, and S preceded by numbers were one year ahead of those same codes where the letter was followed by numbers. This is another case where special attention must be paid to other clues (e.g. copyright year), or secondary sources in determining the actual printing month.
The Example Title column lists examples of known/verified gutter codes and also shows the stated publisher plus original copyright date. Note that while a publication may state a publisher it's believed that all of these were manufactured in Doubleday's plant in Garden City, New York. After the sale of Doubleday to Bertelsmann, the gutter code system was discontinued (approximated mid-1987). The Garden City presses were shut down in 1988.
As a convenience, the Year column values are linked to the SFBC page for that year. Keep in mind that gutter codes appeared in all publications manufactured by Doubleday during this time period, including its trade editions and those editions for their various book clubs.
Seq. 1 Seq. 2 Seq. 3 Year Example Title ## 1958 In its first year of use, the gutter code simply shows the week the book was printed. The earliest verified gutter code is "18" implying that it may not have been used before May 1958. #
1959 The number-only system continues for the first few weeks of 1959. Codes 2 and 4 have been verified and the earliest known letter code is A13, implying the numeric gutter codes for 1959 could range up to 12.
4 The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Eighth Series (Doubleday 1959)
A23 Not in Solitude (Doubleday 1959)
B 1960 B46 Star of Stars (Doubleday 1960) C 1961 C48 From the Ocean, from the Stars (Harcourt, Brace & World 1961) D 1962 D29 Unwise Child (Doubleday 1962) E 1963 E9 Anything You Can Do (Doubleday 1963) F 1964 F18 All the Colors of Darkness (Doubleday 1964) G 1965 19G The Star Fox (Doubleday 1965) H 1966 24H Fantastic Voyage (Hougton Mifflin 1966) I 1967 37I Element 79 (NAL 1967) J 1968 25J The Werewolf Principle (Putnam 1968) K 1969 20K Stand on Zanzibar (Doubleday 1969) L A 1970 08L Galactic Pot-Healer (reprint of a Berkley 1969)
A51 Year of the Cloud (Doubleday 1970)
M B 1971 12M The Robot Novels (Doubleday 1971)
B11 Fun with Your New Head (Doubleday 1970)
N C 1972 45N The 1972 Annual World's Best SF (DAW 1972)
C22 When Harlie Was One (Nelson Doubleday 1972)
O D ##P 1973 O25 The 1973 Annual World's Best SF (DAW 1973)
42P Hellstrom's Hive (Nelson Doubleday 1973)
D15 The Overlords of War (Doubleday 1973)
P## E ##Q 1974 P22 Soul of the Robot (Doubleday 1974)
40Q The Deathworld Trilogy (Nelson Doubleday 1974)
E36 Ancient, My Enemy (Doubleday 1974)
Q## F ##R 1975 Q30 The 1975 Annual World's Best SF (DAW 1975)
24R The Best of Cordwainer Smith (Nelson Doubleday 1975)
F7 The Hollow Lands (Harper & Row 1975)
R## G ##S 1976 R26 The 1976 Annual World's Best SF (DAW 1976)
02S Epoch (Berkley/Putnam 1975)
G24 The Dragon and the George (Doubleday 1976)
S## H 1977 S38 In the Ocean of Night (The Dial Press 1977)
H03 The Bicentennial Man: And Other Stories (Doubleday 1977)
T I 1978 T19 Three Hainish Novels (Nelson Doubleday 1975)
I51 The Chronicles of Amber: Volume I (Nelson Doubleday 1979)
U J 1979 U4 In Memory Yet Green (Doubleday 1979)
J13 Leviathan's Deep (Doubleday 1979)
V K 1980 V10 The Man Who Loved the Midnight Lady (Doubleday 1980)
K31 Fireflood and Other Stories (Houghton Mifflin 1979)
W L 1981 W43 The Martian Chronicles (Doubleday 1981 trade reprint)
L29 The 1981 Annual World's Best SF (DAW 1981)
X M 1982 X1 The Engines of the Night (Doubleday 1982)
M33 The 1982 Annual World's Best SF (DAW 1982)
Y N 1983 Y11 The Third World Way: The Untold Story (Macmillan 1982)
N34 The 1983 Annual World's Best SF (DAW 1983)
Z O 1984 Z35 The Wandering Unicorn (Taplinger 1984)
O30 The 1984 Annual World's Best SF (DAW 1984)
AA P 1985 Most of the "P" codes had a leading "0" making the number part of the code three digits in length.
BB Q 1986 BB27 Foundation and Earth(Doubleday 1986, trade edition)
Q31 The 1986 Annual World's Best SF (DAW 1986)
CC R 1987 CC16 Daughter of the Empire (Doubleday 1986, trade printing)
R28 The 1987 Annual World's Best SF (DAW 1987, the last annual to contain a gutter code)
The last known gutter codes validated are "R36" and "CC36" printed in September 1987.
The numeric part of a gutter code
This chart will help you the translate the week number to the month of printing. As many weeks span from the end of one month to the beginning of the next the translation is not exact.
Week Month 1 to 5 January 6 to 9 February 10 to 13 March 14 to 17 April 18 to 22 May 23 to 26 June 27 to 30 July 31 to 35 August 36 to 39 September 40 to 44 October 45 to 48 November 49 to 52 December
The boundary between July and August varies from year to year. If it's not a leap year then July runs from week 27 to 30 and August is 31 to 35. If it's a leap year then July runs from week 27 to 31 and August is 32 to 35. Thus if you have a publication with a week code of 31 then it's an early August printing for non-leap years and a late July printing for leap years (letter codes B, F, J, N/C, R##/G/##S, V/K, and Z/O are leap years).
Even though the printing week can be exactly determined, it must be remembered that a book with a gutter code with numbers as low as 47 may not have been published (available to the public) until the following year, that is, the January or February following the November or December printing. This would explain why a book manufactured or printed in November 1966 with the gutter code H48 was not published until February 1967.