Black Facts

WHO PERFORMED the first successful open-heart surgery? A black physician named Daniel Hale Wlliams, at Chicago's Providence Hospital in 1893.

Who invented the gas mask and the electric stoplight signal? A black inventor named Garret A. Morgan. Morgan sold the stoplight idea to General Electric in 1923 for $40,000.

Who was the first black woman bank president? Maggie L. Walker, who became head of the St. Luke Bank & Trust Co. in Richmond, Va., in 1903.

These are among the nuggets in 1,999 Facts About Blacks, recently published by a new company called Beckham House in Providence, R.I., that is devoted to books on black subjects. The head of the company is Barry Beckham, a writer and associate professor of English at Brown University. A native of Atlantic City, N.J., Beckham was president of his class at Atlantic City High School before going to Brown, where he was one of three black graduates in the class of 1966. Raymond Corbin, compiler of 1,999 Facts About Blacks, was a classmate of Beckham's at Atlantic City High.

Beckham House published its first book in the fall of 1984, The Black Student Guide to Colleges. Beckham himself edited that book. The guide spawned a couple of pamphlet spinoffs, the 40-page College Selection Workbook, which has sold 15,000 copies (many to schools), and the 16-page 75 Scholarships Every Black High School Student Should Know About.

Among the books on the fall list of Beckham House is Walter Rodney Speaks, a collection of writings by Rodney, the historian from Guyana and author of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. The latter, published by Howard University Press, has sold more than 100,000 copies. Rodney, an opponent of the Guyana government, was assassinated by a car bomb in 1983.

Also on the firm's fall list is a hardback version of Double Dunk, a novel by Beckam that was published in paperback in 1981. It is based on the the real-life story of Earl Manigault, considered by many to be the finest basketball player ever to come out of the playgrounds of Harlem. Manigault's potential college career was ruined when he became a heroin addict. Now drug-free, Manigault lives in Charleston, S.C., where he was born.

In the Red

TRADE imbalances seem to be popping up everywhere. In 1986, according to recently released Department of Commerce figures, the dollar value of books imported by the United States exceeded that of exported books. It was the first time that this had happened since World War II. But there is a sign that things may be turning around.

Book imports to the U.S. grew by 24.3 percent in 1986 to a total of $701.4 million. At the same time, exports grew by only 2.2 percent, resulting in a trade imbalance of $97.4 million. In the years from 1980 to 1986, book imports grew by 128.8 percent, while exports increased by only 18.1 percent. William Lofquist, the Commerce Department analyst concerned with the publishing industry, cites the strength of the dollar from 1982 to 1986 as a major reason for poor export showing, in that U.S. books were so expensive abroad. Another factor was the weakness of economies in nations such as the Philippines and in Latin America and Africa.

The biggest exporter of books to the United States in 1986 was the United Kingdom, which supplied 25 percent of all our imported books. U.K. exports rose by 33.8 percent over 1985 for a total of $175.1 million. Most of these imports seem to have been in technical-scientific and general trade books. And guess which nation was second? Yes, Japan, which accounted for 17.9 percent of American imports, worth $125.9 million. A good part of this total was high-quality art books printed in Japan for U.S. publishers. In third place as an exporter to the U.S. during 1986 was Canada, with 14.9 percent of the import market, worth $104.3 million.

However, Lofquist sees an improvement on the horizon for 1987. Figures for January and February show import growth slowing to 7.7 percent over the same period in 1986, while exports grew by 7.5 percent. Imports totaled $102 million, exports $101 million. According to Lofquist, the drop in the value of the dollar abroad "apparently is beginning to have an effect."

Another factor poses something of a threat to the balance of payments situation in the book business. The first American copyright law was enacted by Congress in 1790, under prodding from Noah Webster. But it protected only U.S. writers. Best-selling authors such as Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo never received a penny in royalties from their sales here. At the same time, American writers received no royalties abroad for their work. Mark Twain, whose writings were popular throughout the world, led a fight to change the law, and in 1891 Congress extended copyright coverage to foreign authors.

But to protect American printers, Congress added what became known as "the manufacturing clause," which prohibited U.S. citizens or companies from having books printed abroad for sale here. This remained in effect until the copyright law revision of 1976, when it was partially lifted. It was then that publishers of high-quality art books (such as Stewart, Tabori and Chang, and Abrams) began moving printing out of the country. Last year, Congress abolished the last vestiges of the manufacturing clause.

"The United States can do printing as inexpensively as anyone," says Lofquist, "but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the abolition of the manufacturing clause won't have any long-term impact." One positive result: starting next year, the Commerce Department will begin keeping more detailed figures about the various categories of books imported from abroad.

Rockville Guides

THERE WERE moans and groans from Washington-area book lovers when the Quill & Brush Bookstore of Bethesda closed down March 31 in the face of a big rent increase. The store -- which had one of the country's largest stocks of 20th-century first editions -- finished with a splash, reducing its inventory through going-out-of-business sales from about 13,000 titles to 3,000. Allen and Patricia Ahearn, owners of the Quill & Brush, carted the rest back to their home in Rockville, where they continue to sell by mail order.

But more and more, the Ahearns are concentrating on a sideline they began while they owned the Quill & Brush -- the Author Price Guides, a series of looseleaf bibliographies of 20th-century authors. The first guide, published at the beginning of 1985, covered the works of Robert Graves. Now there are 85 of the bibliographies available, the most recent covering authors such as George Orwell, Evelyn Waugh, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Pat Conroy and Alexander Theroux. For about half the writers covered, there are no bibliographies available except those issued by the Ahearns.

In keeping with the Ahearns' interests, the bibliographies include current prices fetched by the authors' works and descriptions of the authors' first editions, as well as a facsimile of a signature, for use by purchasers of inscribed copies. The Ahearns are getting a reputation as indefatigable sleuths in tracking down these signatures. In a recent issue of American Book Collector, Daniel McGrath described how they got their signature for the reclusive Thomas Pynchon.

First, Allen Ahearn did a thorough investigation of sources at the Library of Congress, including the voluminous correspondence of Archibald MacLeish. No luck. But he discovered that Columbia University Library had some Pynchon manuscripts. However, Columbia demanded a $100 photocopying fee, which the Ahearns felt was outrageous. So they turned to a friend at Viking, Pynchon's first publisher, who photocopied Pynchon's signature from the contract for Gravity's Rainbow. To make sure, Ahearn sent the signature to Columbia where the curator of manuscripts matched it with the Pynchon in the collection there.

The Author Price Guides can be ordered from the Ahearns at Box 5365, Rockville, MD 20851. That's also the address for purchasing Allen Ahearn's Book Collecting: The Book of First Books, which describes and gives estimated prices for the first editions of the first books written by 3,500 authors. It costs $12.95 in paper, $29.95 in hardcover. ::