Ramon u ż-Żerbinotti bound in a pencil case

In 2008, Merlin Publishers released a very limited edition copies of Ġużè Stagno’s Ramon u ż-Żerbinotti. To this day, it remains one of the more iconic and rarest titles by the publishers.

Although Malta’s publishing scene has always faced hardships and setbacks, its publishers have been unwavering in their goal to release beautiful, informative, and collectable titles.

In this new series, called Rarities from the Publishers’ Archives, we take a look back at some of the most special books Malta publishers have ever released.

This week, the director of publishing at Merlin Publishers, Chris Gruppetta, tells us about a very limited and fun edition of Ġużè Stagno’s Ramon u ż-Żerbinotti from 2008, which, by the way, was 16 years ago!

What’s the book about? This was Stagno’s comeback novel and his first with Merlin Publishers. With his trademark irreverence, he set this novel in a boys’ secondary school in 1990s Malta – and the novel is chock-a-block with ’90s pop culture references.

What’s special about this edition? To mark the occasion, we published a very limited – just 200 copies – special edition where the book cover was replaced with … a ‘90s-style pencil case. A homage to the period the novel was set in, we stripped the copies of their cover, and re-glued each into a deliberately garish empty pencil case. Sourcing the pencil cases was a task in itself, as we ended up having to buy them in batches from local discount shops. The concept and execution was obviously the brainchild of our brilliant inhouse art director, Pierre Portelli.

Why it has become important to the local publishing scene: I don’t know about important to the publishing scene, but it was quite a rare thing to do locally at the time, and it caused quite a stir because it was pretty cool to have a book wrapped in a pencil case. It was part of a wider resurgence at the time of Maltese literature and making it ‘cool’ again to read in Maltese.

Since then: The book was simultaneously published also in a regular paperback edition, and has since been available in this format, going on to become a bestseller and a cult modern classic by Stagno.

What’s it worth? A few years after the limited edition of the novel ran out (and it ran out in a matter of weeks), we found copies on eBay at around seven times the original price of the edition.

Upcoming publications: We are very excited about, among others, the debut novel of young emerging author Noah Fabri. It’s set in 2020s multicultural Hamrun, a reality that to our knowledge hasn’t yet been explored in local literature yet.

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