The evidence shows the book was author published. That's what it says in the front of the book. Author published means everything done to produce the book would have been bought and paid for by the author prior to the book appearing in printed form. McKinney was not a publisher. McKinney was a printer and binder. (Even Martin Gardner was confused on this point.)
The illustrations were paid for with a check, which suggests the printing and binding were also paid the same way. This is important if the author/publisher is traveling and needs copies sent here or there as instructions and a check could be mailed to McKinney and the orders fulfilled with minimal fuss. Checks also provided a paper trail for ownership should the need arise, which I believe it did.
My thoughts on this, which Ive previously shared with Dick Hatch, follow:
McKinney was going down the drain, but continued to have the responsibility for Erdnases printing plates and excess stock, material they couldnt legally dispose of. They had no way of contacting Erdnase, so what to do with his property as the business was deteriorating?
Without a shred of supporting evidence, Busby claims that in 1903 William J. Hilliar brokered a deal between M.F. Andrews and Frederick J. Drake, a Chicago publisher, for the rights, plates and unsold stock. However, if the real Erdnase was involved in the deal, as Busby claims, then Drake, like any prudent publisher, would have purchased or had the copyright transferred to his name. That didnt happen, which in and of itself is not a problem as royalties could have been paid by contract, but the actions by Drake subsequent to obtaining the Erdnase material suggest Drake had a less than benign motive, for, once in possession of the plates, he then advertised an edited version of Expert of 204 pages and 45 illustrations by Samuel Robert Erdnase in the United States Catalog: Books in America. Clearly, he did not own or have legal rights to the copyright because he listed the book under another authors name. He would not have done this if he owned the copyrights or had legal entitlement to the material. However, this book never was released. The conclusion one must make is that some how Erdnase learned of Drakes plan and forestalled it.
My conjecture is that the real Erdnase may have contacted McKinney for more books or somehow learned that the company was failing and that his material had been transferred to Drakes care, with Drake continuing to sell Erdnases book.
Erdnase hired a lawyer, to whom he presented the various cancelled checks, copyright forms, original manuscript, etc., easily proving his bona fides as the author and owner of the copyright.
A letter from the lawyer to Drake stops the whole Samuel Robert Erdnase business in its tracks. Drake was in possession of and selling material that wasnt his. This could lead to trouble, but the whole thing is put off as a misunderstandinga favor to McKinneymisrepresentation by Hilliar, whatever, and the matter settled out of court. A lease agreement to use the plates and a royalty contract was signed with Drake paying monies to Erdnase/Andrews, probably through the same Chicago bank account set up to pay for the book.
Drake had dozens of titles and Expert would have been one of many, not worth any legal hassle especially when he was in violation of several state and federal statutes, with no way to win. Settling was the only solution.
Drake reprints the book with the copyright remaining in the name of Erdnase, royalties are paid and life goes on.
Then one day, the royalty checks are returned by the bankaccount closedno forwarding address. It isnt Drakes responsibility to chase authors and pay them royalties, so he just keeps tabs on what he owes and waits to hear from the author. He never does.
The year 1930 rolls around, important because that is the year the copyright comes up for renewal. No one renews it. Drake cant because he doesnt own it or have legal rights to it, otherwise he would have. Erdnase doesnt, because my candidate has, years earlier, dropped any interest he has in the project. It has served his psychological purposes and he has moved on with his lifeand to renew the copyright may risk exposure. There is no benefit for him to resurface.
So, in 1930, the book passes into public domainand, apparently, no one notices or cares because the market is handled by Drake and the production of another edition probably isnt financially viable, should anyone have taken notice of the books now public status.
Drake continues to sell the book until 1937, a period of time when Drake could argue that their author is legally dead seven years being the standard back then. Drake, for whatever reasons, sells the plates to Frost who probably assumed responsibility for paying the author or his heirs back royalties. Certainly it would have been prudent for Drake to have Frost assume liability.
This is, of course, conjecture, but it does explain the facts as we know them without complication.