As I've written previously, the earliest reported public availability for Holmes Basic is at Origins 1977, which ran from Friday July 22nd to Sunday, July 24th at Wagner College on Staten Island, NYC. This weekend is the 40th anniversary of this event!
The above information is from a convention report by Bill Seligman (who has a blog here) in the August 1977 issue of the APAzine, The Wild Hunt (via Jon Peterson and Playing at the World).
Lee Gold is now offering pdf copies of early Alarums & Excursions issues (ordering details are here), and in these I found that Bill also included a convention report in issue #25 (8/16/77) as part of his contribution, "I WOULD HAVE MADE A GREAT PLATINUM DRAGON #10". Note that APAzines are compilations of mini-zines made by each contributor.
As part of this report, Bill had several paragraphs devoted to the new Basic Set. First, he addressed Holmes directly as part his comments made to previous A&E contributors:
Eric Holmes: the new revised D&D is written extremely well, at least. Kudos to you, sir, at least future DMs will not have to struggle with what we had. (numbered page 3 of Seligman's mini-zine, unnumbered page 83 of A&E #25)
Second, his information & thoughts about the new set:
But now, for some even bigger news: THE NEW REVISED AND TRULY PROOFREAD VERSION OF D&D IS OUT!!! Well, not the whole thing, just the basic version, for $10.00, This includes dice, a dungeon geomorph (yuk) and a set of pre-allocated rooms for 1-3 levels (yuk). The whole set is designed for setting up to third level characters and up to the third level of the' dungeon. Further versions of D&D will expand the current one to the Nth level. The next D&D book to be put out will be on monsters — there will be 378 of them. It will be out in October [actually published in Dec - Z]. Future releases will be an advanced D&D playing volume, a Dungeonmasters guide, and a revised Gods, Demi-Gods, and HerphS, each of which will be 8'-1/2 by 11 inches and bound like a paperback.
What I think of Basic D&D-- it is far, far better written than the original. There are a lot, more examples. Including examples of melee, spell use, encumberance, and setting up a dungeon level. Naturally the spell system and combat system is the Gygaxian one — what did you expect? Kask [at Origins] justified this too -- he said that D&D is based on Vancian magic, and that it restricts high-level mages, who would otherwise control the whole game. I wish they had not included the geomorphs and dungeon example, since too many neo-DMs will use them with no individual changes when they first start out. However, if you are starting a D&D campaign, from the 1st level, then get this book. It is available w/o dice, geomorphs, pre-allocations, and box for $5.00, with for $10.00.
One thing though -- in the monster encounter charts, they list creatures like Leprechauns and Troglodytes which are not listed in the monster descriptions. Kask said that if a person never saw a Lucky Charms commercial or read a fairy tale there was nothing he could do --but normally somebody could work up something for those monsters. I disagree - assuming a true neo, he would not be able to assign the monster any hit points that were reasonable - he would not even really understand what hit points were for. But, Kask said, Leprechauns would be explained in the next book. (numbered page 4 of Seligman's mini-zine, unnumbered page 84 of A&E #25)