By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
February 26, 2011
February 26, 2011

“Usually, if they sell a lot of something, you want to tell everybody.”

That’s what Steve Jobs had to say in 2009 about sales figures for the Kindle — which, it bears repeating, Amazon AMZN has still never revealed.

And it’s probably all you need to know for now about sales of the iPhone for Verizon VZ , which arrived two weeks ago without the long lines of eager customers that many had anticipated.

If sales had exceeded the 1.7 million iPhone 4s Apple AAPL sold in three days last summer, you can be sure someone would have issued a press release.

Instead, what we have is a series of dissembling statements from Verizon — including interviews Friday with Reuters and the
Wall Street Journal
— designed to make it impossible to calculate a unit sales number.

Here’s what Verizon Wireless chief Daniel Mead had to say Friday to counter reports that iPhone sales were disappointing:

  • He repeated previous statements that Verizon sold more iPhone 4s during its initial launch than any other product in the carrier’s history. This is a classic unanchored statistic. Without knowing what the previous record was, you can’t pin down the new one.
  • Mead said lines were modest because sales were staggered and 60% of purchases were made online. Sixty percent of what? Verizon is still not saying. Nor do we have comparable stats to determine whether 60% is unusually high.
  • In a few days, Mead says, the company will double the number of stores that sell the iPhone, going from 4,000 to 8,000. Again, this gets us no closer to an answer to the original question.

The easiest way to counter the impression that iPhone sales at Verizon were disappointing, of course, would be to release the actual number. That won’t happen, Mead says, until the company’s next earnings report.

By then it will be old news.

Also on Fortune.com:

[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]

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