Collectors Corner: Vintage Paperbacks
By Michele Alice
As the Greatest Generation passes on, Boomers begin to downsize in preparation for retirement, and Generation Zs forgo books for Kindles, paperback books in greater numbers than ever are ending up at rummage, tag, and estate sales.
Of course, it has always been the case that paperback books, unlike their hardcover counterparts, have been considered disposable, hence the inexpensive materials (high-acid paper, etc.) from which they are made, but it is that very fact that has resulted in a niche market for collectors of vintage paperbacks.
The vast majority of paperbacks have been printed in such quantities that they are worth little or nothing on the secondary markets. There are several factors, however, that can impart considerable value to certain titles:
The first is age. Early paperbacks (1930s through the 1950s) are desirable because relatively few have survived in good condition. This is compounded by the fact that fewer copies were originally printed compared to the glut produced today. That is one of the reasons why a newer printing of Agatha Christie's The Big Four can be had for less than a dollar at a yard sale, while early Avon editions are fetching up to $30+ at online auctions.
Another factor affecting value is cover art. This is especially true of the many books from the 1940s and 1950s that were produced with lurid covers featuring voluptuous, scantily-clad females at the mercy of space aliens, hard-boiled detectives, criminals, or psychopaths. And if the work is by a well-known illustrator like James Avati or Robert Maguire, so much the better.
Thirdly, many titles were never available in anything but paperback editions, and values for those vary widely. A prime example of this is the Star Trek novel Killing Time by Della Van Hise. There is no original-publisher hardcover edition for fans who want to complete their libraries, and as a Trek paperback, it generally sells for several dollars in good condition, but if it is one of the rare first printings (just 250,000 copies), it can command up to $150+. (This first edition was recalled by Gene Roddenberry and Paramount due to material that they'd deemed objectionable, but had slipped past Pocket Book's editorial staff.)
Lastly, a major influence on value is whether a book is a first edition/first printing of a title by a popular author. That is why a 1956 Perma books first edition of Too Hot to Handle (James Bond) by Ian Fleming recently sold online for $37.36; The Princess Bride by William Goldman (Ballentine Books, 1974) fetched $99; Rage by Richard Bachman (Stephen King), a 1977 Signet book, garnered a more than respectable $475; and Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan in the Forbidden City (Bantam Books, 1940) commanded a whopping $1100!
Now, if you're like us, you've probably never given a second thought to the disposing of old paperbacks in the past, but the more you discover about this collectible, the more interesting (and profitable!) it becomes. So, if you'd like to find out more, check out the resources below, and
Antique Trader Collectible Paperback Price Guide, by Gary Lovisi (from 2008)
Collectable Paperback Books: A New Vintage Paperback Price Reference, Second Ed., by Jeff Canja (from 2002)
The Great American Paperback: An Illustrated Tribute to Legends of the Book, by Richard A. Lupoff (from 2001)
Books Are Everything - Author/collector Graham Holroyd's site provides searchable database, pages on grading and reference books, more.
Grading the Condition of Vintage Paperbacks & Pulps - This eBay guide by benneson is a concise intro to the topic.
The Revolutionary Effect of the Paperback Book - Smithsonian.com - Clive Thompson's article provides some historical background.
Vintage Paperback Archive - Informative site includes list of paperback publishers, articles, cover artists, key authors, much more.
About the author:
Michele Alice is EcommerceBytes Update Contributing Editor. Michele is a freelance writer in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. She collects books, science fiction memorabilia and more! Email her at makalice @ adelphia.net eBay ID: Malice9
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