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Big Value in Paperbacks ?

Q. Do old paperbacks have any real value? What about signed paperbacks?—Windy

Vintage editions of King Kong, A Swell Looking Babe, & The Continental Op


A. Paperbacks, particularly vintage paperbacks, are interesting, exploitive, campy, corny, lurid, and cool! And lots of people are collecting them. Some are selling for big bucks too, but as with any type of book collecting, you have to know which ones are trash and which ones are treasures, and condition makes a big difference in price. Signed paperbacks are worth more than unsigned books, but how much more depends on the author.

Mass-market paperbacks were first introduced in the 1930s. Since that time a horde of publishers have churned them out in every imaginable genre and subject, from romance to science fiction, to JD (juvenile delinquent) books to sleaze (late 50s and early 60s soft-core adult novels), as well as more traditional westerns, mysteries, adventure novels, bestsellers, etc.

The most desirable paperbacks have dramatic cover art, were issued as a TV or movie tie-in, or are the true first edition by a widely collected author. The Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett (Dell Book #129, 1946), for example, is a collection of private-eye stories is sought-after for its elegant cover by Gerald Gregg (value $20 to $50). One of the best movie tie-ins has to be King Kong (Bantam Book #3093 from 1965), featuring a stunning cover of the mighty Kong coming upon the sacrificed maiden (Fay Wray) on Skull Island (value $15 to $30). Hardboiled writers like Jim Thompson, David Goodis, and Charles Willeford all had novels first published in paperback. Thompson’s A Swell-Looking Babe (Lion Book #212, PBO 1954) is a perfect example of a vintage era paperback original that's highly collectable today. It can sell for in excess of $200.

To determine if the paperbacks you have are collectible, you might consult one of the guides to paperbacks, including several I wrote and a series of auction price guides from the 1990.

—Gary Lovisi, Gryphon Books, Brooklyn, New York, USA


Book Club Editions: Vera Caspary’s Laura

Q. I recently read John Dunning’s bibliomystery, The Sign of the Book. He mentioned Vera Caspary’s book, Laura, and claimed that it was very rare in the first edition. Would this also be one of those infrequent occasions when the book-club edition might also have value?—Suzanne Bogue, One More Time Bookstore, Amarillo, Texas, USA

A. Laura is indeed a scarce and desirable book. It inspired the classic Otto Preminger film of the same name. In cases where the first edition is very expensive—in this instance, it’s a $10,000 book—book club editions have some modest value, and a bookseller can charge $100 to $300 in good conscience.

—Tom Congalton, Between the Covers Rare Books, Merchantville, New Jersey, USA


Collecting Easton Press

Q. I have about half of Easton Press’ “100 Greatest Books Ever Written” collector’s edition. These are leather bound books in excellent condition. Most have never been read. Do they have true collectible value? Or are they just pretty copies of great books?—Marty

A. Easton Press, of Norwalk, Conn., publishes luxurious, genuine leatherbound books with decorative gilt boards and lettering, 22-kt gold page edging, silk endpapers, satin ribbon markers, acid-neutral paper, and Smyth-sewn pages. Many of these marvelous books are sought merely to enhance the bookshelf and to impress friends and neighbors and, sadly, a large proportion is never read.

Complete sets of the 100 Greatest Books Ever Written series typically fetch $3,000 and up—more if the set is still in the original publisher’s shrinkwrap. The investment return is quite moderate given the present cost of each book. Also note that attaching the accompanying owner’s labels will result in a significant loss in value, often as much as 50 percent.

Perhaps the best values in Easton Press books are the signed limited editions. Since the majority of them are now out-of-print, is a good source for these books. Most signed editions come with a certificate of authenticity. This gives legitimacy on the secondary market and also safeguards book values. These editions can bring a handsome return if held for several years. Another solid investment can be the Easton Press sets — U.S. Presidents, Civil War, Astronauts, Philosophers, etc. that range from two volumes to more than seventy, in the case of the American presidents series.

—Robert Hall, Hall’s Well Books, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, USA

For more on Easton Press books, visit our dedicated web page.


Is it Worth Keeping a Bookseller's Description?

Q. I have a book by James Patterson with a seller’s description that says the author “laid the signed bookplate in the book!” Should I keep the description? Or does it really mean anything? —Dayton Larson

A. For books I buy online, I usually keep the seller’s description with the book, being sure to fold it so that the printer toner doesn’t touch any part of the book—it might start coming off after enough years. I find this is a good way to remember when and where I bought a book.

Typically, signed books are worth more than the same book with only an autographed bookplate. (You can read more about signed books versus bookplates in a previous issue of Ask the Experts.) A signature in a book indicates that an author once held the volume, if only for a moment. This can be a powerful attraction for collectors. The description you mention suggests that James Patterson once held your book. While this is possible, it seems improbable. Why would he sign the bookplate and not the book if he had the book in his hands? Unless there is a photograph or a published account of the event where this took place, most future collectors probably won’t have much confidence in your seller’s description. On the plus side, it is unlikely to make much difference in the value of the book one way or another.

Collectors of extremely popular authors—Dan Brown, James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Steven King, etc.—should be very wary of signed books. These writers are mobbed when they appear in public, so they don’t make many appearances. Always question when and where a book was signed. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

— Scott Brown, Editor, Fine Books & Collections magazine

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