Mon 28 Jan 2013
WHITHER VINTAGE PAPERBACKS?
by Walker Martin
In the 1970′s one of my main interests was collecting the Dell mapbacks. I remember at one point in the 1990′s I figured I had them all, but I’ve lost interest over the last decade or so and now I’m not sure. In the 70′s and even 80′s I was getting some good trades for my duplicates, including some original cover paintings.
Now, I’m not even sure I could get $5 each. I know at Pulpcon about 5 years ago, I had a table full of vintage paperbacks priced at $5 each and no one was interested except for the Guest of Honor. Larry Niven was so bored and ignored by pulp collectors that he wandered over and bought one paperback to read.
At the paperback show in NYC I saw many Dell Mapbacks priced at a couple bucks each.
The Doc asks about the prices of vintage paperbacks over the years. There are some exceptions of course with certain authors and oddball titles, but as a general rule and across the board, paperback prices have indeed gone down over the years.
I first started to seriously collect paperbacks in the 1960′s and 1970′s. I soon had enough Ace Doubles, Gold Medals, Dell Mapbacks, Signets, etc to fill what I call my paperback room. Many genres and titles would not fit into the room and are presently stored in my basement, such as western, SF, and mainstream novels.
At one time back in the 1970′s, I thought that prices would increase on vintage paperbacks but I was disappointed to find out that they decreased over the years. The internet probably had something to do with this because abebooks.com and ebay made it obvious that many paperbacks were not as rare as we once believed.
For instance before the internet I sold the 13 Hammett digest-sized paperbacks for a few hundred dollars. But after the internet it was apparent that these paperbacks were not rare (Jonathan Press, Mercury, Bestseller). Now they are available at far lower prices.
Each year I attend the NYC Paperback Convention put on by Gary Lovisi. There have been over 20 annual shows. The last few years the average price of many vintage paperbacks were a dollar or two. Many were priced at 2 or 3 for $5.00. Discounts were available for quantity buyers. I found the same thing at the Windy City Pulp Convention and PulpFest.
As I said, there are exceptions like Junkie and Jim Thompson firsts. But for the most part, paperback values have gone down since the 1970′s and 1980′s. In fact they have dropped so much that it’s not worth my time to bring them to sell at the conventions at $5 each. They won’t sell at that price and to sell at a buck or two is just like giving them away. I’ll keep them instead.
Editorial Comment: This latest installment of Walker’s occasional columns for Mystery*File first appeared as a pair of comments following a review by Bill Deeck of Murders at Scandal House (1933) by the all-but-unknown Peter Hunt. What prompted a followup discussion of old paperbacks and the people who collect them was the fact that the most easily found copy of Scandal House would be the Dell mapback edition (#42) published in 1944.