Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A crush of books

by our guest blogger, Jeffrey Marks

My hobby truly does have dead bodies in it, and plenty of them. I collect mystery first editions and have since I was 16 years old. When I first was able to earn my own money, a good part of each week’s salary went to used books. I figured that if I bought used books, I could get more pages per dollar than with new ones. New books were all of $2.95 back then and I could get perhaps 10-12 used paperbacks for the same price.

After I’d managed to forage through all the local bookstores, I discovered Bill Dunn’s store in Connecticut. I’d wait anxiously for the catalogs which came every couple of months in a huge stack of pages stapled together. Since he didn’t have many paperbacks, I switched to hardbacks of the 1940s and 1950s. Many of those were first editions. I bought books by Craig Rice, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Rex Stout, SS Van Dine, and of course, Agatha Christie.

By the time I was out of high school and several part-time jobs later, I was able to amass a respectable collection of books. I had collected probably half of the Christie oeuvre by that point. For my high school graduation, I had bought myself the crown jewel of my collection, a first edition of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Christie’s first work. I purchased it for $90, but it’s now worth $4000 conservatively.

Last year, I finished up my collection, 30 years in the making. I have American firsts for all of Christie’s books along with a few reference works as well. They fill a full bookcase in my house.

Of course, another bookcase (there are 7 in my house if you care!) in my home is filled books by the authors I’ve profiled. I have all of Craig Rice’s works including the extremely hard to find works under her Venning and Sanders pen names.

As my new biography of Anthony Boucher just come out last month, I have nearly all of Anthony Boucher’s books too. I’m missing just one of his 7 novels, Nine Times Nine, the novel that introduces Sister Ursula. I plan on picking up an extremely nice copy with my first royalty check.

Next up for me is likely a biography of Erle Stanley Gardner, the creator of Perry Mason. With a canon of over 150 books, his books might crush my shelves – but I’m sure I’ll have fun trying to get them all.


Deb Baker said...

This is such fasinating stuff! You're like Cliff Janeway, the rare book collector, in John Dunning's series. It's one of my favorites.

Helen said...

So interesting. Something you loved as a child has stayed with you. Of course, the monetary value of your books is most likely amazing. But it is the books themselves that are stunning.

Terri Thayer said...

My hobby has dead bodies...love the ring of that. I must say, though, that the only dead bodies in my fabric stash are the occasional moth. I did find petrified cat spit-up once. That's what happens when you throw fabric on the floor of the closet instead of putting it away.

Nice post. As always with valuable collectibles, I wonder how many of these I once owned and gave away. Some in my family are still stewing over baseball cards long gone.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Welcome to our blog!

You said that you've finished your Christie collection and are close to finishing up Boucher. Do you have any of the 150 Erle Stanley Gardner books yet to start that collection? What a fun hobby, and writing bios is a great way to make use of it!


Betty Hechtman said...

What an interesting post. The value of old books is amazing. Edgar Rice Burroughs' great grand children went to my son's elementary school. Makes sense since we live in Tarzana. The family donated a first edition of one of the Tarzan books along with some other related stuff to a school sale. Nobody wanted m, instead buying things like coupons for dinners at local restaurants.

We always picked up the stuff other people passed on, which is why we are still proud owners of the rock with a face painted on it. I later saw the book we bought listed for $5000 in a rare book catalog.

Jeff Marks said...

Linda, I have many of the ESG paperbacks, and a few of his 1st editions. It's daunting to think of collecting 150 books.

Deb, I love the Janeway series.

I really enjoy the bios and am always looking for new subjects.. A lot of them have come from my early collection.

Anonymous said...

Alas, it's only baseball scrapbooks I'm sorry I tossed, along with Ted Williams autograph on a hotel napkin....fool that I am...xoxoxo

Jeff Marks said...

My brother-in-law still rails about his missing baseball cards..

Thanks to everyone for chatting about books, one of my favorite topics.

©Hotbutton Press said...

What's your fave series from the last decade or two - I mean, who stands up to the oldies but goodies, in your sage opinion? And what's the most you've ever paid for a first-edition? Is it dreadfully gauche to ask that? I've paid $200 for a rare art book, but haven't a clue with fiction. Collecting old spines is such a fascinating hobby! LOL.