Thursday, June 19, 2008

The MacDonald Collection

(click on image to read titles)

I’ve mentioned before that I collect Kurt Vonnegut books, but I also collect vintage paperbacks from the 50s and 60s, mostly by John D. MacDonald. Like old wine these are very fragile commodities and too delicate to actually read. That means I have to buy reading copies of the books if I want to actually see the words.

In some cases this presents problems. JDM did a novelization of the Judy Garland movie I Could Go On Singing and despised it so much that he banned the publisher from ever reprinting it. A request the publisher has unfortunately honored, even posthumously. On the internet copies of this book go for between $50 and $100. Since old paperbacks are notoriously fragile, I dare not take this book out of the wrapper to ever read. I take solace in the knowledge that the author would want it that way.

Book collecting, like many hobbies, is full of rules that are arbitrary, silly, and inexplicable. Only first editions with dust jackets are of any value. In paperbacks, the difference between a fine condition and good can be subtle and hard to describe. Keeping track of the printings can also be difficult. There are often dozens of printings of any given MacDonald novel.

I have a reference book called A MacDonald Potpourri by Walter and Jean Shine. It is the bible for JDM fans. It lists every version of every edition of each MacDonald book. For example, the only difference between the true first edition of The Long Lavender Look and the second printing is that the back cover uses a slightly different photo of JDM on the back and the ads for other Travis McGee books in the back has a slightly different list.

Like all collecting, rarity and interest (supply and demand) dictate pricing. Deciding what is going to be popular in advance is a fool’s game. There is rarely any chance of figuring out what will become popular. If you had the foresight to buy Eragon when it was a self-published novel by a teenager. Richard Bachman paperbacks, written by Stephen King under a pseudonym are also rare and valuable. On the other hand, it's unlikely that a full set of Babysitter Club books, even if first printings in near new condition, will ever be worth more than a quarter each at a yard sale.

Books, as opposed to other collectibles, have a utility that other forms of tulipmania type of knick-knacks don’t. If the bottom falls out of the commemorative plate market, they aren’t really suitable as tableware, but a book can always be read.

That said, since my son is off to college soon, it's time to liquidate his Beanie Baby collection to pay the tuition. How's that secondary market going?

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What makes something collectible?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think that love makes things collectible. Most people, I think, on the whole won't start collecting things because they want to get rich. They'll start collecting because the things which they collect bring them some measure of joy. After all, lots of people collect things that are utterly worthless by monetary standards -- but priceless in the collectors' eyes.