The Exceptions and The Rule

One of the truisms about collectible books that has been passed along to me by volunteers and donors is that “Of course the hardcover copy of a book is always worth more than the paperback.” This has been said to me enough times that it would be uncivil of me to point out that the word “always” in that sentence ought to be “often”.

But I’m going to do it.

First, we have the Advance Proof, or Uncorrected Proof, or Advance Galleys or Advance Reader’s Copy, or ARC or whatever else someone thinks of to call it. As mentioned before in this space, this is a copy of an upcoming book, hastily bound and sent to book reviewers and bookstores so they can be ready when the final version, with hard cover and illustrations and page numbers and all, is ready.

But this is a special case, right? Those aren’t nade generally available to the public. Of books actually sold in bookstores, the hardcover is always t be preferred, n’est-ce pas?

Pas. The fact is that many a mystery and science fictions writer in the heyday of the PBO (paperback original), the 1950s and 1960s, published some of their best work for paperback publishers desperate for material and less fussy than the hardcover companies. Hardcover copies might come out years later, once their reputations were made. Jim Thompson, the writer of thrillers about marginal people, saw his most famous book, The Killer Inside Me, published by Lion, a fringe paperback publisher after the sensationalist cover and susceptible reader. Nice copies of that are now offered at between $1500 and $2000, while the best you can do for a hardcover is about $700, for a copy published long after Thompson’s death but autographed by Stephen King, who wrote the introduction.

Let us also consider, as briefly as possible, the work of John Norman, whose fantasy novels kept DAW books in business for years. His novels of Gor sold millions of copies, all in paperback. The few hardcover copies are novelties or foreign editions, and early paperback versions of the alternate world where slaves understand the true joys of being enslaved change hands for hundreds of dollars.

We can step over to literature, if you’d prefer, where we find Vladimir Nabokov, whose Lolita was published first by a paperback publisher in Paris known for taking risks. That two-volume paperback set will now run you up to $10,000. The highest price for a hardcover online right now is a first American edition hardcover which the author inscribed to a cousin, drawing a picture of a butterfly (he was also a noted butterfly collector) under the autograph. That’s being offered at two-thirds the price of a plain, unsigned paperback first.

Anyway this “Uncle Blogsy’s Big Book of Book Blogs” of which they speak around here is slated to be in paperback. I can’t think of ANY hardback book to match it in value. (Yeah, the First Folio is worth more, but I wouldn’t say it MATCHES Uncle Blogsy’s value.)

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