July 31, 2011
Early this summer, a friend gave me a framed poster she found at a garage sale. It’s an uncut sheet featuring six rows of 36 vintage paperback covers from a box set of cards. At first, the books seemed to be random pulp fiction titles but then, it dawned on me, they were all about drugs: Marijuana Girl by N.R. de Mexico, The Pusher by Ed McBain, Black Opium by Claude Farrere and Acid Party by Anthony Yewker, to name a few.
I got it in my head to try to find these vintage books, realizing some might be beyond my budget because I recognized #17 on the poster, Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict by William Lee. Lee is a pseudonym for William Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch and famous Beat Generation drug addict. The first edition price of this 1953 confessional paperback tends to head north of $1,000. It’s Burroughs’ first book.
Undaunted and unknowing of what I might be getting into with this decision to acquire the books, I headed to Pulpfest 2011 in Columbus to see what I could find among the 36. As is typical of most book shows, dealers are in a large room with their books spread over tables and in display cases. For the first-timer to any show, it can be overwhelming. All I could see upon entering the room was a sea of paperbacks on and under tables and in boxes. Also, I realized, to ferret out my books, I would have to ask, “Does someone here deal with books on drugs?” It sounded comical and naïve.
I approached the booth for Hooked On Books where the owners Wayne, a retired reference librarian, and Deb, a retired CPA, took a look at my list and began educating me about which ones were hard to find (expensive) and easy to find (less expensive) and also, which ones were pornography (ok, good to know). Then I talked with Scott Edwards of Dearly Departed Books in Alliance, Ohio, because displayed on his table was a beautiful copy of #16 on my poster, Marihuana by William Irish. Scott explained why the book was the narrative size of a short story — it was sold in 1941, along with other similar-sized books, in vending machines for 10 cents. William Irish, I learned, is a pseudonym for noir crime novelist Cornell Woolrich. The Alfred Hitchcock movie “Rear Window” is based on Woolrich’s short story “It Had to Be Murder.”
The vending machines explained the stories I found by such classic authors as William Somerset Maugham in those small-sized, 10-cent books. As written on the back of Maugham’s 64-page paperback The Beachcomber: “Now for the first time you get famous stories by famous authors that first appeared in higher-priced books or publications, attractively produced in a pocket-sized book at a price of 10 cents each.”
Authors listed thereafter on this Dell paperback under current and forthcoming titles include Wallace Stegner, Pearl S. Buck, Edna Ferber, John O’Hara and Fannie Hurst. BTW, the original title of Maugham’s 1931 short story is “The Vessel of Wrath.” It became a movie under “The Beachcomber” title.
I came away from Pulpfest much wiser and with an affordable purchase for my poster collection — I Made My Bed published in 1958, written by Celia Hye. It happens to be the first book of the 36 on my poster and has all the dramatic blurbs written on it that you could want of this vintage literary art form: “A blazing novel of delinquency — intimately … frankly … shockingly revealed by a teenage addict.” To balance the tawdriness, I’ll add that I also came away with not only the classic Maugham (above left) but also a 1965 first printing Ballantine paperback of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, which, on the back, has a blurb by the aforementioned William Burroughs.
May 15, 2011
Pulpfest 2011 is taking place the last weekend in July. The event primarily features pulp magazines and related materials, but among those related materials will be vintage paperbacks. That got my attention, and I marked my calendar. While I don’t actively collect vintage paperbacks, as I expressed two years ago on TLC, I can’t resist them if they cross my book-life pathways.
As I type, I even hesitate to use the qualifier “vintage” for my predilection. Maybe what I can’t resist isn’t always vintage collectible, just old and intriguing, such as the 1968 Dell first edition paperback of John Fowles’ classic The Magus to the left, with Candice Bergen seductively wrapping her leg around Michael Caine. It was published after the movie, which starred the aforementioned couple and also Anthony Quinn. Nostalgic thoughts about those young actors captured me more than anything else.
Same can be said about this 1960 first edition Signet paperback of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, below. My grandmother, not fully understanding the storyline, took my sister and me to see the movie when we were too young for violence. She rushed us out of the theater the first time Oddjob threw his killer hat.
Another movie-related paperback in my library is this issue of Faulkner’s The Reivers, published after the film hit theaters, starring Steve McQueen. The paperback even came in its own slipcase. Inside the pages, I found a Cracker Jack surprise – a newspaper article from the Chicago Daily Tribune dated December 13, 1950: “Faulkner Just a Farmer Who Likes to Write: Nobel Prize Winner Is No Literary Man.” Faulkner won the 1949 Nobel prize for literature but received it in 1950. He gave his acceptance speech December 10, 1950. The Associated Press article reports on his life in Mississippi and thoughts about his books.
Is this one a collectible vintage paperback, or just a collectible paperback because it’s a 1969 first edition of a Faulkner novel?
Here’s another old paperback I couldn’t resist buying. This 1950 Bantam edition of Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye would fit nicely into the line-up of many dramatic cover illustrations I’ve seen featured on vintage paperback websites, along with its subtitle: “Strange loves in an emotional underworld.” The guy on the cover looks like a gorilla ready to pounce on that vulnerable, sexy woman in her luxurious slumber.
One more: this 1965 Fawcett Crest edition of John Updike’s Of The Farm. No racy cover illustration, but the irresistible element is on the back, a line drawing of Updike. Love the design of it and hey, the book has doubled in price over the years from its original 75 cents — I paid $1.50 for it. Another 50 years, it may go for an astounding $3.