On Collecting


By the time you get to Chapter 8 in the terrific book Used and Rare: Travels in the Book World by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, you might begin to understand the almost addictive rush one gets when shopping for used books. Chapter Eight details the search for Steinbeck first editions, preferably Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath. Instead of either of those, the Goldbergs find themselves purchasing The Winter of Our Discontent. They plunk down their thirty-five dollars not because they want to, but because they have to. Book collecting is a fever, and those in its grip are powerless to stop it.

Which leads us to Stephen King collecting. People not versed in the art of King collecting simply don’t understand. How can one collect in such a narrow field? Aren’t the only books worth collecting embossed with the name Shakespeare, or Dickens, or Bronte? And, really, for an author that popular, how can anything by him be worth anything?

First point: Collecting Stephen King is not a narrow field. Most book collectors start out as readers, and they are perfectly content to stick with an idly kept paperback or hardcover King collection, if that. Their shelves are indifferently managed, their hardbacks and paperbacks intershelved. It doesn’t matter. They’re just books, right?

Then, one day, something clicks. Perhaps the reader sees that Different Seasons was released in four different colors in its paperback printing, and decides it might be fun to own them all. Maybe, while browsing through a used bookstore, the King reader spots a British copy of The Shining, and likes the cover better than the one on the US edition. Or maybe the reader sees that there is a new Stephen King story in The New Yorker this month, and decides to pick up a copy and read something new.

From small things big things must come; the fever begins somewhere. Soon, previously idle reader begins to wonder if he shouldn’t have all the British copies. Or maybe all the movie tie-in editions. Or maybe she should make the upgrade from a paperback collection to a more nicely kept hardcover collection. The fever mounts.

Let’s follow said reader into the realm of the used bookstore. Oh, here’s a hardcover copy of Christine, I don’t have that one. But what do those numbers on the copyright page mean? The reader may ask the owner of the bookshop the meaning of that sting of numbers at the front of the book: 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1. The bookseller explains that that denotes the printing, and then he starts spouting on and on some meaningless blather about first editions, and first printings, and states, and wrappers, and if you’re a fan of Stephen King, have you heard of the famous “Father Cody” edition of ‘Salem’s Lot?

The reader leaves the bookshop dazed and confused with several hardcovers she had no real intention of buying … but since she has them, why not get more? The fever bites in a little more.

Somewhere along the line, the terms the bookseller had used begin to make sense. A reader is able to tell the difference between a first edition and a book club edition, and why one is worth more. The reader starts using terms like “near mint” and “dust wrappers.” Soon, it becomes important not only to own a copy of each book, but every edition of every copy. And somewhere along the line, that fateful, fearful day comes, the day no King collector can ever turn away from, the day that mocks them at every step.

The day they discover limited editions.

In an era of mass-produced, crudely structured books, King readers have the option of getting something a little better for their buck: lavishly produced limited editions, often signed by the author, and often illustrated. Unfortunately, if one doesn’t catch the limited pre-publication, one could be in a spot of trouble. The limiteds are not mass-produced, and the supply runs out swiftly. One the supply diminishes, the demand goes up, and the price matches it accordingly.

Which leads to point two: King has always been a solid investment. If one is interested in first editions or limiteds, you could do a lot worse than collecting King. It is the first rule of rare book sellers: Stephen King is more bankable than Somerset Maughum. Case in point: King himself published the volume Six Stories in a limited printing of 1,000 copies, selling at eighty dollars. On the rare book circuit, Six Stories now commands more than five times that origina prince – and that’s in a span of only three years!

After limited editions, there is nowhere to go but up: promotional postcards, buttons, bookmarks, magazine appearances, etc, etc, ad infinitum. A King collector can keep busy for years and still not find everything. Or perhaps the reader is content to collect in a certain niche until that is exhausted, then stop. The world of King allows for plenty of options.

King himself has said that no matter which edition his books are in, the stories remain the same. True enough. It’s also true that Picasso’s Sunflowers looks pretty neat on the side of a coffee mug. The story inside the cover of Desperation throwaway paperback is the same tale told in the Donald M. Grant limited, but the Grant edition is a work of art, complete with full-color illustrations, reset type, and a nice leatherette case. Now, who wouldn’t want that on their shelf, displayed for all to see?

Collections are more fun when they aren’t finite: the chase, the fever is the important thing. And when you collect King, the chase never stops.

Happy hunting!