One thing that continues to mystify me as a newbie to the world of book selling is the fascination with first hardcover editions of books previously published as paperback originals.

British Hardcover

American Paperback

And I’m not talking about an excerpt or early variant versions of a story, but specifically those stories that first appeared – in their entirety – as paperbacks. I first noticed this when I cataloged the American paperback original of The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, which is the true first edition. It’s usually valued at about a tenth the price of the British first hardcover edition with dustwrapper. While I understand the great value a dustwrapper can add to a book, the discrepancy in price was nevertheless surprising.

My background is in comic book collecting – or pamphlet collecting as some have suggested – so maybe, just maybe, I have a slight bias to the softcover format. That said, I do understand the inherent comfort in conformity that hardback collecting offers. Many an outstanding, but oversized, comic book has been ignored by collectors due to its inability to be bagged, boarded, and packed away in one of those long white boxes that we love so much. Chris Ware’s acclaimed Acme Novelties Library comic, that has morphed in size from standard comic to 16mo. to folio and back, being maybe the lone exception.

I obviously still have a lot to learn about book selling and the ways of book collectors, but this one difference will continue to amaze me. And I know The Body Snatchers might not be the best example of this phenomenon considering that both the American and British editions were published in the same year. A better one is probably I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It’s a paperback original published as one of Fawcett’s Gold Medal Book series in 1954, while the first hardcover wasn’t published until 1970. Yet despite a shocking 16 year difference in publication date, a fine condition hardcover with dustwrapper usually goes for 20 times the price of a fine paperback.

How does this make sense? I don’t know. But I’m sure the more I learn about the book trade, the more it will all become clear – or not. Until then, I’ll keep picking up cheap paperbacks like the near fine paperback original of I Am Legend I just bought for $3. I guess there are some advantages.