My post last week about paperback originals (PBO) elicited several interesting responses about why they are not generally as valuable and collected as hardcover firsts. I’m not completely swayed from my defense of paperbacks and the belief that they are undervalued and underappreciated, but I certainly better understand why collectors prefer hardcover edition. Still, the comments got me thinking.

Tom mentioned that supply plays a big factor in the value of PBOs because they typically had print runs 40 times that of the hardcover. That proves, generally speaking, that hardcover firsts are rarer than their paperback counterpart. With that the mind, I’m curious why PBOs are usually offered online in far fewer numbers than hardback firsts? I can only guess that their availability in the market, condition aside, is due to their value. Why offer a cheap paperback when the hardcover brings in the real money? But wouldn’t a lower cost alternative – and a true first edition – appeal to collectors on a budget?

Another comment came from Tim Doyle who added that hardcovers are also far more durable than paperbacks, making them a better investment for collectors. The ephemeral nature of paperback can’t be denied. They weren’t made to be kept for perpetuity. But if paperbacks are less durable, should a truly fine, unread and unused copy with supple white pages command a special premium? Or does it just fall into the normal fine condition price range?

And how many of those older paperbacks have survived, particularly those issued before and during WWII? The print runs of some of the most popular comic books of the ’40s topped a million issues a month, but of those only a small percentage survived the wear and tear of reading and the dreaded paper drives of the war years. Albeit comic books are far flimsier than books, aimed at children (not the most condition conscious folks), and less likely to have been preserved on a tidy bookshelf somewhere. Still, just how well have older paperback really fared?

All this is probably a moot point until, as David Holloway suggested, someone writes a book about the seminal paperback originals of the 20th century. Then I bet you’ll see those prices really climb – or not.

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