Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Joys and Sorrows of Collecting


I try not to collect much. I'm prone to it, and feel that it's a flaw; as the junk (or even the good stuff) piles up around my room I get to where I can't even enjoy the nice things I have. It's always been a struggle to focus on the important things (i.e. paying the bills etc.) and let the minutiae go...I know people who can't do that, and I dread being one of them.
That being said, the things I have collected over my long and limited life are sort of important to me. I'm a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs, specifically Tarzan, and have put together a complete set of Tarzan hardcovers. They're by no means all first editions, although I've picked up a few here and there, and some years ago I was lucky enough to acquire a copy of the prize Tarzan novel, TARZAN AND THE CASTAWAYS, prized because it has not only a Frank Frazetta cover but very nice illustrations by Frank inside.
I also have collected (on a very LIMITED scale) the works of Robert E. Howard, picking up books by him almost as an afterthought. A few I bought when new (SOWERS OF THE THUNDER, the recent nice DelRey hardcovers) but most are way out of my league, financially. Luckily, in 1972, I found a copy of one of the jewels of Howard collectibles, SKULL-FACE AND OTHERS, the magnificent Arkham House edition from 1946. Even back then it was pricey, $17 without the dust jacket. Still, a remarkable book, and I was able to enhance it a few years back by buying a facsimile DJ which made it all the more attractive. The DJ cost more than the book did originally, in fact, and my total cash invested in SKULL-FACE...$39.
I have always been aware of the Gnome Press Conan books put out in the 1950s, even handled them at Comic Conventions when the booksellers would permit, but never could afford them. I think the cheapest I've ever seen them was upwards of $100 when I didn't have it. So I had quietly despaired of ever owning them (not that I lost sleep over this) and hoped that someday I would find one of the titles at the flea market beat to hell for twenty bucks.
Well, last weekend at our monthly flea market in Santa Rosa I was mocking (in a friendly way) the collectibles at a table some friends of mine had set up. One of them (Tracy or Troy, they're identical twins and I can't tell them apart) brought up a book and asked me how I could live without it. It was a Gnome Press Conan. TALES OF CONAN. I took it from him and drooling slightly, asked him how much? He said "Ten bucks, firm!" I pretended to examine it before tearing out my wallet, but he walked away and came back with four more, THE COMING OF CONAN, THE SWORD OF CONAN, KING CONAN, and THE RETURN OF CONAN.
I damn near fainted. None had dust jackets, but the books were in pretty good condition. Still, I wanted to haggle. "Thirty bucks for all of them?" I suggested. He got agitated. "Ten bucks apiece is already a great deal!" he protested. And he was right. So I suggested $40, he came back with $45, only willing to haggle a bit so he could move some big money items. The deal was done and they're sitting on my shelf now right next to Skull-Face and Others and others. They need dust jackets, but I've got a line on them for $22 each, so my cost per volume will be $32, not bad for books offered right now on eBay for $249. Facsimile dust jackets, but what the heck? Yes, it would have meant more to me twenty years ago, but it's still pretty cool!

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