Collecting Vintage Paperbacks and Pulps

Book about vintage paperbacks available in our library's collection
Example of collectible vintage Pulp Magazine
Example of collectible vintage paperback
Book about vintage paperbacks available in our library's collection


Are you a collector of vintage paperbacks or pulp fiction magazines?

Whether you are a beginning collector or have been collecting for years and want to increase your knowledge, the Santa Clara County Library District has many fascinating titles on the topic in our collection - books and DVDs (found here) - to help you on your way.

For me, as primarily a collector of vintage paperbacks from the 1940s-1960s, it has been an obsessive thirty-year hobby, taking me all over the country (and other parts of the world) in search of the next lurid cover, provocative title or that elusive pristine condition copy of a Jim Thompson or Chester Himes hard-boiled PBO (a paperback original first edition), or a signed copy of a Philip K. Dick "Ace Double" first edition.

Paperback books and pulp magazines from the 1920s-1960s with lurid, sensational and wildly colorful covers - once thought of as disposable (they were printed on cheap wood pulp paper and meant to be tossed after reading) - are now considered scarce collector’s items, fetching high prices at vintage paperback shows, Pulp-Cons, antiquarian book fairs and online auctions. Pulp magazines such as Weird Tales, Black Mask, Amazing Stories, Thrilling Detective, Science Wonder Stories and many of the paperbacks featured covers with scantily clad dames, gun-toting tough guys in fedoras, or a sexy three-eyed chick from Mars pointing a ray gun at a cowering earthling. They often had strange or provocative titles like Curves cause trouble, Hot dames on cold slabs, Born to be bad, Hot rod gang rumble, Zip-gun angels, The case of the dancing sandwiches, Homicide Johnny, An earthman on Venus, Wayward Nurses, Satan’s sister, and (my favorite) Naked on roller skates. Like the covers, there were often salacious blurbs that only occasionally had anything to do with the content of the book.

Remember the movie, The Seven Year Itch? While for many the most memorable scene was of Marilyn Monroe’s dress being blown above her thighs as she stands over subway grate, for me it was seeing all those colorful vintage paperback spines on a bookshelf in Richard Sherman’s (played byTom Ewell) office at Brady & Co., where he helps design lurid paperback covers for tame book titles.

According to Gary Lovisi, author of Dames, dolls & delinquents: a collector’s guide to sexy pulp fiction paperbacks, collecting vintage paperbacks is, “One of the most neglected areas of popular culture, but one that offers an endless amount of fun and fascination… Perhaps the main reason these books are sought after by collectors today is because of their cover art… Some of the art may appear trashy or lurid by today's puritan politically correct standards, but that also adds to the charms of these books, that brazenness or outrageousness for some, also adds to their collectability…They're interesting, campy, corny, lurid and cool! And lots of people are collecting them. Some are selling for real big bucks too!”

As you will see in some of the links below, the Library of Congress and many university libraries around the world have special research collections of vintage paperbacks and pulps. For example the Rare Book and Special Collections Room at the Library of Congress has a virtually complete set of the Dell “Mapback” paperbacks, and a collection of more than 15,000 pulps. Many PhD dissertations have been written on the topic. Here is a link to an immensely readable dissertation by David Ellis Morgan at Murdoch University in Australia.

Even well-known Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert is a collector of vintage pulps

Below are just a few of my favorite links to vintage paperback and pulp magazine websites:

Happy hunting!

-Soher Youssef, Adult Services Librarian, Campbell Library