by Carol J. Perry
I love a good mystery. So do millions of other readers, and some of them don’t mind paying a premium price in order to acquire a particular volume. The 34th annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, held recently at St. Petersburg’s handsome 1920s vintage Coliseum Ballroom was, as usual, a veritable literary feast. A hundred dealers from around the country displayed their wares in well lighted, neatly piped and draped booths, and mysteries were prominently featured in many of them.
So exactly what constitutes a vintage mystery? There are a variety of opinions on that, but some prominent and pretty darned knowledgeable bloggers on the subject break it down this way: Golden Age mysteries are those published between 1890 and 1960 while Silver Age mysteries are those published between 1961 and 1989. Serious aficionados of the genre, who prefer their books to be first-edition, properly dust-jacketed, author-signed and in good-to-fine condition will part with gold, silver, and big bucks to feed the habit!
A pleasant stroll around the ballroom yielded a random view of desirable titles in a variety of price ranges. A 1937 edition of Saint Overboard by Leslie Charteris was $45. (Charteris introduced his most famous character, Simon Templar, hero of “The Saint” series, in 1928.) A 1956 first edition of John MacDonald’s You Live Once was $55. A 1955 first edition of MacDonald’s Lonely Silver Rain was marked $40.
Edgar Wallace was one of the twentieth century’s most successful crime novelists, with 173 books and 17 plays to his credit. A 1929 first edition of The Green Ribbon, a Crime Club Publication, had its original $1.00 price wrapper on it. It was tagged at $300!
Ellery Queen is the collective pen name of a writing team consisting of cousins Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky, who wrote detective fiction. Most of their novels featured a fictional character, also named Ellery Queen. A 1936 first edition of the New Ellery Queen Mystery, Halfway House, was priced at $875.
Raymond Chandler wrote The Lady in the Lake in 1943. A special Photoplay edition with dust jacket illustrated with images from the 1947 MGM movie of the same name starring Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter was $575.
Alfred Payson Terhune is perhaps best known for his books and stories about his beloved collies. Lad, A Dog was one of his bestsellers. But he wrote at least one mystery. A 1929 first edition of his Florida mystery The Secret of Sea-Dream House was $400 at the show.
Stephen King’s scary epic Pet Sematary in a first-edition, signed, and inscribed 1983 volume was offered at $900, and a signed and inscribed 1975 copy of his Salem’s Lot was tagged $1500. A rare Graham Green 1936 first edition of This Gun For Hire was offered for $3000.
The Hardy Boys series of mysteries for young people was created by book packager Edward Stratemeyer. The books were actually written by many ghostwriters over the years under the collective pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon. (The books, in updated versions, continue to sell over a million copies a year.) There were plenty of Hardy Boys books at the show, mostly in the $20-$30 range.
Stratemeyer was the originator of the Nancy Drew mysteries too, and they were written by ghostwriters as well, under the name Carolyn Keene. Primary among them was Mildred Wirt Benson. Nancy has evolved over the years, with changes in hairstyles, wardrobe, and attitude. The blue-covered Nancy books from the 1940s were mostly in the $30-$40 range. A 1933 edition of The Sign of the Twisted Candles shows Nancy with a short blonde bob, a midi-length white dress, and a white hat. It was $75.
A stack of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines from the 1960s went for $10 each. An autographed, 1989 first edition of Sue Grafton’s F is for Fugitive was $75. Ngaio Marsh’s Death in a White Tie in the 1942 first paperback edition from Pocket Books Inc. was $125.
Collecting mystery books has become one of the most popular fields of book collecting over the past decade. There are a number of blogs on the subject. Try Vintage Pop Fictions, Pretty Sinister Books, and Mysteries and My Musings. Ask your bookseller or librarian for Detective Fiction: The Collector’s Guide by John Cooper. The next Florida Antiquarian Book Fair will be held March 11 through 13, 2016.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.