Most of the discussion on this website about valuable antique books has been all about hardcovers, and there’s a reason for that. The first version of any book put out is almost always a hardcover, so for collectors the true first printing/first edition will be the hardcover version – which now has dust jacket and is just considered the true first.
Paperback books as a general rule of thumb just aren’t valuable. This can be because they have much bigger runs, they are mass market in nature, or because for established authors they come after the hardcover book. However, there are some notable exceptions, most involving early pulp paperbacks written by unknown authors who become famous later.
In fact, back in the mid 2000s I made some really good money from some local giant used bookstores that had one run paperbacks by Dean Koontz under a wide array of pennames.
So understanding that most paperback first editions aren’t valuable at all to collectors, let’s dive into the exceptions, what to look for to spot them, and more!
Let’s dive in!
The First Edition Paperbacks That Are Valuable
While following the general rule that mass market paperbacks aren’t valuable just because they are a first edition/first printing, there are a few that buck that trend in modern times.
Generally only two types of first edition paperback books are going to have value to collectors:
- They were written under a pen name by an author who became famous later (Dean Koontz is a major modern example of this)
- Most books by the author were always released in paperback, and have limited (but existing) value as a first edition (Louis L’Amour)
Those are the two main situations where a paperback is going to be valuable because it’s a first edition. There are other books that can be valuable because of a niche or specialty (think 1950 Scouting handbook in great condition) but that’s because of what the book is and scarcity of it in good condition, not because of the book being by an author or collectible due to being the first.
The next section talks about Dean Koontz, who I believe is the prime example of how many paperbacks can be valuable when an author breaks in with pen names that don’t do as well before getting their big break.
The other one is with situations like Louis L’Amour who was a truly prolific writer of Westerns to the point where his name is synonymous with being an author of Western books and most of his books were never released as hardcovers. Because of this the paperbacks were the first editions, and a first printing of a limited paperback that is 50-70 years old is going to be a challenge to find in really good condition.
These are generally $40 when they’re in remarkably good condition and $20-30 in VG condition.
Like I said, these aren’t huge money makers but they are the examples of when a first edition paperback is worth money based on the fact it is a first edition and if you find a bundle of them at a used book store you can cash in a lot at once.
Being A Dean Koontz Fan Paid Off
While the pay-off wasn’t nearly as much as my biggest bookhound find, which of course involved a rare first edition by Sinclair Lewis in remarkably good shape, but I’ve been a big Dean Koontz fan for decades and that meant I paid a lot of attention when I found out that he had written dozens of novels under various pseudonyms, back when that was a much easier thing to do and keep secret.
Horror fans are well aware of who Dean Koontz is, but the long and short of it is that there are no Dean Koontz paperbacks that are collectible, but many under his pennames that are at least nominally collectible as a result.
Here are his pennames, indicating first printings of paperbacks that can be valuable as collectible, often in the $10-100 range depending on condition, though some collectors will pay for more, especially trying to find that one missing book to complete the collection.
The number behind each indicates the number of paperbacks written under the name, if there is no number assume only one paperback under that penname.
- Brian Coffey (5)
- Deanna Dwyer (5)
- Leigh Nichols (4)
- K.R. Dwyer (3)
- Owen West (2)
- David Axton
- John Hill
- Anthony North
- Richard Paige
- Aaron Wolfe
I knew that Brian Coffey, Deanna Dwyer, and Leigh Nichols were all pennames based on my studying of the book hound books and guides I had back in the early 2000s so when I spotted each of these names on the shelves with multiple books, I scooped them up for 50 cents each, and had around 20 books (including a few multiples of the same book).
At a profit of around $22 each, it was a nice little haul for 2005, especially when the main point of the day was just milling around a used bookstore for one hour before having lunch with friends.
Like I said – nothing like my Early Sinclair Lewis First Edition experiences that could grab me $300-800 a pop, but it was a very cool surprise for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Knowledge Is Power
Even among apps designed to spot valuable books, the types of paperbacks that would actually be considered by collectors to be valuable are often overlooked.
That means if you want to be keeping an eye out for this, you need to spend time growing your firsthand knowledge. I was a huge Dean Koontz fan and had an extremely good memory back in the college and post college days, so a lot of studying of collector’s guides helped me memorize the titles and pen names that Koontz used.
Since these types of books tend to be exceptions to the rule, it shouldn’t be overwhelming to learn this information and to use that to have an edge and find potentially valuable first edition books that even other book hounds might miss when hitting the used book stores.
So sometimes paperback first edition books can be valuable, but you need the knowledge to take advantage of that.
Other Book Collecting Articles of Interest