A Quick Guide to Collecting Sci Fi

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Over the years of avidly collecting my niche (New Age science fiction from the 60s and 70s), I’ve picked up a few germs of knowledge about book collecting, preservation, and general enthusiasm.

It is an addicting hobby, and like any pursuit, something you can improve at with just a tiny bit of perfectly normal, not-clinical, garden-variety obsession.

Buy your Bible

Before anything else, buy the excellent Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors: A Bibliography of First Printings of their Fiction edited by L.W Currey (Currey also runs an excellent antiquarian book store you can buy from online. They are one of my favorite stores because of their careful packaging). You can either track down one of slightly rarer-but-still-affordable hardcover editions or purchase a CD of the contents from Currey himself.

The book is a reference guide for identifying first editions for major science fiction and fantasy authors up until 1977 (though the CD goes up to 2002). An example for any entry might be an author’s book with the description “copyright 1954 title page”, pointing out a mispelling, or another identifying trait. For my era especially, this is a perfect reference, but it’s also useful - with the CD - for anyone interested in 20th century speculative fiction.

Why is a reference guide useful? You want to make sure, when you’re buying from a non-specialist or amateur vendor especially, that you can tell from images or the actual copy that it’s a true first and not actually a second or later printing of the first edition, or a book club re-release, or anything else.

One Word. Plastics

You’ll also need to get your hands on some basic archival material and specifically dustjacket covers. Brodart is one of the leaders for mylar jacket covers, which you can either get pre-cut or in giant rolls you can then parcel out for different books as needed. I specifically prefer the Fold On Archival Covers.

This guide will show you how to put a cover on. It specifically treats with customizable covers you cut per-book, but if you’ve got a pre-cut fold-on you can just skip a step!

Know Your Price Point.

I, as every collector, have a white whale.

Should’ve. Sent. A Poet.

I love Larry Niven and his style of Clarkian Big Ideas and hard sci fi. I grew up reading Ringworld and other tales of Known Space and his influence runs deep in the choice of era I collect. But this book, as of this writing, is priced at $4,800. Admittedley it is also a signed edition, but even without the signature it would be thousands of dollars.

Reader, I do not have thousands of dollars.

And you probably don’t either. That’s why in my case I’ve gravitated towards some of his softcovers and more minor works (I have a beautiful copy of his first ever published novel, World of Ptavvs). Some day maybe I’ll Make It and be able to afford such a lavish gift, but I am not nearly there. Focusing on minor works, early works, niches (Southwestern Fantasy, for example), can all be practical strategies for collecting something you care about (affordably).

Preserve and Store Collectibles Correctly

There are a few tips for how to avoid avoidable damaged to your books.

  • Keep them out of direct sunlight. Sunlight fades books.
  • Use Metal shelves if possible, but wood is also alright.
  • If you have young children / nieces / nephews, make sure and put your better books out of reach.
  • Buy any archival materials (document boxes, book covers, etc) from archival stores to ensure their acid-free and paper-compatible.

You can get more sophisticated of course, but these are some basic rules that don’t impact the enjoyment of your collection.

In addition to these, I also purchase “reader’s copies” of more valuable or potentially dog-eared works that I can take to the pool or cafe or stuff in my work bag without doing all the damage those activities risk. In general, first editions are hardcovers, meaning that your softcover reader’s copy will also be more portable.

These have been some basics that I’ve found have helped me have fun with and preserve my book collecting hobby. Hopefully they’ll also support your own love of collecting.