Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - November - 2004 Issue

Vintage Paperbacks From Black Ace Books

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Vintage paperbacks from Black Ace Books


By Michael Stillman

This month we review not only the catalogue of a new bookseller, but a new type of catalogue as well. Black Ace Books of Los Angeles specializes in paperbacks. Paperbacks are the stepchildren of the book world. They inhabit a back alley world of shame and degradation, along with such depraved institutions as television. You would not want to be in the company of one. You would certainly not place one on your bookshelves. No, paperbacks are not to be collected like good books. They are to be read in the dark of night when no one is looking.

Then something happens. Television may be disreputable, but old shows become classics. Old advertising, thoroughly insipid if not downright offensive in its day, becomes collectible. Perhaps it's camp, or aging people trying to hold onto their youth. Maybe it's just a simple recognition that great literature is the exception, the aberration of our culture, whereas the paperback represents its heartland. This material did not win many awards. It was not taught in school. But, for better or worse, it was read.

The nice thing about paperbacks, even old ones like these, is they are still priced to be read. You can affordably purchase them just for the joy, or whatever, of reading them. However, if you are looking for a genre to collect, and your budget does not permit collecting "collectible" books, you can still get in on the ground floor with paperbacks. There's nothing in this catalogue over $40, and that's the rare exception. There are only half a dozen titles over $20, and that's out of hundreds available. And if that's not enough, Black Ace provides substantial discounts for buying multiple titles, from 10% for two up to 40% off for 25.

The customs for collecting paperbacks are somewhat different from those of hardbacks. Usually you will find hardbacks listed by subject, author, or perhaps time period. Black Ace's catalogue is listed by publisher. Bantam, Ballantine, Pocket, Dell and many more, both familiar and obscure. Ironically, it's the way books of the highest quality of printers, such as the Limited Editions Club, are listed. Descriptions are sparse by comparison. Generally, the title itself explains what the book is about. There are no thorough descriptions and histories gathered from important bibliographies in this field. If the bookseller does not read each of these titles and provide a complete description, they can be forgiven. What do you want for a book that sells for $10? And you won't find much more information beyond author and title on the internet either. If a title intrigues, you will just have to read the book yourself.

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