ABE, Easton Press and Fantasy Rare Book Collectibles
I visited ABE’s Rare Book Room earlier today for the first time; a member of the rare book trade, I felt it my civic duty to finally see what’s up.
As it turns out, plenty. Of fantasy. But not rare fantasy literature: ABE’s Collector’s Corner is touting Easton Press editions as highly collectible books:
“With each book bound in genuine leather, it’s easy to see why Easton Press is one of our most popular requests.”
No, it’s not easy to see why. A nice, leather-bound book is a good thing indeed but it is not a compelling enough reason to collect a book, any book, unless you are collecting fine master bindings.
Easton Press books are decently but not finely bound and while the bindings are okay they are not by great masters of the art and craft. Easton Press books’ attractiveness is strictly superficial.
Serious collectors of individual authors eschew Easton Press editions unless the collector is a completist and simply must have any and everything associated with a particular author. The completist, however, would have an Easton Press edition at the very bottom of their must-have list, if on such a list at all. Here’s why:
Unlike the volumes of Limited Editions Club, established in 1929 (still in business, and with a few volumes quite collectible) to reissue past and contemporary fiction and non-fiction classic literature in editions featuring the work of some of the best contemporary artist-illustrators and book designers, Easton Press books are simply mediocre reprints dressed up to lend what marketers call “added value” to lure the unsophisticated collector.
But here’s the major caveat emptor for rare book collectors: Easton Press books are not just reprints, they are primarily reprints of earlier Limited Editions Club editions! Examples: Easton’s edition of Huck Finn illustrated by Thomas Hart Benton reprints the LEC’s edition of 1942; Easton’s edition of Moliere’s Tartuffe and The Would-Be Gentleman is a reprint of the LEC edition of 1963 illustrated by Serge Ivanoff. The list is long.
And here’s the kicker: Unlike the original LEC editions, however, the Easton Press reprints of LEC books are not signed by the illustrators and/or designers!
Easton Press volumes are not rare books; they are used books, can easily be acquired, and are worth no more than $15-$35, despite ambitious fantasy pricing I’ve seen by secondhand booksellers on the Internet.
Easton Press (and Franklin Mint and Heritage Press) are manufactured collectibles, meaning they have no intrinsic collectible value to anyone but the credulous. They are priced up to $70 upon release as a marketing/merchandising con to promote an upscale image. A true collectible anything is determined in the marketplace from the ground up (the public), not from the top down (i.e., a publisher).
The publisher’s hope (alas, as experience has taught) is that there is a large enough group of gullible marks willing to fall for their “Collectible Editions” pitch. The idea is virtually the same as Franklin Mint issuing Elvis Commemorative Limited Edition plates and the books have the same market value as Elvis Commemorative Limited Edition plates (or The Harvard Classics), which is to say, none.
The Easton Press books had absolutely no genuine collectible value when issued, have none now and will not in the future. A true collectible will increase from it’s original retail price, not decline; that has been and will remain the fate of Easton Press editions.
But they are bound in “genuine” leather, which, according to ABE, some how elevates them. Alas, not bound in fine leather; if they were bound in calf or morocco, Easton Press would most certainly tout them as such.
As a result of the above, ABE’s credibility as a source for rare books and rare book collecting advice takes another well-deserved hook to the body. If you are currently collecting Easton Press editions with the expectation that they will appreciate in value, you have been led astray. Collect ‘em if you like ‘em but don’t be fooled by claims of collectible value.
The moral to this Aesop’s fable of Easton Press collectibility: Never depend on ABE for advice on rare books and collecting. If you want to collect used books, however, ABE is a vast source, no doubt about it.