One of the fun things about being a blogger is writing about things you are interested in, like rare books, Easton Press, The Folio Society, and what makes a good book, a good book. In my experience as an occasional book dealer, I have found a number of good books and a number of books that should have been good but turned out not to be.
I have been a book dealer, off and on, for the last twenty years or so. I have owned many Folio Society, Easton Press, and Franklin Library books. One of the first lessons you learn as a book dealer is that Book Club Editions are seldom worth the trouble of buying. Many of the old Book Clubs looked pretty much like the regular run, expect that they would have a small stamp on the back cover. Remaindered books are also marked, usually with a dab of black or red ink on the bottom edge. These books are also less than desirable. So far as I can tell, Easton Press, The Folio Society, and other collectible book makers don’t remainder their titles and don’t work as standard book clubs.
In the good old days book clubs were just another stream of income for the publishers and another way for the public to read books they might not otherwise have a chance to read. There have been cases were the First Edition of a book was so poorly received that the remaindered copies were sold to Book Clubs. But by and large, Book Clubs have sold cheap books made from cheap paper and binding.
But that was then. The New Order of Book Clubs are more like manufacturers of Collectible Plates and Christmas Ornaments. The product produced by Easton Press and The Folio Society are better than most off the shelf books at Barnes and Noble. The Folio Society and Easton Press have moved beyond the standard book club model, while The Heritage Press and Franklin Library have fallen by the wayside. The main difference between a Rare and Antiquarian book and the fine volumes sold by Easton Press and The Folio Society is one of scarity.
The first edition of a rare book is not valuable because it was handmade or used expensive materals. It is valuable because there are a limited number of copies in existance. First Editons of Popular Titles printed by the million are never going to worth as much as Classic Title with only a handful of first editions known. Easton Press and The Folio Society make crank out leather bound, gilded editions of The Hobbit till the end of time, but none of them will be worth what a genuine First Edition of The Hobbit is worth.
There is a market for these books-that market is people who don’t know that much about books, but still want people to be impressed by the volumes sitting on their shelf. Having said that, some Easton Press and Folio Society books are very nice books. Some of them are not.
It is possible to find, for example, a nice leather bound book, which, when opened, was printed on newsprint paper. Makes the nice binding kind of pointless. These books also tend to fall into the hands of people who don’t really like books, so that even the volumes printed on rag paper with gilded edges are ruined by water and light. There are few things as sad for a book dealer as finding a good book in poor condition.
The Folio Society sells slightly over sized books usually in slipcases. The Folio Society offers very nice books with a good heft to them. These are not cheap books to buy, except for the introductory offers, which are all under twenty dollars. The titles are mainly the ‘classics’ re-issued with loudly printed covers and lots of illustrations. Most of the titles would be unknown to modern readers. I usually find Folio Society books for sale at around twenty-five dollars.
Easton Press seems to have a better re-sale value than the Folio Society. Easton Press is still a book club when it comes to it’s long standing series like Books That Changed The World and 100 Best Books. Though it seems you can buy just one copy of the many books on their website. The Easton Press books are all leather bound and have gilded edges. There are Easton Press titles for sale on eBay with asking prices of thousands of dollars. More common titles can be found at used book store for under twenty-five dollars.
The Franklin Library is a mixed bag, some of the book are fine leather bound volumes and some are just junk.The titles are the usual mix of ‘classics’ and public domain works that are never really meant to be read, merely to be places on a shelf and admired. Not nearly as high quality as the Folio Society or the Easton Press. The exception being their lines of Signed First Editions and Signed Limited Editions, these books are well worth owning.
I made my best money on Rare Books and Signed First Editions. Oddly, people want twenty or thirty dollars-or more-for these mass produced books from the Folio Society, Easton Press, and even the Franklin Library. The real finds are usually only a dollar or two, hidden with the junk. The good books are not as hard to come by as you might think, but you do need to be in the habit of looking for them.
As a book dealer, you always flip the book open and see if it is signed. Often time it isn’t, but sometimes it is. Often the author is not famous and the book is not more valuable than an unsigned copy. But I have found books signed by current and popular authors and made good money on them. One of the best signed books I sold was signed by John Glenn the astronaut. You never know what you will find, once you start looking.
When I first wrote this post about Easton Press and The Folio Society it was just for fun, as many of my posts are. I have had a number of much more serious minded people stop by and take umbrage with my disparaging remarks about Easton Press and The Folio Society. As with Collectible Plates and Star Wars Action Figures, if these books make you happy, then by all means buy then and love them. Dust them off from time to time and maybe rub some mink oil on the cover. Keep them away from light and moisture. And if you can find it your heart to do so-read them.
I have tattered paperbacks and falling apart book club volumes that are worth nothing to anyone but me, but I treasure them. I also have a handful of signed first editions and leather bound books that I seldom look at. As a book dealer I never read all the books that passed under my fingers, no book dealer ever have time enough to read all the books they sell. Easton Press and The Folio Society sell the dream of great books-find an Antiquarian Book Dealer wherever you are and see what the real thing looks like.