The Layers of REH Collecting

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Guest blogger Paul Herman ponders some of the reasons why REH collectibles rise or fall in price:

PAUL: To comment on your blog today about collectibles on eBay, I think you correctly spot that once a newer, better edition comes out, a certain number of folks lose interest in interim editions that previously had some claim to fame. Note that some things that are true first appearance, like pulps or Always Comes Evening, those just keep going UP in value. Even the reprinting of the entire WT run by Girasol, straight Xerox of the original pages, didn’t hurt pulp values any.

Note that, IMHO, there are “layers” of collectors (like Shrek’s onion). The Every-Publication Completists want a copy of every publication, no matter how minor. While there is not a lot of them around, there is enough of them with big money to make sure that rare items will always drive a high price. The Every-First-Appearance Completists want the first appearance of each work, and don’t need the later editions. They might purchase the latest version to get the best text, but they still want that first appearance. So things like pulps continue to have high prices, even though all the stories are heavily reprinted and readily available, even when the entire pulp is exactly reproduced. There is a lot more of these folks than the first group, and can get by on a smaller budget. A subset of those folks would be the folks who want only hardback, but I don’t know that I’ve ever met one of them.

Then comes Completists — Level II, who want a copy of every work, but don’t need six versions of the same story. A much more massive group. They are the ones selling Baens now, and there is no one to buy them. A subset of that group is the Perfectionists, who are always chasing the latest version of “perfect” text, and only want one copy of each work. Again, these folks are now dumping Baens, and no one to purchase them.

So, I think you’re correct that things like the Baen editions will go down, but we’ll have to see about the Cryptics. They have rareness, AND First Appearance cachets, so they may or may not go down once the stories are reprinted, we’ll have to see. The Grant Conans have dropped, but some of the others, like the early poetry volumes, stay high. It will be fun to see how all the various Lancer, Ace, Zebra books do, as time goes on.

AND LEO ADDS: I think that the Cryptics will magically become less rare once, as Rob says, other volumes make them superfluous to guys you call Completists — Level II (gents just looking to collect the best copy of each REH story or poem). And with less rarity will come less value, leaving some guys stuck with Cryptic chapbooks they paid $100 for while $10 copies float around eBay unsold. The Wandering Star books are like that now — guys paid $1000 for a copy of The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, but now that the Del Rey Kane is in trade paper (with better text than the WS version) the market seems glutted with WS copies looking to be unloaded, in some cases for pennies (or perhaps dimes) on the dollar.

The threat of a Complete Letters set in hardcover is set to eviscerate the price structure of a host of previously in-demand items, such as Jonathan Bacon’s Runes of Ahrh-Eih-Eche and the Necronomicon Press Selected Letters chapbooks. A Complete Poetry might very well do the same thing for all of those high-priced, thin gruel poetry collections that have appeared over the years. I imagine the Lancers will gradually become more like collecting pulps: it won’t be too hard or expensive to procure poor quality versions, but the real Holy Grail will be hunting for Very Fine copies of same.

And running with your “layers of collectors” notion, the one big factor that is always subject to change is how many guys are in any one layer at any given time. So if, say, a new REH movie lures a bunch of folks to start selling their comic books or old Creepy and Eerie collections in favor of building up a Howard collection instead, things could get a lot more crazy round these parts.