Last week we discussed an alternative to mainstream book collecting. We learned that if you cannot afford to collect a major author’s really expensive hardcover first editions, you might try a title collection. In the example used last week, we learned that collecting every edition of John Steinbeck’s masterpiece, The Grapes of Wrath, is both a challenging and fruitful alternative. This works for a lot of authors. For example I have a customer who has more than 250 different editions of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild.
But what if you want a collection that presents a majority of Steinbeck’s literary output? What can you do besides spending truly staggering sums of money? The answer is both easy, and cheap, too. How about collecting his works produced as vintage mass market paperbacks? Let’s take a look.
The Popular Library edition of his first book, Cup of Gold, has a wonderful pirate cover. The woman being ravaged by the pirate has large breasts. This will be a recurring motif. The American Mercury edition of this title is pretty tame as is the Readers Library edition, but placed side-by-side and shown with other paperbacks, some with lurid covers, they make an interesting presentation.
The Modern Age version of his second book, There Pastures of Heaven, is unusual because it sports a dust jacket. The illustration/design is calm, as is that for the Penguin edition, but check out the Bantam edition. Lots of skin and cleavage there.
One of my favorites is the Dell edition of his To A God Unknown. The babe behind the nearly sheer cloth promises nakedness and sexual interlude. The illustration has absolutely nothing to do with the content of the book, but it does show how mass market book publishers were trying to hawk their books.
I like Penguin’s cover art for Tortilla Flat, despite its being breast-less, and Bantam’s cover art for In Dubious Battle is pretty placid. Same for Zephyr’s edition of Of Mice and Men. While it does have a dust jacket, as does the Albatross edition for the same book, each publisher produced its covers in the same uniform manner, without illustration.
For The Red Pony, Bantam went photoplay, showing stars of the film version on the front cover. Avon’s two versions of The Long Valley have interesting graphics.
I like the art on Bantam’s version of The Grapes of Wrath. One might expect the Infantry Journal-Penguin Books edition of The Moon Is Down to exempt breasts from its cover. Both Pocket Books and Bantam managed to do the same on The Pocket Steinbeck and Cannery Row respectively, but Bantam just couldn’t help featuring a babe on its cover of The Wayward Bus. Bantam went mainstream again on The Pearl, but it just couldn’t help itself on Burning Bright and East of Eden.
At least Bantam’s illustration for Sweet Thursday has something to do with the book’s story. Bantam’s illustration is a good one, albeit babe-less, on Steinbeck’s forgettable The Short Reign of Pippin IV.
But what about its cover for The Winter of Our Discontent? There is the promise of lust on that cover, but readers will have a tough time finding it within the actual text.
No promise of sex on its Travels With Charley or America and Americans or Journal of a Novel.
But let’s examine these covers as a whole. They are varied. They are interesting. They are attractive. And if you are showing off your collection to your friends, you can show them the lurid covers while informing them that the covers do not match the books, but that was how they were marketed, especially in the late 1940s and through the 1950s as mass market paperbacks gained a large piece of books sales from traditional hardcovers. And none of these books are truly expensive. The whole grouping could be had for half the cost of a decent first edition of Of Mice and Men. They don’t take up much room on a book shelf. They could even be displayed with covers showing rather than only the spines because the graphics can be so interesting. And while such a collection may be modest when compared to the big (expensive) boys, they have their own charm and satisfaction. I guess sex sells. Who’d have thought?