Monday, August 6, 2007

The Great Paperback Project - Paperback 1: Ace Double D-27

As some of you know, and most of you don't - why would you? - I have a fairly sizable collection of Vintage Paperbacks. They date from about 1939 (the beginning of mass-market paperbacks) to about the mid-'60s, when book design (especially the covers) started to get unimaginative and ugly. I like beautiful books. With libraries so abundant, there is little point owning books any more unless they a. are very useful to you, or b. are beautiful. Cheaply made books with stupid, generic, cooked-up-in-some-marketing-lab covers depress the hell out of me. Someday, I will share with you my theory of contemporary book design (including the ironic similarity between the cover art of "women's literature" and snuff films), but for now, I begin a much happier project - putting my beautiful books on display, web-style! A few times a week, I will post a new picture of a vintage paperback cover from my collection. At that rate, my entire collection should be on-line in about ... 12-15 years. May we all live that long.

These covers will appear in no particular order (just as the books sit on the massive shelves next to me). I pull book off shelf, I scan, up it goes. I hope to spread some wee bit of appreciation for the beauty of mid-century paperbacks. I knew nothing about them until I stumbled on pictures in Robert Polito's great Jim Thompson biography. I found out that I could Never afford any of Thompson's paperback originals (not true, I own a couple now), but when I went into one of the many local used bookstores in Ann Arbor, I found that there were lots of Thompson-era (i.e. '50s) paperbacks lying around, lots of them with sensational cover art, and often available for reasonable prices. So I started buying. And buying. And Buying. This is what I did instead of writing my dissertation. Seriously. Thank you, Mellon Foundation. I know I didn't get my dissertation done during my fellowship like I was supposed to, but I amassed a hell of a paperback collection, so your money was well spent.

Paperback 1: Ace Double D-27 (PBO / 1st ptg, 1953)

Titles: Double Take / The Fingered Man
Authors: Mel Colton / Bruno Fischer
Cover artists: [Julian Paul] / Norman Saunders

Yours for: $17

"Don't shoot him! He's doughy. Shoot me between the shoulder blades instead."

Best things about this cover:

  • She is hot
  • Tag line: "She Was Hard To Meet And Deadly To Know" - "Meet" and "Know" are like the least active active verbs ever ... unless "Know" is biblical, in which case I take it back
  • Brightness of her clothes (and lips) against drabness of the rest of the scene
  • Love the "Killer's Eye View" - you'll see a number of these in my collection
  • The gun is her spine - lots and lots of interesting / disturbing juxtapositions of women and weapons in my collection
  • That's the roomiest interior I've ever seen on a standard automobile

And on the Flip Side...

"OK, ma'am, first thing you're going to want to do is stop choking yourself."

Best things about this cover:

  • Her insane eyes, and insaner mouth
  • The haunted phone that has wrapped its tentacle around her arm and is now forcing her to choke herself
  • The gigantic, unmelting blocks of ice that look like three cars trying to pull into a narrow glass tunnel
  • The original title: "Quoth the Raven," HA ha. Literary!
  • The artist's signature ("Saunders") nestled along the edge of the newspaper

Ace Doubles are iconic mid-century paperbacks. Almost all paperbacks cost just a quarter from 1939 well into the '50s, but Ace Doubles were a little more, for good reasons. Double the content, double the cover art. Value!

One down, a couple thousand to go.



Norrin2 said...

Well, I for one am looking forward to seeing more of this paperback project. My interest in paperbacks is of a little later vintage and then mostly Robert McGinnis covers, but I have a few from the same era.
BTW, I think you're wise not to organize them. I bought book and comic collecting software a while back, and now it seems I spend more time organizing and cataloging then I do reading and enjoying.

Vincent said...

I have been collecting vintage paperbacks since the 80's. My interest began with sci-fi but when Black Lizard started reprinting Jim Thomspon, Charles Willeford and other hard-boiled paperback original authors I switched my interests. I have been photoshopping my favorite covers for years and just started a website to highlight my work. You can check it out at Vintage Paperback Archive. Thanks!