As you will recall from our last thrilling episode, I was going to tell you about some wildly collectible comic books I turned up after years of wondering if I would ever own, if temporarily, any comic books people were thirsting for. Then I got bogged down in discussing the theory of collecting things, condensing A. Edward Newton’s suggestion that you should collect things you like, so you’ll be surrounded by nice things even if they never appreciate in value. Buying something for resale, he suggested that you go in for stocks or land you never look at. Since if you’re planning to sell it some day it has to be something you won’t fall in love with.
I might, if I had wanted to continue along those lines, to a rule set up by A.S.W. Rosenbach, the legendary book dealer who, among the many other things he did, worked hard to make sure everyone knew he was a legendary book dealer. He frequently sold books with six and even seven figure price tags, and once in a while, his customers would suffer reverses and sell them back to him. His rule was never to sell that returned book to a new customer: in almost all cases, he said,. The previous owner, as soon as he recouped his fortune, would be glad to come buy it back at an increased price, and be grateful for the opportunity. (I actually knew a man who bought a book from Rosenbach’s successor, John Fleming, for a million dollars, had business losses and sold it back to him for about three-fourths of that and then, after doing his best to hold off, went back and repurchased it for two million dollars. (The story ends happily: when he sold his best books at auction, it brought in a little over six million, a new record in the bookselling world.)
But I was talking about comic books. One day I spotted some auctions online with some comic books I’d read about but never read. The prices seemed relatively low for what the comic books were, so I put in some modest bids. I did not win…MOST of the auctions. To my surprise, however, I was the winner of four legendary comic books Not the sort I could have taken home to my mother, who got me hooked on Uncle Scrooge and Little Lotta and Wendy, the Good Little Witch,
I had won four Tijuana Bibles, also known as Dirty Little Eight-Pagers. These were small (postcard-sized) pornographic comic books which usually exploited celebrities from the world of movies, radio, and comic books. They were published somewhere by someone from roughly the 1930s we;; into the 1950s, (The form has occasionally been revived: I saw one featuring Donald Trump last time I went hunting.) They are now old enough to be historic, and several books have been written about them, including several collections of reprints. But even a faithful reprint has been through a filter. Someone saw it and decided it was worth reprinting. Here I had four at random. I could read them without footnotes, make up my own mind about them, and then, I hoped, resell them for many times the purchase price. (Remind me to tell you how Ronald Reagan’s presidency convinced me I would make mu millions in reselling old western paperbacks. I’ll tell you the happy ending now: those books are still in excellent condition in a box in a storage locker, because I never had to sell a single one of them…no matter ow I tried.)
I could judge the narrative flow, the accuracy of the caricatured portraits of the rich and famous, the risibility of the jokes, if any. I could gauge for myself just how pornographic they were. You know the ancient cliché: “That may have been pornographic back THEN, before people understood about sex, but nowadays….” (This is generally untrue, by the way. As I noted in a public lecture once, our ancestors knew all about sex. It’s how they became ancestors.
I could…well, I could go on, but I see I’ve run out of space again. See you next week, breathless fans. (You can save your breath over one thing: I am anxious to maintain my PG-13 rating, so you ain’t gonna see much reprinted but the covers. The contents ARE pornographic by 2021 standards.)