Buying Old SciFi

When I first put this page up in 1996, no Doc Smith books were in print anywhere in the world. Since then, three publishing houses released new printings of the Lensmen series. Old Earth Books reprinted them in trade paperback ($100 for the set), Bison Books included several in their "Frontiers of Imagination" series, and Ripping Publishing in the UK reprinted them in normal paperback as well.

In 1998, copyright laws in the United States were amended such that the books of Doc Smith would not enter the public domain for another 20 years. However, another commercial channel for the books became available at roughly the same time, Authorhouse has made Triplanetary available as an electronic book.

Smith's books have been popular enough over the last fifty years that it is usually possible to find copies in used book stores. Paperbacks of this sort often sell for $2 or $3 in the United States. Many used bookstores have come online in the last few years, and can be searched via a number of services including Alibris and Bibliofind (now a unit of These stores are more likely to have inexpensive paperbacks than rare hardcovers, and prices online seem higher than the prices in used bookstores I've visited in person (books that would have cost $3.50 in stores are quoted at $7.50 online).

To get the more beautiful hardcover copies, you may need to contact a dealer in rare books. Most of Smith's books were published in two hardcover editions, a higher quality printing by Fantasy Press and a slightly cheaper one by Gnome Press. Nice Gnome copies might cost you $20 or $30. Exceptional Fantasy copies will cost hundreds of dollars.

What makes a book worth so much? Extraordinary condition and association with the great figures of science fiction will make many collectors spend as much for these books as others might spend for a automobile. For example, at one time I had hoped to buy this copy of Gray Lensman:

5657. Smith, Edward E[lmer]. GRAY LENSMAN Reading, Pennsylvania: Fantasy Press, 1951. Octavo, cloth. First edition. Part of the limited issue, but one of the very few copies with inserted printed limitation leaf with white circle for limitation number blacked out to be used by Smith as personal author's copies.

This copy bears a signed presentation inscription by Smith to author / editor John W. Campbell: "To John W. Campbell Jr. / Where did you / ever read this yarn before, / I wonder? / As ever_ Doc / (Edward E. Smith, Ph.D.)." Fourth book of the Lensman series. Most of the Lensman series was published in Astounding, this novel as a four-part serial in 1939 with Campbell as editor.

"The greatest of the early golden age space opera_ [this novel] best of series."_ Anatomy of Wonder (1987) 3-355. Anatomy of Wonder (1995) 3-167. Survey of Science Fiction Literature III, pp. 1183-87. Several light damp marks to binding, spine panel a trifle dull, a very good copy in fine dust jacket. An incredible association copy. (#50279) $750.00

Many antiquarian booksellers have copies of Smith's work. It would not be practical to list them all or a sampling of their current holdings, as their stock changes constantly. The Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA) has an excellent homepage and a searching function that should help you find bookstores that stock items of interest. For those looking for exotic copies I recommend L. W. Currey, Inc., in Elizabethtown, New York. They carry books of extraordinary quality, and charge accordingly. If you are looking for something that will really impress your friends, Currey is a good place to start.

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