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Collecting Science Fiction

Thoughts on the Past, Plans for the Future

by Timothy Doyle

#35, 31 January 2005

January is a no-nonsense kind of month. It is a month of new resolutions, of good-intentioned beginnings. The old year is done, and the excesses of the December holidays are just a memory; January is the cold light of morning that doesn't care if you're a little hung over from the month before. The Romans named this first month of the year after the god Janus, the god of beginnings, of gates and doors. Janus is usually depicted as having two faces: one that looks back in contemplation, the other forward in anticipation.

Well, it's been over a year since I introduced Collecting Science Fiction here at BookThink, and, like Janus, I want to take a look backward at where we've been and forward to some upcoming changes.

I have always believed that the surest way to learn a subject is by teaching it. The act of communicating knowledge imposes a structure and order that often reveals gaps or even outright errors in what you thought to be true. Writing this column has also introduced me to some very interesting people, including the authors that I've interviewed and the readers who have contacted me via email. For these and many other reasons, writing the Collecting Science Fiction column has been tremendously rewarding for me. I can only hope you have received as much entertainment and knowledge in the reading as I have in the writing.

And now to look forward.

One of BookThink's main goals has always been to provide you with the knowledge and the tools you need to succeed in the book business. I have tried to pitch the Collecting Science Fiction column equally towards sellers and collectors - and, like me, chances are that many of you are both. And, after all, the books I discuss are those that sell well because collectors want them, and it stands to reason that the collector has as much to learn from these columns as the seller. This year will bring a continuation of the theme-based columns (e.g., the Urban Fantasy and Alternate Universes articles), many more author interviews, and both fiction and reference book reviews. Over Memorial Day weekend I hope to be running a table in the Dealers Room at the Balticon SF convention - and selling large quantities of books in a short period of time! This will be the first time I've sold at an SF convention, and I will tell all in a later article. By the way, I would welcome input and advice from anyone who has had experience selling at the SF cons.

In the more immediate future, Collecting Science Fiction will have its own page at BookThink, an information-rich resource to help you in buying and selling collectible SF. There will be easy access to current and archived Collecting SF articles, a links page for important online SF resources, and a gallery of images of author signatures - a project that I am working on now and hope to have ready very soon. My goal is to include only signatures of absolutely unquestionable provenance, which, in my biased opinion, means signatures I've personally collected; those appearing in signed, limited editions or from authenticated holographic manuscripts or correspondence; and acquisitions from other "official" sources. An example of the latter would be facsimile signatures. The SF anthology Far Horizons, for example, contains reproductions of the signatures of all 10 contributing authors on the endpapers.

I am really looking forward to making these and other changes to the Collecting SF portion of BookThink. This whole effort is a work in progress, so if there is topic you'd like to see covered or a feature you think would benefit our readers, then I'd like to hear from you. Compliments and complaints are always welcome.

Meanwhile, here are some examples from the forthcoming author signature gallery and a little taste of the kind of resource I would like it to be.

As I have discussed previously (Signed Books - Measuring Their Value), one sure method of increasing the value of your books is to get them signed by the author. See my earlier article for a more in-depth exploration of value, but for now I'll repeat that I make a distinction between a book's monetary and personal value. An author's signature enhances both. It is also important to remember that collectors are very wary of forgeries, and it would be wise to do all you can to establish the authenticity and provenance of your signed books. If you go to a book signing, bring a digital camera and get a picture of the author - even better, a picture of you with the author. Also, if possible, get some copies of promotional flyers that mention the author, the venue, and the date.

I personally dislike the growing preference for "flatsigned" books - signature-only without a personal inscription. For one thing, I think it is rude because the author may infer that the only reason you are there is to profit on the signature. Second, I think that many people who go to signings to get books signed for their personal collections are listening to the flatsigned crowd, cheating themselves of a more pleasurable collecting experience because they think they are devaluing their books by having the author add an inscription. Finally, an author's regular handwriting usually differs from the signature, and so it is much more difficult to fake a personalized inscription than a stand-alone signature. I have all of my books signed "To Tim" whether they are for my personal collection or for resale. I believe that this helps to establish the signature's provenance. In addition, I like to have authors include the date and (time permitting) the location of the signing. Add this to a promotional flyer, and your buyer should have full confidence in the signature's authenticity.

Authentication may be more difficult if a signed book is acquired while scouting. This happens with such frequency that it still surprises me. If you are very lucky, you might be able to establish a connection between the author and the book's previous owner. This could occur either through internal clues ("To Joe Shmoe, my old Army buddy - Big Name Author"), or through external clues (book was purchased at the estate sale of a family with known connections to the author). This is a perfect example of why the flatsigned crowd is so wrong. If I find a signed book with no supporting provenance, additional writing in the author's hand can only increase the chances of establishing its authenticity.

Often, the process of authenticating a signature simply comes down to comparing it with others that are known to be authentic. And this is the rationale behind the Collecting Science Fiction Signature Gallery. Every signature that you will see in this gallery will be guaranteed by me to be 100% authentic. Many are signatures that I have personally collected, and many include inscriptions - that is, you will see a juxtaposition of the author's signature to his or her regular handwriting. I will also include author signatures obtained from signed, limited editions put out by publishers like Easton Press or Phantasia Press. Finally, I will include facsimile signatures that are found in an author's book.

For BookThink articles on obtaining and authenticating author signatures, go to the BookThink Book Topic "All In A Name."

Kim Stanley Robinson - obtained in person at a book signing at Borders of Baileys Crossroads, 6/15/2004:

Lois McMaster Bujold - obtained in person at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, 10/9/2004:

Frederick Pohl - obtained in person at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, 10/9/2004:

Vernor Vinge - A laid in limitation sheet from the Mysterious Galaxy bookstore. A Deepness in the Sky (New York: Tor Books, 1999) ISBN 0312856830:

Contributions to the author signature gallery are most welcome. If you have any SF, Fantasy or Horror books originally published with the author's signature and would like to contribute images for the gallery, email me at [INSERT my email here, with the label "Collecting SF"]. Send me a list (no images yet) and include the following details: title, publisher, author(s), signature(s), and year published. Of course, many signed editions are released with multiple signatures - that is, in addition to the author, often the illustrator and even the author of the introduction will also sign. Please include any and all signers in the detail.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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