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Buying and Selling The Heritage Press

A Primer

by Craig Stark

#75, 14 August 2006

In my early scouting days, I recall purchasing numerous Heritage Press titles. What wasn't to like? The bindings exuded noticeably more quality than the average bear, they were typically issued with slipcases, and published titles included many of the greatest books ever written. And illustrators? Well, there were flashpoints in spades. Some of the very best were commissioned to illustrate Heritage Press titles, and many resulting productions were - this isn't widely reported - hand illuminated.

Unfortunately, I also recall being disappointed many times after researching my "finds" at home, and often I would dump them onto my discard pile, especially if the slipcase and/or the laid-in Sandglass brochure was absent. At one point, I stopped buying HPs altogether.

The explanation for this apparently irreconcilable marriage of high quality and low value was, as it turned out, simple. Founder George Macy conceived the Heritage Press as a vehicle for putting classics in the hands of many - and of course the only means of accomplishing this was to publish affordable books. Which he did. Consequently, sales were brisk, print runs were not insignificant, and, despite upgraded quality, many Heritage Press titles remain common today ... and without much value.


Yes, as you might suspect, there are exceptions, notable titles that are highly sought after by collectors among the hundreds of titles that were ultimately published. But, as you might not suspect, there are also some good opportunities to profit with more common titles - so many, in fact, that I've resumed buying them for resale. This primer will address both.

High Spots

As is typical with fine press publishers, high spots often correspond to their trade counterparts. Here's an example that will hardly come as a surprise to most of you: Dune. The 1987 Heritage Press entry of Frank Herbert's Science Fiction classic is one of the most intensely collected titles in the series, and values for F/F examples soar into three figures. There are dozens of other strong performers as well - BookThink has been monitoring eBay auctions of Heritage titles for some months - and these will be itemized and annotated in an upcoming Gold Edition.

As is also typical with fine press publishers, titles are collected more often for series completion (or author, genre, etc., completion within the series) than they are for edition state. Again, there are exceptions, and, in the case of The Heritage Press, complexities that don't often pertain to other publishers. As Michael pointed out in his introductory article, there are many potential issue points that may or may not distinguish first state from later states, and mastering them will only be possible by acquiring and studying the only game in town, Michael Bussacco's bibliography - An Annotative Bibliography of the Heritage Press.

This 4-volume, 710-page feat of scholarship (and an acknowledged work in progress) details every known title and variant in the series. It's a must-have for serious collectors and booksellers who specialize.

Michael has also published the Heritage Press Catalog and Checklist - another vital HP reference work which appends many examples of Heritage Press ephemera as well (collectible in their own right).

Both are available for purchase at BookThink. To purchase -

An Annotated Bibliography of the Heritage Press, click here.

Heritage Press Catalog and Checklist, click here.

Strategies for Common Titles

Condition, condition, condition - and where have you heard this before? It's even more critical in this niche. HP collectors are, as a rule, unusually fussy about condition because they can be; at any given time, there are often multiple copies to choose from. Rule of thumb: If you come across any F/F (in slipcase with Sandglass) title in the field priced at a dollar or two, buy. Collectors will pay a premium for immaculate copies, and be sure to emphasize condition in any subsequent textual description or graphic display.

IMPORTANT: When evaluating condition, pay special attention to backstrips. Heritage Press books are notorious for backstrip fading (or sunning), and no serious collector wants to slide a copy out of a slipcase and be met with a jarring juxtaposition of vividly colored board cloth and a pale, sunned backstrip. Note also that many Heritage Press slipcases are discolored and/or faded, especially on the extremities - though the reality is that fine slipcase examples among vintage HPs are difficult to scare up anymore; buying criteria, therefore, should be relaxed.

Another strategy for more common titles. For decades on end, The Heritage Press was owned and operated by the Macy family, but an interesting phenomenon surfaced after MBI, Inc.'s acquisition of the company in the 1970s. You may recognize this corporation as the owner of another, more esteemed fine press - Easton. Whether by association with Easton or driven by a collector-perceived uptick in quality, titles published under the MBI imprint after it began to physically appear on title page versos in the 1990s generally realize better returns than Macy-era equivalents. Always investigate publication data, therefore, and buy MBIs with abandon when the price is right. Also note that MBIs bearing the Heritage imprint seem to have quietly ceased production about 5 years ago and in some cases have migrated to the Easton stable. ALL Heritage imprints from 1937 forward are now, as a result, officially and permanently OOP. Translation: Things can only get better.

Finally, book lots. Many common HPs will sell all day long for $10 to $20 on eBay, but who wants to work this hard for modest returns when you can group 4 or 5 or more into lots and reach 50/50 numbers? And can you ever. Think of it this way: HP completists must acquire many 100s of titles, ultimately over 800, and small lots will often fill the inevitably numerous, gaping gaps in their collections.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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