Every now and then, when it comes to buying stuff indulging in collectorial practices, the imaginary line I draw in the imaginary sand is smudged by an imaginary eraser. As a result of which the aforementioned line becomes the kind that would give Cecil Radcliffe a severe case of the runs, followed by the chills.
Case in point: offerings from Subterranean Press. I have whittled down my purchases to the barest necessary, but my resolve was tested earlier this month, when it was announced that Joe Hill’s latest collection of short stories, Full Throttle, would have a SubPress limited/signed release. Seeing as how my waffling over NOS4A2 did my blood pressure no good in the past, I knew I would go for it. But it took about a week of gritting my teeth and wringing my hands before I actually ventured to lay down $175 for the pleasure of owning a copy of the book, sight unseen, numbered and signed by Messrs Hill and McKean, he of Sandman renown. But the limiteds of 20th Century Ghosts and Heart-Shaped Box are biblionicorns of the kind that make hearts and wallets bleed, and I would rather not take a chance with a Hill book.
It also did not hurt that the Suntup Press limited edition of Hill’s Horns just came to Papa about 2 weeks ago, after a wait of about half a year. I confess to owning the PS Publishing signed/limited edition that came out in 2010, but Suntup’s version was too hard to pass on. The line in the sand that I drew for signed limited editions was that I would only buy one if the original author was among the signers, and Horns met the criteria, while Haunting of Hill House and Rosemary’s Baby did not. Not that I did not have severe crises of conscience, but the line held. It did not however hold for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, one of my favorite works by the man. Suntup’s edition, not out yet, but sold out in pre-orders, has an introduction and an autograph by Joyce Carol Oates. McCarthy is notorious for not signing his books, specifically The Road, which he has apparently signed a few copies for his son alone.
What really rubbed the line this week was the announcement that Tamsyn Muir’s first book Gideon The Ninth would have a limited release via Subterranean, and copies would go on sale on Tuesday morning. Now here was the situation:
The only thing I knew about the book was the phrase “lesbian necromancers in space”
It wasn’t out yet, so I could not read it
Reviews had come in from a coterie of distinguished authors, including Warren Ellis, VE Schwab, Charles Stross, Robin Sloan, and Max Gladstone (whose This is How You Lose the Time War is what I am reading Right. Now)
Actually, it has ended, for now. But not without a denouement of sorts, involving suspense, trepidation, and finally, joy.
So remember I talked about this publishing house called Dragon Unbound, which did these funky cast iron and asbestos covered rebindings of first edition Stephen King books? The owner is a gentleman named Paul Suntup, a collector and entrepreneur, who apparently had bigger ideas. One of these ideas was a different publishing house, one dedicated to producing the highest quality handcrafted items possible. I know, it’s sort of a vague commitment –– how exactly does one even measure that kind of quality anyway? The mission statement of the company is simple and profound.
(Our) books (are) created with care and grace by craftspeople such as letterpress printers, hand bookbinders, paper makers, typographers and artists, using some of the finest bookmaking materials…they are handbound, one at time, and we go to great expense to utilize only the finest materials available. Most of our editions are printed letterpress, which is the printing method perfected by Gutenberg, who used it to produce the first book printed from moveable type in the West, the now-famous Gutenberg Bible.
Suntup Editions began in 2017 by publishing an art portfolio of David Paladini’s illustrations to Eyes of the Dragon, a book written (obviously) by Stephen King and one that would have fallen squarely into the young adult category, had that term existed in 1984. It was written by King for children, his and his pal Peter Straub’s kids, to be precise. Paladini’s illustrations graced the mass-market paperback, and this was the first time they got their due. Suntup would go on to publish The Covers Collection, a set of high-quality prints of Stephen King book covers, done with the original artists’ blessing. That project is still ongoing.
But in the beginning of 2018, a video on the Suntup Editions website announced that they were going to release their first specialty book. The promise was bold –– 200 signed copies, out of which 185 would be for sale at $525 each, plus 26 lettered copies at a staggering $3950, and a small number of unsigned “gift” edition copies for a mere $110. Renowned artists Rick Berry and Dave Christensen were picked to contribute artwork –– Berry produced 8 paintings, and Christensen, known for the original 70s covers to Salem’s Lot and The Shining, did a set of black-and-white illustrations. The descriptions of the books bordered on pornographic.
The Limited Edition is a smyth-sewn quarter leather binding, with Japanese cloth front and back boards and a gold stamped spine. The edition is printed letterpress on Cranes Lettra Pearl White cotton paper, and housed in a custom clamshell box with a leather spine label.
The Lettered edition is limited to 26 copies for sale lettered A-Z, and is signed by Stephen King, Rick Berry and Dave Christensen. It is printed letterpress on moldmade Arches wove paper with a deckled fore edge, and handbound in full crimson goatskin leather. Endpapers are marbled, and made exclusively for this edition. The binding is sewn and rounded with a hollow back designed to prevent sagging fo the page block. The title is made using six original Royal glass typewriter keys which are inset into the cover, and the letter designation is a Royal key inset into the lower back cover. The book is housed in a custom walnut wood box designed to resemble an original royal Model 10 packing crate, and features a black velvet-lined book bed. The box is laser engraved and handcrafted by Dick Olson at his workshop in Farmington, new Mexico.
The book that Suntup chose to inaugurate this ambitious project was, in a word, perfect. After all, what Number One Fan can resist the siren song of Misery?
Collector forums went haywire. I was following the Dark Tower boards, and there was no doubt that people were about to throw the contents of their wallets at the altar of Suntup. I was one of them, obviously. Except I had a sinking feeling that I would be severely disappointed by the proceedings. Years of experience dealing with Mondo poster drops had deadened me to the devastating pain of adding an item to a shopping cart and clicking on check-out, only to see the message “the item is no longer available”. Add to it the fact that not all the limiteds were going to be on sale, a chunk of them were made available to customers who had bought the portfolio and prints from Suntup before. The lettered editions were already snapped up. Things were looking bleak, but I was going to try, no question about it.
I woke early the day of the drop. Did everything with an eye on the clock –– I have had experiences when I missed a drop because I was distracted at the last minute. Created my account, logged in to said account, made sure I was logged into Paypal. Alarms were set to 15 minutes, 5 minutes, and 30 seconds to the release time. The sale was to go live at 8 AM on a Monday morning, and the next few minutes would decide if my week would be in tatters, or if I would be walking on air the next few days.
As soon as the buttons became active, my fingers flew on the keyboard. My stomach fluttered. There was a roar in my ears. Even as I clicked “add to cart”, I hit refresh on the backup laptop to make sure at least one of the orders would go through. Browser pages faded to white and status bars inched to completion. Teeth gritted, fingers clenched, I waited for a server crash, or a browser freeze. When “Order complete” message came up, the part of me still hopped up on adrenaline refused to believe in reality. I held my breath and waited for the actual email confirmation to come in. On the second laptop, I hit refresh on the main product screen. It was three minutes past eight, and the limited edition was sold out.
The email came in. I sighed. I remember laughing, and feeling light-headed and jelly-kneed. That whole week, I made for delightful company at work and beyond. It felt like a good start to 2018, a happy foundation for the whole year ahead. Reading the comments on the DT forum after the sale was over also made me realize just how lucky I had been.
Exactly six months later, on August 13, the package landed. Between February and then, I saw one copy of the limited edition (not the lettered) sell for $4000 via public auction, sight unseen. Since I was in Los Angeles, and the company is located in Irvine, I was one of the first recipients of the packages. It’s probably the only item for which I have created an unboxing video. Some day, when I am ready, the video will be put up online. Call me stupid, but holding that book in my hands felt like a quasi-religious experience. It was the first Stephen King book I bought via the primary market. That had to mean something, right?
The Fourth Book
Misery, Suntup Editions
Where do we go from here, how do we carry on
Will I continue to buy more of the King collectibles? Honestly, I do not know. Sometimes I feel like there is a part of me that wants to say “enough”. Comic art takes a lot out of me, and a huge part of my interaction with my primary hobby is to draw imaginary lines in the sand that dictate what I will go after next. It’s easy to give in to the frisson of excitement that follows a ninja purchase, but that is not what I crave any more. I have a handle on the art collecting bug, for sure. But there are enough Stephen King limited editions that make my palms itch, still. The limited edition of The Stand, for example, is bound in goatskin and comes in a wooden “coffin” box, wrapped in glassine paper. The Cycle of the Werewolf comes with a pencil sketch by Bernie Wrightson. And of course, finding a matching set of the Dark Tower Signed Limited books requires a matchless combination of single-minded determination, deep pockets, luck, and the right connections.
My absolute favorite King collectible is for a book that I never even finished reading, and one that does not figure on a top 20-list of his titles. It’s the lettered edition of The Regulators. Here’s the description (emphasis mine):
Hand sewn, hand bound in brown Morocco leather and Winchester 30 caliber bullets. The spine has the title and author’s name blind stamped wet to look like it was branded. The end leaves are of hand made and colored paste paper. The book is housed in a hand made faux-ammunition box covered in wood veneer with gold stamping on the side.
Yeah, the book has real fucking bullets embedded into the cover. But even more interesting are the signatures. Regulators is written by Richard Bachman, King’s pseudonym, and is a “dead man”. So to keep the story straight, the book came with dummy checks signed by the writer, which meant Stephen King signed as Bachman. Each check was made out to familiar names –– #A was to Carrie White ($125, prom dress), #I was to Roland ($50, a six-shooter), and #Q was to Pennywise Party Entertainment($100, balloons). A delightfully kooky presentation, and I have only seen it come for sale once in the last three years.
I know, I know, a third post on the same topic seems like a momentous occasion. My previous attempts to serialize any thematic content have crashed and flamed –– search for ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’, as an example. But this will be the last post on Stephen King collectibles, I swear. At least for now.
The Third Book
The Shining, Subterranean Press
I believe I have talked about The Shining and all that it led to at least seven times on the blog, so no more of that. Once I began my journey into SK collectible territory, there was no doubt this book had to be part of the collection. But this is where reality and the intricacies of the market come into play.
The limited signed edition was published by Subterranean Press, a Michigan-based specialty press that I have talked about in the past. This edition came with a bit of controversy before and during its publication. The original illustrator (Gabriel Rodriguez, of Locke and Key fame) was replaced by Vincent Chong. Early copies shipped out to buyers had significant issues such as rubbing, spotting, and color transfer problems. The publisher had to issue a dust jacket and send it out to buyers, along with a gift card for a future purchase and replacement tray-cases for copies that had the color transfer issue. (Details here)
The Subterranean limited release has 750 copies, signed by King and Chong. The book and the tray-case are beautiful, high-quality deckle-edged paper and print quality. The cover is minimalist, with beautiful patterns on a background of blue. Chong’s illustrations pop out on the color pages, and there was even an accompanying sketchbook that contained preliminary pencil pieces.
But the lack of any extra material is a disappointment. No preface, no afterword, no essay, or deleted material. What really got my goat is that as part of the Doubleday Years reprints that a different publishing house, Cemetery Dance was bringing out, this book got a different, unsigned deluxe release, one that was more desirable than the SubPress version. Why? An email from CD explains:
We have some AMAZING news to share. As you know, Stephen King has graciously allowed us to restore his long lost, 40 page prologue called “Before the Play” to the beginning of the book. It has never appeared in any edition of THE SHINING anywhere in the world and may never be reprinted again. In the weeks since the book sold out, something even more incredible has happened. A collector named Jon Page contacted us because he had something very special in his collection: an earlier draft of the manuscript, when it was still called THE SHINE, which had been sent around to Hollywood production studios to sell the movie rights before the book was published. This manuscript includes HUNDREDS of sentences, paragraphs, and even scenes not included in the final book we all know and love. Of particular interest is a four page section toward the end known as “After the Play,” which even Stephen King believed had been lost forever because he didn’t have a copy in his archives. Thanks to Jon’s amazing discovery, and Steve’s generous permission, all of this Deleted Material will now be included as Bonus Section in our special edition of THE SHINING, which you already have on order. You do not need to do anything to confirm you are receiving this material, it will be in every copy of our edition. Adding this material will take about two weeks of additional production time, but it means this version of the book will be as definitive as possible, which should make it an even bigger hit with collectors for years to come. A HUGE “thank you” goes out to Jon and Steve for making this addition to the book possible.
This was in addition to a foreword by King, and an afterword by Mick Garris, the director of the TV adaptation of the book. The TV miniseries, by the way, was King’s attempt to outdo Kubrick’s version, which he hated. The Cemetery Dance edition was also illustrated by Don Maitz and Glenn Chadbourne, and all in all, looked just as fancy as the SubPress edition. Except, like I said, it was unsigned. Well, there was an ‘Artist Edition’ signed by the illustrators, but no King signature.
So this is where one needs to make hard choices –– what truly is a ‘definitive’ version? Is it the author’s endorsement? Or is it something that contains all paraphernalia associated with a work? The heart says the former, the head the latter. I did end up buying the Subterranean Press version on eBay. Even got a limited UK edition of Doctor Sleep to go with it, signed by Stephen King with only 200 copies published. But oft in the gentle night, ere slumber’s chains have bound me, I find myself looking at Cemetery Dance listings on eBay. To sum it all up in a thousand words:
This is the second part of a series of posts on collecting Stephen King limited editions.
The Second Book
Salem’s Lot, Centipede Press
Every now and then I think about the purpose of this blog, and am assaulted by dark thoughts about vanity and pointlessness. But then an exercise like this makes me realize why it is important to me. A simple thing –– memory. With the inevitability of time, the onset of age, and the realization of my mortality, there is comfort in remembering moments that made me who I am. It is strange to look back and realize that I read a book for the first time when I was nineteen; I will turn forty this year, which means that a literal lifetime has passed by. Until I started writing this post, I didn’t consciously think about Salem’s Lot and my first experience of it. I was trying to think of what the cover of my copy looked like. And when I did, a bunch of surprising memories tumbled out.
In the summer of 1998, important things were happening in my life. I had graduated from Pre-University (or Higher Secondary, a term I personally did not prefer) in Cotton College, Guwahati. The early part of that year was spent appearing for multiple examinations; first came the Higher Secondary exams, the hall-pass required by the powers that be to declare us suitable to appear for various other examinations, each dedicated to a Hallowed Institution. Those included the IITs (did not make it through), Roorkee examinations (the secondary choice, and one I was not interested in), and the Joint Admission Tests, the ones which guided my life. Once the exams were done, it was then time to scramble across the country applying for various disciplines. There wasn’t any time to waste, future careers were at stake. All that we knew, back then, was that we needed to make it into a Good College, somewhere outside Assam. Everything else would fall into place.
In my inner life, however, I was absorbed with other things, primarily a newfound passion for the writings of Stephen King. The Shining had exploded into my consciousness during a trip to Delhi. Suddenly, in this pre-Internet world of coincidental self-curation, this writer’s work clicked with me in that inexplicable way, like a floating jigsaw piece that snaps into place and unlocks a puzzle you’ve been dreaming of completing. The more I looked up this guy’s books (and the most you could do, at that time, was look up Encyclopaedia Brittanica entries, or ask around), they showed promise. They did not seem formulaic, ranging from killer dogs to telepathic children to childhood monsters. Stephen King seemed like the kind of guy who wrote books just for me.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the booksellers of Guwahati were impervious to the charms of Sai King. The only book I saw on display was Cujo, and the number of unsold copies just turned me off, a phenomenon I refer to as the ‘Waiting To Exhale effect’, named after the other book that kept turning up in every single bookshop I visited in India. So while my parents fretted about the upcoming cross-country travel to my new alma mater, the one thing ticking away in my mind was –– how do I maximize the potential to pick up King books on the train ride? We were going to pass through Calcutta, a place whose bibliophilic charms I was familiar with, thanks to summer science camps from the last two years. I convinced my father to stop in Howrah for half a day, also making it clear what my intentions were. Not ashamed to admit that I was blatantly taking advantage of his separation anxiety.
In any case, we ended up in Gol Park, the Used Fiction Central in the city, much like College Street was the Used Textbook Haven. I don’t think I ever saw the actual park that gave the place its name, because every time I was there, hours would pass as I pored over the stacks of books along the street stalls. Not all the shops would be open at the same time, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see a bookseller languidly walk and unshutter a set of wooden planks, and begin that algorithmic Display Dance, where the best-sellers got pride of place, while the real, kooky titles that I was interested in would be relegated to the back, or be lost in a forest of multi-colored spines. It was a great game, maybe The Greatest Game I loved to play while growing up, this act of excavating shiny treasures from amidst dust and age. The byproduct of scarcity, I guess.
That day, I struck metaphorical gold. Not only did I find some great King books, but they were being sold at great prices. There was Desperation, Night Shift, Insomnia, and the non-fiction Danse Macabre, and managed to talk down the bookseller with a combination of flattery and nonchalance that I had perfected in Guwahati. My father was amused by the haggling, I knew he would just have paid the 150 Rs instead of the 100 that we finally agreed on.
As the guy was pocketing the money, he off-handedly pointed me to a different store. “He may have a Stephen King or two”, he said. I wasn’t too convinced, I had given the shop he pointed at a once-over, and was not taken by the gentleman’s collection. There were some Conan The Barbarian paperbacks, and an Agatha Christie or two, but I had been thorough enough, and there was narry a King in sight. But I took a chance, went over, and asked the gentleman directly, which is something you do not do, dear bargain hunters. Because if the seller knows you are looking for a writer, the price does not budge.
“Hmmm, King, King”, the man muttered to himself, casting an eye on the shelves behind him. Just as I was sure it was time to go, he said “Aha, yes, yes, here”, and brought out a book that had no cover, no discernible spine (which explained why I did not see it in the first place), and covered in a layer of dust. I flipped to page one, and caught my breath.
It was Salem’s Lot. To my Dracula-worshipping eighteen-year old self, there was no other King title I was more interested in. ‘Vampires in small-town America’ was a phrase that made my nether regions tingle. So I did the logical thing, which was to put the book back on the shelf, with a vague look of nonchalance on my face. “It’s too damaged, dada”, I said. “I would have bought it if it was in a better condition. “
“Condition shondition”, he countered. “You won’t find this anywhere else.”
I knew. But obviously I did not want him to know that I knew.
“Na na, I am headed to Hyderabad, they may have more copies there.”
“Hmm, fine fine. But I would have sold it for….”, he paused, and spat a dollop of paan juice to the side. “Hmm, twenty rupees. Yes, it is yours for twenty.”
I looked at him with awe and disgust. “Dada, I just bought these three pristine-looking books for 25 Rs each, from your friend over there.”
“Did you? Did you? Hmm, how much do you want to pay then?”
“I am not even sure I want it, it’s…”, I picked up the book and grimaced. “It’s so old, I can read it once and then it will fall apart.” Which was sort of true, really.
“All right, it’s bohni time”, he said, and spat again. Bohni, dear readers, is the peculiar belief that the first sale of the day is more important than other sales, and concessions have to be made to facilitate it. “Last offer, 10 rupees.”
I could see my father, a little tired of the rigmarole, edge towards his wallet, and before he could, I blurted out. “Five rupees!”
And regretted it the next second, because of course it was too low, and the guy would be insulted, and he would ask me to get out of town and never come back again.
That did not happen. He shrugged, spat for the third time, and said, “Ok fine, five it is.”
Dear reader, you wouldn’t have believed the shit-eating grin on my face as I walked away. Or maybe you do. It stayed on my face for the bulk of the day, and every now and then, I would open my bag and touch the five new Stephen King books I bought that day, just to make sure I owned them, and that I was still in the real world.
The train stopped at Vijaywada a day later, our last major stop before the journey ended, and a quick trip to the largish bookstore on the Central Platform got me The Dark Half and Four Past Midnight. They were new books, and I paid 50 Rs each for them, which was the limit of my mental allowance for a book at that point of time in my life. My father did not complain, he somehow understood that this was important for me. Plus separation anxiety.
I read all the books in the course of the next year. Back then, it was a bad idea to blaze through reading material, because days of hitting the motherlode would be followed by extended periods of scarcity. In a few years, that would no longer be the case, but I had no idea then. So I paced myself. Salem’s Lot was the last of the lot I read, obviously. I read the short story ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ in Night Shift, and wondered if the book was related. But the story was more Lovecraft than Dracula, and as it turned out, they weren’t connected by anything other than the name of the place where the story and the novel were set. The Lot, with Castle Rock and Derry, form the trinity of fictional Maine towns that King created in his version of the state. It was inspired by small towns, and the story of a specific ghost town.
It is based on a town in upstate Vermont, that I heard about as an undergraduate in college, called Jeremiah’s Lot. I was going through Vermont with a friend and he pointed out the town, just in passing, as we went by in the car. He said, “You know, they say that everybody in that town just simply disappeared in 1098.” I said, “Aw, come on. What are you talking about?” He said, “That’s the story. Haven’t you heard of the Marie Celeste where everybody supposedly disappeared? This is the same thing. One day they were there and then one day a relative came over to look for someone that they hadn’t heard from in awhile; and all of the houses were empty. Some of the houses had dinner set on the table. Some of the stores still had money in them. It was covered in mold from the summer damp and it was starting to rot, but nobody had stolen it. The town was completely emptied out.”
My favorite memory of Salem’s Lot does not have to do with my first read. Of course I enjoyed the book, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I was enthralled by the small-town setting, the moments of tension that King builds slowly, those terrifying sequences when shit really hits the fan in the town. The downbeat ending crushed my heart, but I respected the writer’s choices. They were, as always, great choices.
My favorite memory of Salem’s Lot was convincing my friend Udatta to read the book. My college seniors tolerated my King-lust, but they found the writing too weird or pulpy, and horror is not an emotion people crave. Udatta in general was fond of classic literature, he was my gateway to the likes of Henry Miller and the Beat writers. He picked up Salem’s Lot, I suspect, because it did not have a cover. He took it from me one weekday afternoon, and at about 10 PM in the night, I hear a knock on the door of my hostel room.
“Chetri”, he said. “You’re coming with me.”
“Uh, ok. Where?”
“My room. My roommates are away, and I just read this scene where the children appear at the window in the middle of the night, and now I cannot look at my window. Or be in my room alone.”
I confess I cackled more unkindly than I should have, but I did end up spending the night giving him company as he finished the book. After which he threw it at me and said, “Great book. But I am not reading any more of your King stuff ever again.”
That copy did not fall apart as I had claimed. Books are more resilient than the rest of us.
Some years later, I was in Waldenbooks in Hyderabad, when I saw an incredible copy of Salem’s Lot for sale. It was the illustrated edition, and it had an insane price tag, something like 500 Rs. I didn’t buy it, and for many years, had a twinge of regret every time I thought about not buying it.
Searching for this book later on eBay, however, led me to realize that it was the mass-market edition of an extremely limited release of Salem’s Lot, by a publishing house called Centipede Press. How limited? Here’s the description:
When I bought it –– oh yeah, I knew I had to buy it, once the collectible lust was on me –– I was astounded by the sheer heft of the thing. It looks comparable to one of the Taschen XL books, and weighs six kilos (13 lbs). The all-black cloth binding, embossed sparsely with the name of the book and its author, is austere and classy at the same time. Jerry Uelsmann’s pre-digital era photomontages are somber works of art that complement the tone of the book perfectly. The cloth covering does make it sort of a dust magnet, but that does not bother me much. It does bother me, however, that the weight of the book makes it impossible to read normally.
I have been a Stephen King fan since a memorable train ride . My teenage years were spent writhing and giggling to his stories, until one fine day, I blinked, and realized that that crusty, fireside voice of his seemed a little too familiar, a tad too self-absorbed by the idea of the legions of Constant Readers hanging on to his every word. His writings seemed to have taken on a rambling, don’t-give-a-fuck quality that did not sit well with my tastes at the time. Like he was dusting off unedited, half-written manuscripts from his early years and hurling them at his editors. Specifically, his brush with death made it feel like he wanted all the unwritten material that bubbled in him—good, bad and ugly—to spout a spray of pages, taking his self-proclaimed ‘diarrhea of the word processor’ to its logical extreme. There were books that I did not finish because they were too self-indulgent. Cell, Dreamcatcher, From a Buick 8.
But times changed, and I read Joe Hill, who reminded me how good his dad had been. Once I took a hit of King Sr’s newer stuff, it was hard to ignore the fact that the guy still had it. The Bill Hodges trilogy was fantastic, as was Revival. I began to keep track of Stephen King releases all over again, and began a reread of the older books. Turns out they still held up, yay.
And one fine day—because Marie Kondo or not, I am still a covetous creature at heart—I found myself wondering about how fruitful it would be to own signed copies the King books that I loved.
Background: Finding Signed Stephen King Novels
It’s easy to find signed Stephen King books for sale. If you want, I could give you two that I have lying around, or fourteen, if you give me a minute with that pen. What I mean is that it is illogical to buy a book that says “signed by Stephen King” unless you are very sure of the provenance. Counterfeit signatures abound so much that California recently passed a law to discourage fakes. This happens to be a terrible piece of legislation that, though well-intended, threatens small booksellers, some of whom are taking legal action against it. The only way of legitimately getting an authentic signed book is to attend a King talk or signing; but that depends on how lucky you are—a limited number of books are randomly signed by the author and then distributed with the tickets. Add to it the fact that he does not really travel to California, limiting himself to his Maine/East Coast haunts.
It therefore did not make sense to run after any signed book, then – the only alternative for me was an “official” limited edition. Most authors with dedicated fan followings are courted by small presses, like Subterranean Press, Cemetery Dance, Centipede Press, to name a few. These books are solicited in limited numbers, with lettered editions (usually 26 copies only, numbered from A-Z, and sometimes AA-ZZ, with a total of 52 copies) being the creme de la creme of the lot. Numbered signed editions come next, with print runs of a few hundred. Then come the “trade” or “gift” editions, which are usually unsigned. These books have small runs, have high-quality paper and binding, come in slipcases that prevent shelf-wear, and are often illustrated by big-name illustrators. They also feature additional material, if the publishing house is working in collaboration with the writer, and the signatures come on pages that are part of the binding.
Once I dipped my toe into the high-end collectible market, what began as a regardez-touche pas strategy online became a mad carousel of heady information:
Who knew that the Doubleday printings of the early King novels were so reviled? Badly printed with cheap glue binding, that’s why. Though first printings command high prices on the market, they were not aesthetically appealing, and King collectors hate them. Cemetery Dance actually republished the first six King books in limited collectible editions recently.
I had no idea that King himself owned a publishing house called Philtrum Press based in Bangor, Maine, where he oversaw the printing of several limited edition signed and numbered books. Philtrum’s output included The Plant, an episodic novel that was meant to be a Christmas gift to close King friends, and were later released as a pay-as-you-like e-book in an experiment to test the online market—that didn’t work out, and King hasn’t finished the book yet. The same press also released the limited edition of Eyes of The Dragon.
A company called Dragon Rebound is releasing its custom rebound editions of Stephen King’s books. Here’s the concept — they take first edition copies of a King book and bind it afresh, and that feels like an understatement after I have typed it out. Their Firestarter release, for example, have covers made of real sycamore wood that has been scorched by fire. Their copy of Itcomes in a fucking cast iron case, one that resembles a sewer grate. While these books are not signed by the writer, they are seriously limited. The first three books in the series have 26 copies each, while the fourth has 52. There apparently is a wait-list of 250 people waiting to jump in.
However, getting hold of those signed limited editions involves either crouching like a tiger and not draggin’ your hide when the books come up on eBay—sorry, couldn’t resist—or waiting for the next King book to be solicited by any of those publishers. The latest one to get the deluxe treatment was Sleeping Beauties, from Cemetery Dance. I was this close to ordering the limited edition for myself but the $475 retail price stopped me at the last minute. Also does not help that the book, solicited in 2016, still hasn’t been published. That hasn’t prevented the secondary market asking price of about $600-750, depending on who you ask.
With King collectibles, in order not to lose focus, I set three major goals for myself. Three of my favorite books and specific editions, and happily, I managed to hit all three of them. Let me talk about the first one, then.
The First Book: IT 25th Anniversary Signed and Limited Edition
The first time I saw this book was in a movie called Stuck in Love. It’s a funny, heartwarming movie, where three of the protagonists—father, daughter and son—are writers at different stages of their lives. Long story short, there is a Stephen King cameo (just not the way you think) and the limited edition of the book makes an appearance. I was struck by the cover art, the hefty size and of course, because of the fact that this was It, goddammit (um, what?). The book that King refers to as his ‘final exam on Famous Monsters’, and writes about thus in his afterword to this edition of the book.
The central conceit of the book came to me one day when I was walking across a wooden bridge over a dry stream. The hollow thud of my bootheels made me remember a story from my childhood: “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” There was a troll in the story, hiding under a bridge very much like the one I was crossing.
“Who is that trip-trapping on my bridge?” the troll would ask, a question that struck me—even as a child—as innocent on top, but very sinister beneath. As my bootheels clomped, I began thinking about the differences between our childhood fears—monsters, abandonment, monsters, mistreatment, monsters, bullies, monsters—and our more mundane adult fears, like whether or not our job’s insurance program covers dental. It seemed to me that we forgot the vividness of those childhood fears as we grew to adults, which might make us uniquely vulnerable to them if they ever came back…not as the shadows of tree-limbs on the wall or an imagined movie-poster monster in the closet, but as real things.
I began to see a structure where I could alternate children battling real monsters with the adults they became twenty-five years later. The monster would be a kind of psychic projector, which would allow me to use all the monsters that frightened me at the Saturday matinees of my youth: the mummy, the Crawling Eye, the werewolf, even that uniquely wonderful Japanese monster, Rodan. That idea delighted me. All the monsters! All the fucking monsters! And what would the central monster be? The one hiding behind all the masks and mirrors? It turned out to be a vast spider (think Tarantula!), but I didn’t know that when I started, and it didn’t matter to me. I understood it would really be the troll. The one hiding under all the bridges we cross on the chancy (but wonderful) journey from childhood to adulthood. The one that finally reaches up and pulls all of us under, which we call “dying.”
Let me point out though, that the gift edition appears in the movie, and this version comes in a slipcase and is unsigned. The limited edition comes in a faux leather tray-case, and is signed by both King and the three(!!) artists: Glen Orbik, Alan Wells and Erin Clark. There are 2750 copies of the gift edition, but only 750 of the signed version.
I had been tracking the availability of this book online since I saw it in Stuck in Love, and saw the asking price increase steadily over the years even as copies seemed to become scarcer. Thankfully, my timing was just right — a month or so after I bought my copy, prices started going haywire because of the buzz on the movie. Right now, copies are around the $2800 mark. I paid less than half of that for mine. Pictures below are from an un-numbered PC (Publisher’s Copy) sold at auction. Mine is numbered.
Needless to say, the book looks and feels incredible. The silver embossing on the leather tray-case, hell, the tray-case itself begs to be caressed. The pages have a red color on the edge, like blood seeping into the writing. Seeing the signature on the book (this was the first signed King book I bought) gave me butterflies in my tummy. I will be honest: unlike Frank Darabont, who claims to treat his copies of collectible books as if they were reading copies, I do not have it in me to flip through this book to read it. Which is a contradiction of sorts, I know, but I do most of my reading on the Kindle anyway. I like having this copy on my shelf, as a memory of how far I have come from my teenage days of reading Stephen King via half-torn library paperbacks. Every now and then, I pull it out, read a few pages, and marvel at the turn of events that led me to own a piece of King memorabilia.