DOUBLE, DOUBLE, WHAT’S THE TROUBLE?

Figure 1 - All ACE D-Series Doubles

Figure 1 – All ACE D-Series Doubles

So my last two columns were about Ace Doubles and their covers; which makes them Double Doubles columns; this is about collecting Ace Doubles, which makes this a “Double Doubles Doubles” column. Or does it?  I had quite a bit of positive feedback on those particular columns (so, thanks, feedbackers!) and this particular column was sparked by a comment from Reed Andrus, who said “Why don’t you do a column on the collectible Ace doubles from the D- , F-, and M-series?” So here we are. Figure 1 shows a photo from an ABEbooks dealer that purports to be the whole D-Series of Ace Doubles (of course the photo’s so small and blurry I can’t swear to it, but they have that distinctive blue-and-red spine). I’ll talk about this set in a bit, but first, let me ask you: what makes the D-series, to start with, so collectible? Or, let’s say, are they collectible?

 Figure 2 Ace D-36, Conan the Conqueror and Sword of Rhiannon

Figure 2 Ace D-36, Conan the Conqueror and Sword of Rhiannon

We’re only going to talk about the SF/F Ace Doubles here; some people don’t know that Ace didn’t just do SF/F doubles, they did westerns, mystery, and the like as well. In fact, D-31 (A.E. van Vogt’s World of Null-A and Universe Maker) is actually the first SF/F Ace Double. Interestingly, it’s not as collectible—judging by price—as the next one, which was (Figure 2) D-36: Robert E. Howard’s Conan The Conqueror and Leigh Brackett’s The Sword of Rhiannon. (We’ll get onto talking about price in a bit.) There’s been a lot of controversy over the last year or so about whether the “good old stuff” is really that good; some people claim that it—and this is a hell of a claim to make about a whole genre—lacks literary merit, is not socially acceptable any more (because of changing social morés), and is the bastion of “old white guy” writers. Literary merit is not something I’m going to argue; it’s my contention that only time will tell. Literature goes in and out of fashion, and what’s part of Sturgeon’s 90% now may well be part of the 10% tomorrow. (You will, of course, remember Theodore Sturgeon’s comment that “90% of everything is crud,” often misquoted as “…is crap,” though I do sympathize with the latter version, often called “Sturgeon’s Law.”) Social acceptability is another thing; we cannot change the past (although we could, if we wanted, revise what was written in the past), so when we’re reading something from, say, Victor Hugo’s time, we don’t attempt to revile Hugo for not holding modern societal views on theft or treatment of criminals. So should we revile Isaac Asimov for his sometimes laughable fictional treatment of women? (I’m separating this particular example from the real-life Asimov who, I understand, was somewhat of a “serial groper”; something that is entirely unacceptable today.) And for the third fault claimed above, what about writers like Leigh Brackett? You can hardly say she was an old white guy; in fact, many of the writers published by Ace were—although often white and male—hardly old at the time.

 Figure 3 - Ace D-227 Gunner Cade by Cyril Judd

Figure 3 – Ace D-227 Gunner Cade by Cyril Judd

By the way, in keeping with the “not old, white men” theory, Figure 3 is by “Cyril Judd,” a pseudonym for the writing team of Cyril M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril. The cover artist is unknown. One person, name unknown, who goes by “admin” on the Vintage Paperbacks website, claims that Donald A. Wollheim was responsible for dumbing down SF, rewriting all his authors (certainly a lot of that went on), and this person (“admin”) accuses Wollheim of other literary-related “crimes” and claims that thanks to him the Ace Doubles are not collectible. Well, in defense of Wollheim, let me quote Amazing Stories’ editor and publisher, Steve Davidson (a comment from the above website): “…to excoriate Wollheim and hold him accountable for whatever you are blaming him for… The man OPENED UP publishing to science fiction; he produced the FIRST SF anthology. He provided a publishing resource for authors who until Ace had only the magazines to sell to, sometimes at a quarter of a cent per word. Certainly some of the books were abridged to fit the format; likewise, short stories were added to and padded to fit the format. And he paid what he could, which was a check that the authors would never have seen otherwise. And the juvenalia? Ummm, a lot of those were written as what is now called “young adult” and are responsible for introducing a LOT of fans to the genre. There are few if any of the authors remaining who weren’t grateful for what ACE did and the success of DAW belies your suggestions that the field abandoned Wollheim. It’s still going strong today….”

Figure 4 - Ace D-295 Big Planet by Jack Vance (EMSH cover)

Figure 4 – Ace D-295 Big Planet by Jack Vance (EMSH cover)

I, personally won’t say the Ace Doubles “introduced” me to the genre—that honour was reserved for Frank Hampton and the Dan Dare comic strip in The Eagle boys’ newspaper in England back in 1951 or so—but they certainly cemented my lifelong love for SF and fantasy. There was a feeling of adventure and a (yes, I know this is an overused phrase) “sense of wonder” about the SF contained in Wollheim’s choices, something that I and others sometimes find lacking in today’s SF. I’m not disparaging today’s SF; I read as much of it as I ever did. But when I find an author who writes the same kinds of books as contained in the Ace Doubles—or one who can evoke that same feeling—I grab onto that author and read everything I can by him or her. That’s why Ace Double SF is collectible for many people. Another reason is that Wollheim pioneered the careers of many big-name SF authors, like Jack Vance (Figure 4), and Dean R. Koontz. Doubles by those authors automatically command a higher price—as do doubles with covers by certain illustrators, like Jeffrey Catherine Jones. So I think maybe the market, as evidenced by ABEbooks, eBay, used bookstores—however many of those are left—and online booksellers not affiliated with the above are actually the determinants of what’s collectible, rather than some self-proclaimed guru.

Figure 5 - Four Philip K. Dick Ace Doubles For Sale

Figure 5 – Four Philip K. Dick Ace Doubles For Sale

So how do we figure out how to price these books? Because I was looking for antique glass for my mother years ago, then collecting records and paperbacks, I became familiar with price guides; first thing I did was look for an Ace Double Price Guide. Hmm. Nope. How about a Paperback Price Guide? I recall Kevin Hancer used to publish one…. Hmm. Nothing since—1980? This is ridiculous! After extensive research (on the internet), it became clear to me that an Ace Doubles Price Guide would be—maybe not a best-seller—but at least a seller. Wheels began to turn in my head… but then I found a site selling Ace Doubles; the prices he would sell books for could be an excellent guide. Well, it is, except that it hasn’t been updated since 2012. So I started researching ABEbooks, Amazon and yes, eBay… the only problem with these sites is that you have no idea how many of these books sell; and on eBay, how many sell at the asking price? (Yes, you can search “completed listings” on eBay, which is a help.) One thing you must keep in mind on eBay is that many sellers will attempt to sell a collectible (book or otherwise) at an artificially low price—then they’ll jack up the shipping charge to make up the difference. One seller on eBay advertises “never read” Ace Doubles, some at very reasonable prices, but the handling charge is $15 and change! I did some research here and discovered that I could ship a regular paperback darned near anywhere in North America for about $6, including a padded envelope from the dollar store. I have started an Excel spreadsheet for Ace Double prices, using the site cited above (sorry) as a reference; I added cells to include what people are asking (low to high), sans shipping, on the above three vendor sites. When I finish, I will probably post it somewhere on the internet, as I don’t have time or inclination to sell it. (By the way, the books in Figure 5 are on eBay; the seller wants about $75 for the four Dick books, and $15 shipping. That should tell you something about collectibility. And the D-series collection in Figure 1 is for sale for $3500 US, not including postage—which is under $15!—on ABEbooks. Whew!)

So, that wraps up what I have to say—yes, I know this is a short one, but research uses up a lot of time—about Ace Doubles collectibles. I hope it was worth your time reading; if you have questions or comments, you know what to do.

Comments on this week’s column are invited. If you haven’t already registered—it’s free, and just takes a moment—go ahead and register, then comment here. Or comment on my Facebook page, or in the several Facebook groups where I publish a link to this column. Your comments are all welcome; and don’t feel you have to agree with me to comment: my opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week!

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  • amazingstoriesmag

    Steve, a bit off-topic, but I’d entirely forgotten my defense of DAW.
    If I’d been thinking more clearly when I wrote that comment, I might have suggested that if one wants to criticize Wollheim, one should concentrate on his club-destroying years..but of course on the other hand, we’d not be in this particular reality if he and friends had not gone about undermining every SF club in the NE (and the SF League to boot) in favor of Fandom being a non-commercial entity.
    But in terms of growing the genre? He edited cheapo mags and bought stories from his roommates and friends (anyone ever hear of Damon Knight? Isaac Asimov? Ray Bradbury?) that helped them hone their craft, he helped introduce the concept of the paperback; the editing on those ACE Doubles was almost always out of a need to trim serialized novels to the double’s format size; he was able to purchase because he no doubt had some kind of reprint deal with Campbell’s Astounding and – here’s the real contribution – those ACE doubles were stuffed in spinner racks EVERYWHERE! The number of casual readers who turned Fan as a result of picking one of those 35 cent wonders up is incalculable, but I’m sure it is a LOT.

    Don had his things like every other human individual, but his contributions to the field of science fiction AND to science fiction fandom really can’t be questioned.