Pulp fiction paperbacks seducing collectors

They’re sexy. They’re provocative. Some are even lurid. And many carry the most stunning cover art depicted on periodicals of the period.

They’re pulp fiction paperbacks and magazines that celebrate females from the vintage era of the 1950s and 1960s, and such items are generating great interest from collectors around the world.

Gary Lovisi, in a newly-published book, Dames, Dolls & Delinquents — A Collector’s Guide to Sexy Pulp Fiction Paperbacks, describes and depicts more than 600 covers from what might be termed the “golden age of sexy pulps.”

Lovisi’s book is broken down into chapters covering different motifs so that various artists’ styles can be showcased, Lovisi said, with the pulp publications being culled from his collection of about 800 examples.

“It’s a smorgasbord of sexy pulp fiction,” Lovisi said. “The book pays homage to the female form in all its good and bad aspects.”

Chapters include Sexy Pin-up Dolls, Sultry Streetwalkers, Bad Girl Delinquents, Deadly Femme Fatales, Women in Peril, Women and Violence, Luscious Lesbians, Fetish Covers and Heated Embraces.

There also are chapters on the artists and their art, condition and values, pseudonyms, and specialist book dealers and collector shows, as well as indexes by artists and titles.

It’s the cover art that attracts the attention of most people, Lovisi maintained.

“There are so many memorable covers,” he said. “Those done by Reginald Heade, Robert Maguire and Robert McGinnis are wonderful. Some of the covers I like are Hot Dames on Cold Slabs, Don’t Ever Love Me, Zip Gun Angels, and The Bad Blonde.”

Lovisi thinks that some of the allure of collecting such material revolves around “the fun of it in collecting pinup cover examples,” but also that “people love the artistic feeling of the covers themselves.”

Sexy pulp fiction paperbacks are getting hard to find today, Lovisi said, especially those in very good condition.

“The market is strong for really nice condition copies,” he said. “A lot of the material that’s in nice shape often is sold at specialist auctions to book collectors or on the internet through eBay.”

In terms of value, Lovisi said he priced all the book and magazine examples in his book in order to give the reader a sense of their worth.

“Some of the more common or more recent examples run in the $5 to $20 range,” he said. “But then there are some illustrated covers that can run from $100 to $500. On the other end of the scale, a photo cover for Reform School Girl will run between $1,000 and $1,500 for a book in really nice shape.”

The 57-year-old Lovisi is a prolific writer, having authored crime novels, short stories and Sherlock Holmes pastiches on the fiction side, and pulp paperback titles on the nonfiction side of publishing.

“I’ve written a lot about science fiction, crime, hardboiled books, sexy pinup material and Westerns,” he said. “And for Dames, Dolls and Delinquents,  I interviewed a lot of the people who prepared the covers for the books.”

The most notable cover artists for such books in the United States include Macguire, McGinnis, Walter Popp, George Gross, Robert Bronfiels, Doug Weaver and Bill Ward, while in the United Kingdom Reginald Heath is a top name, according to Lovisi.

Rose Idlet of Black Ace Books in Los Angeles, Calif., said that locating sexy pulp paperbacks and magazines can be difficult, but because of her contacts, she’s able to access material from collectors who might be either disposing of excess or duplicate copies, or changing the kind of material they are collecting.

“People’s buying patterns have changed in the last 15 years or so,” Idlet said. “They’ve gone through different patterns and types of cover art, so it’s difficult to predict what particular type of book or cover will draw the most interest. But in the end, it’s those seductive covers that gets them.”

It’s important to have a good sense of the condition of a book before purchasing, Idlet said.

“When you’re collecting old books, the grading scale is different and it makes a huge difference in the collectors’ market,” she noted. “As with any collectible, condition is of prime importance. A book that’s been thoroughly well read is usually less collectible.”

Idlet said a collector should try to get a book in as prime a condition as possible.

“Ideally, a 50-year-old book should look as if it just got delivered on the rack,” she said. “It’s delightful when you find those kinds of books.”

Mark Goodman of Green Lion Books in St. Paul, Minn., agreed on the need for collecting the best possible examples and thinks that the market has made steady progress from its niche as fringe collecting 20 years ago.

“Because we’re seeing an increased interest in collecting sexy vintage materials with lots of new collectors coming into the market, it’s important to seek quality in condition, as many of the collectors seeking to expand their collections are doing,” Goodman said.

Another related area to sexy pulp paperback collecting lies in digest sized materials, Goodman pointed out.

“Many of those who have collected a lot of the pulp paperbacks are moving toward the digest sized publications,” he said, “which is causing the price and popularity of digests to skyrocket. Stuff that was hard to sell for $10 to $20 twenty years ago is now easily selling for $100.”

A digest is a book between the pulp and mass market paperback sizes.

Collectors often have specific niches within the overall collecting genre of sexy pulp paperbacks, Goodman added.

“I have customers collecting from all angles of cover art,” he said. “There are collectors who want pianos on the cover, women in bathtub covers, people falling or being pushed out of windows covers, and even strangulation covers. And they’re finding good examples out there.”

David Cochrane of D.C.’s Collectible Book Auctions in Las Vegas, Nev., has nearly 400 collector clients in 11 countries who receive his monthly auction catalog.

Cochrane’s business is unusual in that besides English, he also carries pulp paperbacks from other countries in their native languages. These include France, Italy, Turkey, Australia, England and Canada, besides United States examples.

“The United Kingdom gangster digests are very hot right now, going for between $150 and $500 per digest,” Cochrane said. Australian Phantoms also are very hot, however, they mimic the style and art of the US Phantoms.”

Cochrane noted that good girl art, Venus covers and cameo covers are popular because “it’s all about collecting for the art. Some of the artwork on these covers is amazing.”

How about the original artwork from which a cover was developed?

Cochrane said most original art for covers winds up in auction houses for sale as fine art or illustration.

Lovisi concurred.

“There are those collectors who collect the original illustrations as well as the books themselves,” Lovisi said. “But the original artwork is hard to find; once in awhile a piece comes on the market, but often the work was destroyed or thrown out by the publishing companies because at the time these books were disposable fiction.”

In the final analysis, Lovisi noted, the artwork of the sexy pulp fiction era simply evokes a different time and feeling.

“At the time they were published, these pulp paperbacks were naughty fiction,” but in the light of today, they’re cute, sexy and fun.”