COLLECTOR PROFILES: Jeffrey Marks & US First Editions
A few months ago we launched our new column "Collector Profiles" to start sharing the experiences of collectors of all things Agatha Christie. Our inaugural article looked at the collection of Hugh Rivington, a UK based collector who focuses on the first UK paperback editions (link). This is our second article in the series that we hope provides insights into how others have approached collecting so that you can benefit from their experiences.
Today we profile the collection of Jeffrey Marks, a US-based Agatha collector who is also an author, contributing editor to Mystery Scene magazine, and a publisher. Several of his early books were nominated for Agatha awards, while his book “Anthony Boucher: A Biobibliography” won him an Anthony Award in 2009 for Best Biographical work. But we wanted to learn about what, and why, he collects Christies. As with many collectors, Jeffrey has a focus for his collection - first US editions – something he’s been working on for many decades. He has also done this successfully in a cost-conscious and affordable way. Something all collectors can learn from!
In His Words...
My Agatha Christie collection takes up one entire bookcase and has every US edition from The Mysterious Affair at Styles to Curtain. The first edition of The Mysterious Affair at Styles was a graduation present from me for me, so without divulging my exact age, I’ve been collecting for nearly five decades. The later books are mostly in dust jackets, but many of the early ones are not. I've used facsimile covers on a few of the books, but it feels like cheating, so I don't do that anymore. These days I will buy a first edition with a dustjacket to replace some of the 1940s books that lack them.
How it all started:
I think one of the biggest understatements of the 20th century was when my father came
home with a copy of The Underdog and Other Stories, and said, “I think you might like this.” It was the early 1970s and I was in my early teens.
After reading that book in less than a day, I went in search of others by Agatha Christie. I was thrilled to learn that she had many other books, which meant more hours of reading for me. I’ve always been a stickler for chronology, so I started with the early books. At the time, I was only buying the paperbacks at the local used bookstore. My quarters only went so far. If they didn’t have the next novel, I moved on to the next until I found one that was available.
The Early Days of Collecting:
When I started working, I was able to advance to the Little Professor Bookstore [Southern California – now closed]. The mystery section of the store was right in front of the cash register, and as the store was small and rarely busy, the employees began to talk to me about my love of the genre. As I began to search for some of Christie’s later books, the store staff ordered the books directly from the distributor. These books were available in either paperback or hardcover, and I would buy the sturdier editions, since I enjoyed rereading them. One of the women who worked there explained to me what the information on the first few pages of the book meant. She explained the phrase “first edition” among others and I was hooked.
Of course in the mid-1970s, only a few of Christie’s later books were available in hardcover. I believe the earliest book I was able to find by ordering directly from the warehouse was The Golden Ball and Other Stories. However, it was hit and miss because I never knew if the copy I would receive would be a first, second, or third printing.
Seeking Older Books:
To find first editions before 1970, I began to look at the back of some of the mystery zines I’d discovered, which had books for sale from dealers across the country. I corresponded with the bookdealers, and since this was years before the internet, I started getting booklists from the dealers. Fortunately, one of the dealers, Bill Dunn, took pity on a teenager who didn’t know what he was doing and explained to me what to look for and what to avoid. “Book club editions” were a no-no, while dust jackets were to be prized. In 1979, the year I graduated from high school, I used some of my graduation money and buy a copy of a first edition I’d wanted – The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
[CC Comment: Bill Dunn ran Dunn & Powell Books in Bar Harbor, Maine, USA. He was a great resource for Christie collectors in the late 20th century - especially for US printings. Many of the US books in my own collection were sourced from him over the years].
Advice on Auctions:
Yes, I occasionally buy from auctions. I bid like I gamble. I take a certain amount of money
and that’s all. If I don’t set a firm price, I get competitive and pay far too much for a book. I
would definitely not pay more for the book than its worth.
Be careful about the description of the book. Someone offered me a book today, calling it a first, but it was from Grosset & Dunlap. All the American first editions should be from Dodd, Mead & Co. except for The Mysterious Affair at Styles [CC: published by John Lane, NY]. There are also some tips to see if the books are first editions or book club editions too And beware of the facsimile dustjackets that have been put on books but aren't disclosed in the listing as a replica.
[CC: Book Club editions in the US generally stated so on the front flap of the dust jacket, and usually did not list other Agatha Christie books on the fly sheet next to the title page. Otherwise they often appear like Dodd Mead firsts - so be cautious. Also, books published by Blackiston are reprints - most notably Towards Zero].
What do you hope your collection will become?
I have first editions of all the US publications at this point. I have dust jackets from 1950 to
Curtain with a few from the 1940s also having their dust jackets as well. It’s a fairly complete
collection, and as I age, I have to wonder what will happen to them. I am thinking that I’d like to see them go to a library collection where they can be used for research.
How old are you willing to go before prices get too painful (if you can find them!)?
I’ve never paid more than a $1,000 for a Christie book. Many of the older titles were purchased when I was in my teens and twenties, which meant that the prices were far lower, though likely no less dear, than they are now. My copy of The Mysterious Affair at Styles was purchased for less than $100, but it would sell today for far more money. [CC: A very good or better copy of this book should garner $5,000 or more today].
Aside from US firsts, are there any other Christie’s in your house?
I have all the Poirot shows with David Suchet, the Joan Hickson Miss Marples, and a few of the other movies including the 1945 And Then There were None. I’ve also collected all the available Christies on CD or MP3, which makes for a far more pleasant drive. Other than that, I recently started collecting the Mary Westmacott US first editions. So far, I’ve only managed to find two of them Giant’s Bread and Absent in the Spring. The rest have eluded me so far!
Christie’s world spills over into other areas too. My Scottish terrier is named Tuppence - I'm sure you know where her name came from!
Collecting Christie Comments:
First of all, a big thank you to Jeffrey for sharing his collecting story. Given that the world of Christie collectibles is so large, both collectors we’ve profiled so far chose to focus on a specific area of her collectibles. For those looking to start a collection, this is a great way to begin. Setting a budget is also important as it is easy to get caught up in the moment. With rarer books, sometimes it is appropriate to buy what you can find and seek to upgrade later as certain books rarely ever show for sale. If you are trying to acquire first editions, do become familiar with the correct characteristics of the books you seek and their jackets. When buying at auctions – whether eBay or Sotheby’s – ask for more photos or information if it’s lacking from the listing. Sometimes the omission of key photos or details is intentional, sometimes not. So if in doubt – ask. You don’t want to overpay for a book or collectible – it takes all the fun out of it. For high priced items, really scrutinize what you are buying. Signatures are often forged and one should generally take the view that a signature must be proven to be authentic. For dust jackets an unrestored complete jacket is worth significantly more than a heavily restored or damaged jacket that has been price clipped. If in doubt, just like Jeffrey Marks did, find someone knowledgeable you can trust to guide you in your collecting journey. Part of our goal at Collecting Christie is to be one of your resources for knowledge and insights. Most of our prior articles will provide lots of tips and pointers for collectors.
Seeking Other Collectors:
We are always interested in hearing from collectors who want to share their learnings and insights into the world of collecting Christie regardless of whether you want to be profiled or not. However, we’d love to hear from anyone who’d be willing to publicly share their story. We firmly believe we can all learn from each other as part of the collector community. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org