The Birth of an Obsession

When we were in San Francisco on the way back from Hawai’i I spent my timewalking from used bookstore to used bookstore while John was in meetings all day. I have been to San Francisco about five times, and John and I have done plenty of exploring. But this time I just put some Xs on a map and headed out into the sunshine. And it was so much fun, not just the bookstores, but the city itself. My quads and calves may have been barking from all the hills but my god, what an amazing city.

Anyhoo, while I went from bookstore to bookstore I had the same problem I had in Hawai’i at Talk Story. I had plenty of reading material and no real interest in random browsing. I felt the need to have some sort of mission. When I was in Green Apple Books it hit me. For some time I have been thinking about vintage editions of Signet Classics paperbacks. They have funky covers, really nice paper, and although they were published before I was born, I have fond memories of them floating around bookstores during my college days. So I thought, hey, why not start a Signet collection? They would be fun to hunt for at used bookstores, rummage sales, charity shops, etc. And it would be cheap. And they are fun to look at. And the earliest versions didn’t use pulp paper so the pages are really smooth and cool to the touch.

So at Green Apple I started to my obsession. Continued it later that day at another fantastic bookstore Russian Hill Books. And then soon after we were back from Hawai’i John was out of town for work so I drove out to Hagerstown and Frederick, Maryland and hunted for so more at Wonderbook.

I am not sure how far I will take this. But it is kind of fun for now.

23 thoughts on “The Birth of an Obsession

  1. Teresa February 7, 2012 / 8:03 pm

    What fun! I actually used to have that copy of The Return of the Native.


  2. Kathleen February 7, 2012 / 8:20 pm

    What a fun obsession to indulge in. I love all the covers on these. Glad to hear you enjoyed SF. I live just south of the city and it is one of my favorites in the world.


  3. StuckInABook February 7, 2012 / 8:35 pm

    Wow, I've never even heard of Signet Classics, but I agree – the covers are really fun. And I love a collection instinct.


  4. picky February 7, 2012 / 8:39 pm

    These are so fantastic! I love the way you photographed them. They would look amazing on the wall. I had a post two Fridays ago about the new Design Sponge book. One designer took a backless frame (so glass all the way through) and hung great books. It was such a nice look.

    Anyway, just a suggestion, but these are too neat not to display in some way.

    What a fun collection!


  5. Denise Costello February 7, 2012 / 9:28 pm

    The Vicar of Wakefield is one I want to read. I just read a short story by Oliver Goldsmith and it seemed so modern. Happy hunting, MDC


  6. Biblibio February 7, 2012 / 11:38 pm

    I've also got that edition of The Return of the Native and I've often noticed in what good shape the book is (considering the fact that it spent some thirty years in my grandmother's [dead] roach-infested basement before I rescued it…). I never thought much about it. Anyways, very cool collection of Signets – enjoy!


  7. Biblibio February 7, 2012 / 11:41 pm

    I should probably specify that I was referring to the roaches. They were mostly dead. That is, I wouldn't typically walk around the basement unless they were dead. And so it was that when I rescued the book, the roaches were dead.

    (this comment can very well be ignored…)


  8. joan.kyler February 8, 2012 / 6:38 am

    I think these must have been published in the 1960's. I was obsessed with Thomas Hardy when I was a teenager and bought new copies of Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure in these editions. I just got rid of a bunch of them in my on-going purge in preparation for a move. I hated to part with them because, as you noted, they are excellent books, heavy, crisp white paper, good cover design.


  9. Ti February 8, 2012 / 12:50 pm

    As a collection these books look great but I have a couple on my shelf and the two of them just look worn and sad. I need more of them to look like they are there on purpose.


  10. michelle February 8, 2012 / 3:14 pm

    Lovely pics! Love to see books flaunted and displayed in all its splendor like that. I have only one copy of a Signet Classic, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but it's those newer editions using pulp paper. Anyhow, I think it's still a pretty neat package for a book. :)


  11. Jeane February 8, 2012 / 5:40 pm

    Green Apple was my favorite bookstore, when I lived in San Fran… did you go to Black Oak Books too?


  12. Susan in TX February 8, 2012 / 6:49 pm

    Shutting my eyes, putting fingers in my ears…..”will NOT, will NOT follow after Thomas in this new obsession!” Repeating over and over…maybe I should click my heels? ;)
    Seriously, that's quite a start to a collection, and it does look like a work of art the way you have them all arranged. I will watch your collection grow with interest.


  13. Thomas at My Porch February 8, 2012 / 9:52 pm

    Teresa: Isn't that one crazy. Its like Thomas Hardy was writing about a beatnik girl in the 1960s.

    Kathleen: Where do you live? I love the Bay Area. John is from the East Bay.

    Simon: The are now a part of Penguin U.S., but I am not surprised you haven't seen them before. Maybe now one will jump out at you during a browse.

    Picky: That is an interesting idea. I am not sure how I will display them.

    Denise: I feel like I red VoW years ago before I kept track. But this copy might induce me to pick it up again.

    Biblio: I like the fact that most of them have been hiding for decades.

    Joan: I am going to have to keep my eye out for the other Hardys.

    Diane: Thanks, it was fun.

    Ti: Which two do you have?

    Julia: Which ones?

    Michelle: I've found that the general vintage of these covers were used well into the pulp years. It seemed to have coincided with their updated logo sometime in the early 1970s maybe.

    Jeane: I think I put the X on my map for Black Oak but it might have been too far off my path.

    Susan: If you do get the bug, it is at least a really cheap thing to collect.


  14. towardinfinity February 10, 2012 / 12:01 am

    Wow, you have quite a collection. Thanks for sharing it with us – great pictures!


  15. Danielle February 11, 2012 / 1:20 am

    I could see how these would become an obsession. I have a few of them myself in my own collection–I've never seen so many together at once. Wouldn't you like to have the whole collection? The illustrations are great.


  16. Kathleen February 13, 2012 / 3:16 pm

    I live in San Jose, south of SF. I'm about a 40 minute drive away. I LOVE SF and try to get there at least once a month to go to a concert or to the DeYoung Museum (I am a member), etc.


  17. Thomas at My Porch February 13, 2012 / 3:20 pm

    Toward Infinity: Thanks, I am glad you liked it.

    Danielle: I kind of would like to have the whole collection, but I am not sure John wants me to…

    Kathleen: I have spent the night or two in San Jose. We have friends who live in Portola Valley who have a weekend house in Santa Cruz so we have stayed down there a few times (at the best B&B I have ever stayed in).


  18. winstonsdad February 14, 2012 / 4:23 pm

    wacky and odd cover and I ve never heard of them too will be keeping a eye out for them now ,all the best stu


  19. Glenn Ingersoll April 13, 2012 / 2:22 pm

    The Vicar of Wakefield is indeed a fun read. (& I read it in the Signet Classics edition.) It's a very English version of the Book of Job, with a happier ending (because there isn't as much collateral damage on the way to it).

    Signet Classics turn up at library book sales pretty cheap.


  20. Thomas at My Porch April 15, 2012 / 12:04 am

    Glenn: They do show up quite cheaply. And I may have the collecting field to myself on this one.


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