Comments on rule-booklet scarcity– Part 4: Other observations

If we were to assume that there were 1,000 copies printed of a certain edition of a certain hypothetical Goodall rule-booklet, and that they were preserved at the same rate as the comic book just discussed in the preceding post (one out of two-thousand), you might expect one or two (or zero) copies from that edition to exist still.

But different kinds of things are preserved at different rates.  I suspect that rule booklets are preserved at a higher rate than the Action Comics, No. 1, have been. And the rule booklets probably tend to be in better condition.

Nonetheless, it seems almost certain that many have been tossed out, ruined, lost, destroyed–and are basically gone.  And even though many of them are intrinsically cool, even nice things are often tossed out.

Oh, and by the way, if you had, say, twenty randomly selected Goodall rule-booklets for (say) the period 1895 to 1922, you would probably find that some are significantly more attractive than others.  (I mention 1895, because I have very, very few Goodall rule-booklets earlier than that.)  I will probably get into this topic in the future, but I am pretty sure that some of rule booklets were tossed out at a higher rate than others, largely because they were among the less-attractive booklets.  Just as an example, the 1903 Bridge booklets, with either Bridge Whist or Bridge covers, in purple covers, with gilt edges, have pretty much got to be among the most attractive of all of Goodall’s booklets.

My mom was editor of The Pellet Press, a weekly newspaper issued by an ammunition plant (Kingsbury Ordnance Plant, in Indiana) during World War II.  She had a complete file.  I would be surprised if there were any single issue of that newspaper that exisst in more than a half-dozen or so copies, and I suspect that her complete file was (and is) unique, although it is possible that perhaps one or two other people have bound-volumes such as hers.

My mom was also an editor of the Bay Ridge Echo, her high-school newspaper, in Brooklyn, back in the 1930s, and I know she had many issues of that as well, and I imagine many of those are unique.  But, maybe not.  I think I have three or four copies of The Broadcaster, which was my high-school’s newspaper, from the 1960s, and I didn’t have anything to do with that.

Sometimes you can just get a sense of “there are not many of these in existence,” or that “these are kind of common.”  If you look at two certain periodicals from the second-half of the nineteenth century, that seems to be true.  If you search eBay for “Every Boy’s Magazine,” you are likely to find two results, neither of which offer a copy of the magazine for sale.  On the other hand, if you search for “Youth’s Companion,” you might find more than a thousand results.  Of course, The Youth’s Companion continued well into the twentieth century, but that is only part of the explanation.  I don’t know how many offer the actual magazine for sale–possibly the majority, and many of them offer for sale large quantities of the magazine.  So there is something very different about the relative scarcity of those two magazines.

I kind of think that card-game rule-booklets are in a class by themselves, or at least in a class that is different from many other categories of collectibles.  It is hard to analyze them.  But if it became widely known that certain ones were desirable, I think that more of them would turn up than are doing so presently.

However, I do think that eBay has been a significant force in scaring a lot of rule booklets out of the woodwork.  In its own way, it may be playing the role of the Vincent Starrett article that I mentioned in a recent post.  It is making people rethink their possessions, as they wonder whether they possess anything that they might turn into cash.

I have not made much of a study of it, but I do believe that fewer of the earlier, more desirable rule-booklets are finding their way onto eBay than was the case just a few years ago.  If this is so, it may mean that we are passing out of a “golden era,” and into a time that it will be more difficult, overall, to find the earlier rule-booklets.

Now another factor that I believe exists is the presence of what you might call “unknown collectors.”  I believe that in the magic field there are many collectors who keep a relatively low profile.  One idea that a fellow-collector mentioned to me was that some may not be collectors by any stretch of the imagination, but they want to own a few attractive and perhaps scarce and expensive items that they can show-off to their friends.  If there are a few thousand such people, it tends to deplete the supplies.  In that sense, I think the magic field differs from most collecting fields.  I doubt that there are many non-collectors who believe it would be great to have a Dickens first edition, to impress their friends.

So, in theory, there could be quite a few copies in existence, even of some of the scarcer and more desirable rule-booklets.  Personally, I think that is probably the case.  But if there are very many out there not in the hands of a collector — say, thirty copies each of say sixteen Professor Hoffmann first editions), that would total-out at 480 booklets — one tends to wonder where they are, and why they are not making themselves known.

If we assume that each first edition (of the sixteen) consisted of 1,000 copies, that would be a total of 16,000 booklets originally printed — that is, 16,000 first editions.  So, if the vast majority are not “gone,” again, one wonders by what process of events so many tend to stay hidden.

And apart from the Professor Hoffmann rule-booklets, there are many other scarce Goodall booklets that one essentially never sees.  I presume that this is so of many of the De La Rue booklets as well, though on the whole I have not looked super-carefully for the De La Rue booklets — although I do have a fairly large number of them in my collection.

Now, the following is very much out of context, but the first edition of Professor Hoffmann’s Latest Magic, 1918, consisted of (as I recall) 2,000 copies.  A very quick search or two suggests that there are at least nine of those copies for sale via the internet at this moment — say about one in 200 of the copies printed.  That is not the number that have survived — it’s the number for sale!

If a similar proportion of the hypothesized 16,000 rule-booklets (see above) were now for sale on the internet, there would be 80 of them for sale there now (likely made up of assorted titles).  But I am guessing that the total number of first-edition Professor Hoffmann rule-booklets now for sale on the internet is zero, or close to that.  (Again, I am talking about first editions.)

I want to emphasize that the example of Latest Magic is not very typical.  But it does seem to me that for some reason that book for a long time has been fairly plentiful in the market.  As to many of Hoffmann’s books, that is not so (at least as to first editions).  In fact, I doubt if there are any other Hofmann first editions that are so readily purchasable.  Some do seem to appear from time to time — others not.

Although I am about to leave the topic of scarcity for a while (probably not for long), it is worth mentioning that I have not really factored “condition” into the discussion.  I did mention it just a little, but it is a wide topic.  Some books seem to turn up fairly frequently — in not such great condition.  So, while a book might not be “rare,” it might be “rare in collectable condition.”  I don’t really like that terminology, but the point is that some editions of some books tend to be particularly hard to find in nice condition.  Here I am not necessarily talking about rule booklets, but I imagine that certain titles were apt to be consulted more than others.

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