10 Tips for Starting a Vintage Horror Collection, By The Horror Hypothesis
I’ll admit it, I have a problem.
My name is Donnie and I am a vintage horror bibliomaniac.
The outrageous covers, provocative titles, and wide range of cheesy, but often thought provoking stories. A few years back I found myself drawn into this dark world. Quickly, I spiraled into making routine trips to bookstores all over the country just to satisfy my urge to find the next horribly awesome title for my shelves.
Currently, I’d estimate that I own between 500 - 600 vintage horror paperbacks. This sounds like a lot, and it is. However, there are thousands more out there, still waiting.
And I will find them.
About a year ago I founded The Horror Hypothesis. In my short life on Bookstagram, I’ve found that I am often having conversations with fellow bibliophiles who are interested in starting a vintage horror collection but do not know where exactly to begin. Or, they are in an area that one could consider a “book desert.” Because of this, I felt inspired to put together a list of general tips about vintage horror book hunting that I have learned along the way, with the hopes that it may help on the various quests out there for any prospective bibliomaniacs.
Disclaimer: This list is focused on thrifting in the United States. Sadly, some tips and stores may not apply to non-US residents. Most tips are transferable though!
If you’re starting from square one, consider this your collection Bible. Grady Hendrix’s tome on all things vintage horror is a great way to familiarize yourself with the genre and learn about its history. It gives you a solid starting point, looks great on a coffee table, and it's a great piece of writing. This is the place to start.
After reading through Paperbacks from Hell, you should start to notice some common authors and publishers you can begin to look out for when book hunting. Personally, when I'm browsing shelves, I never look for titles or authors, I look for publishers. If I see Zebra, Signet, Onyx, Pinnacle, Diamond, Avon, Leisure, or Dell Abyss, I stop. This is a skill you will acquire over time, but it’s good to know what to look for when you’re in a used paperback store. Often, they are in complete disarray.
Decide what to focus on first in your collection. Start small. Maybe you want to focus on a specific author. Guy N. Smith? J. N. Williamson? Books with Skeletons on the cover? (Zebra has you covered there). Create a set of lists that you can cross-reference when book hunting. One, it will keep you organized. Two, it feels awesome when you cross something off the list. Try it!
To me, this is a very important part of the process. I get that travel, in any form, can be tough. But you don't have to drive across the country - if you can commit to driving one or two hours in each direction from where you live, the available options and spots for book hunting will likely increase tenfold. If you can swing it, plan a day trip on the weekend. Often, I’ll head to a store on a Saturday morning and by the afternoon I’m back at home in my introvert cave with a haul of new books to read and organize.
I have had the best luck at used bookstores that typically have the word “Exchange” in the title. Pull up Google Maps in your area and search the words “Paperback,” “Used Books,” and “Paperback Exchange.” If anything pops up, give it a visit. Also, if there are multiple bookstores in a concentrated area, plan a trip. Preparation is key. Sometimes, you can find out a lot about the store from Yelp or Google Images. If you see stacks of used paperbacks, it's usually a very good sign. Most used bookstores offer paperbacks at ½ off the listing price, so the average book is between $1.50 and $4.00 usd.
There are many chain stores that focus on books and thrifting finds that are worth
checking out if they’re in your area. Half Price Books, 2nd and Charles, and Goodwill
are all notorious for having shelves worth browsing. Personally, I only have Goodwills in my area and the paperbacks there only cost $1. I don’t go out of my way to visit them, but if I’m ever passing through an area, I'll check them out. You really do never know what's on a
shelf in a place like this. Many, many people swear by HPB and 2nd and Charles. If they’re near you, give them a visit!
If there are no used bookstores in your area, or you can’t travel, don't fret! There are many booksellers on Instagram that focus on vintage horror paperbacks. First, check out the hashtag #paperbacksfromhell. Most sellers use this tag when listing books. In addition, here are some sellers on Instagram that I recommend:
- The Vintage Bookvault (thevintagebookvault)
- All Data Lost Book Store (alldatalostbooks)
- Oddity Bookshop (odditybookshop)
- It Came From Beyond Pulp (itcamefrombeyondpulp)
- Joyland Books and Vintage (joyland_books)
I also happen to sell books at The Genre Vanguard (thegenrevanguard). Shameless self-promotion, I know.
In addition to Instagram bookstores, you can use a variety of websites to begin adding to your collection. Thriftbooks, Abe’s Books, Ebay, and Etsy all have solid inventories and listings. Be careful here and do your research. There has been a ton of price gouging lately due to the rise in popularity of Paperbacks From Hell. Make sure to cross-reference the pricing on books to make sure you’re not missing a better deal somewhere else. In some cases, if a book is considered very rare, you could end up having to pay 30 - 60 dollars for it. Most sellers will price the average individual vintage horror book between 6 and 10 dollars. Also, search “used horror paperback lot” on Ebay. Sometimes, for $20-30 you can find fairly large lots of books that can jump-start a collection.
Don’t expect to strike vintage horror gold overnight. Even if your local bookstores are out of stock of used vintage horror books, strike up a conversation with the owner and get to know them. Let them know you are a collector and give them your contact information. Bookstores love collectors. I mean, LOVE collectors. Buyers keep them in business when the used book business is super tough. They will contact you if anything comes in. Build those relationships and be patient. Check back every couple of months. One day there may be nothing, the next, there could be a whole stack of Zebra’s in good condition.
At the end of the day, the pursuit of collecting vintage horror books should be fun. I am a huge nerd and I absolutely love the feeling of walking into a shop with no discernable sign, navigating to the horror section, and finding a treasure trove of 70’s, 80s, and 90’s used paperbacks just sitting there, unclaimed. Beyond that, I love my organizing shelves and diving headfirst into the pulpy worlds these writers created. Are some terrible? Yes (in a good way, in my opinion). Are some amazing? Absolutely. Are they all worth having? That is up for you to decide. I consider myself to be an aspiring horror librarian and historian. I still have much to learn and much to read, but I’ve always dreamed of pushing myself on a moving ladder down a hallway of macabre used paperbacks like Belle in Beauty and the Beast and nothing is going to stop me from achieving this dream, dammit!
Will you join me?
Donnie Hypothesis is an avid reader, writer, and collector of horror fiction. He runs the Bookstagram page, “The Horror Hypothesis,” which advocates for the Horror literature genre as a whole. He currently lives in Central Virginia where he spends most of his free time reading, making music, playing video games, and watching movies.