Help for the Collector: How to get together a complete set of Tom Swift Jr. Books


1. What different editions are available, and which ones should I be on the lookout for?

There are seven "varieties" of Tom Swift Jr. books. Below is a list of all six types, accompanied by what my idea of a fair price is. Please note, however, that there is much debate over exactly what a "fair price" is for these books. The prices below are not based upon extensive market research coupled with talks with the leaders of the industry; instead, they are simply what I have come to expect after browsing dozens of used bookstores for these books for several years.

    1. Books with dustjackets. These are fairly uncommon, and quite difficult to find. Usually these books command the highest prices of the four available formats. Only volumes 1-17 were printed in this format, though. Average Price: $10-$25.
    2. Books that should have dustjackets but don't, because the dustjackets were destroyed. These books are usually the cheapest format you can get. Average Price: $3 to $8.
    3. Books with a printed cover and a blue spine (commonly referred to as "blue printed"). Getting together a collection of these can be very difficult -- usually these only turn up one at a time. Volumes 1-17 were printed in this format, and only for one year (1961). Average Price: $4 to $10.
    4. Books with a printed picture cover and a yellow spine (commonly referred to as "gold printed"). These are by far the most common. All 33 books were printed in this format. Average Price: $3 to $12.
    5. One book (Tom Swift and his Electronic Hydrolung) was printed in a wrap-around cover. This book can be very difficult to find; however, it really doesn't command a huge price. Average Price: Below $10.
    6. A couple of the more common Tom Swift Jr. books were printed in paperback form. The paperbacks, depending on where you live, could be easy or hard to find. Average Price: $2 to $7.
    7. Books printed for libraries. These books aren't too common, but they do exist, and they look quite different from the other varieties that are available. These books have a tough, sturdy green, brown, or black cover with some cover art on the cover; sometimes the cover art matches the artwork that belongs on that book  and sometimes it doesn't. There is also a gray format that has no picture on the cover but instead has a picture just inside the book. Occasionally these books have been trimmed and rebound and are about half an inch shorter than the rest of the books. The average price for these books varies, but they are usually not valued by collectors and therefore generally cost less than the other varieties.


As to which books you should be on the lookout for, here is a partial list of series rarities:

"Tom Swift and his Electronic Hydrolung" in wrap-around picture cover. Only this book was printed in this format, and while the book isn't extremely rare, it is hard to find. Average Price: Below $10.

"Tom Swift and his Aquatomic Tracker" with a fold-out ad inside. This book was the only book with an advertisement inside, and it is quite hard to find. If you see one, get it!

Tom Swift books 18-28. These higher number books can be hard to find. Average Price: $3 to $15.

#29: "Tom Swift and the Captive Planetoid". Average Price For A Mint Copy: Under $45.

#30: "Tom Swift and his G-Force Inverter". Average Price For A Mint Copy: Under $60.

#31: "Tom Swift and his Dyna-4 Capsule". Average Price For A Mint Copy: Around $80.

#32: "Tom Swift and his Cosmotron Express". Average Price For A Mint Copy: Around $120.

#33: "Tom Swift and the Galaxy Ghosts". This book -- #33 -- is so rare that the seller can basically ask whatever he wants for it. Usually this book sells for around $300 for a mint copy. This book is becoming easier to find; copies seem to be coming out of the woodwork at regular intervals.


2. Do all of my Tom Swift Jr. books need to be the same edition?

Not at all. However, if you can get together a collection composed entirely of, say, copies with dustjackets, your set will be worth considerably more (and will look a lot nicer on the bookshelf) than if your collection was composed of many various formats.

Really, though, getting a set composed entirely of one type shouldn't be that hard. All you have to do is decide that you will only buy a certain type of book -- say, books with dustjackets that are in near-perfect condition. This may be hard to do at times (especially if you come across a book that just barely misses your standards) but if you stick to your rules you will eventually reach your goal.


3. How much should I pay for Tom Swift Jr. books, and how long will it take me to get a complete set?

This is completely up to you. How much are you prepared to pay? What type of book do you want? What is the purpose of your collection? Can you afford the time and money it takes to get a set of Tom Swift Jr. books in mint condition? Are you only looking for reading copies, or are you a collector? You need to sit down and consider just what it is you want. Which of these two categories are you in?


1. I only want copies to read -- I'm not concerned with the quality of the book. If you are only interested in reading copies, then you should be able to get together a set fairly rapidly -- especially if you are willing to shop on the Internet. Because you only want copies to read, don't pay extra for books in mint condition or for books with dustjackets. Look around a lot. Shop for the very lowest prices that you can find. Set a price ceiling ($5 apiece is pretty reasonable for a mere reading copy; I certainly wouldn't pay any more) and only buy books that are under the ceiling that you set. If you looked around a lot and kept your eyes open, you will probably have the majority of the books within 2 or 3 years. If you shop online, you could have the majority of the books within four months -- although you'll have to pay significantly more for each book.


2. I am a collector, and I would like to get together a collection of books in fine or better quality. If you are a collector then you'll need to sit down and decide exactly what you are going after. What edition do you want -- dustjacket, blue printed, gold printed, or paperback? What condition are you looking for? What is your budget? Generally, if you want your books to be at least a 4 on a scale of 1-5 (where 5 is mint/no flaws) you'll need to spend a lot more time, money, and effort than if you had been happy with just any book.

In your case, it would definitely be a good idea to set both a price ceiling and a condition ceiling. Ask yourself what the minimum condition of book you will accept is and what you will pay for books in this condition, and then do not exceed or go below your expectations. For books #1 to #27 in Very Fine or better condition I would recommend a price ceiling of $10 or so or, if you are in a great hurry, $15.

Estimated time until completion? Well, if you shop around a lot and establish relationships with dealers you could probably get all but the rare Tom Swift Jr. books in thee to four years (although if you make use of Internet dealers you could complete your set in a matter of days).


I want to say right here that there is no reason to pay exorbitant prices for Tom Swift and Tom Swift Jr. books -- they simply aren't that rare. Every single book in the series (except, perhaps, for #28-#33) can, with a little diligent searching, be bought for less than $15. There simply isn't any need to go and pay $340 or $450 for these books, despite what other people would have you to believe.


4. How can I get my collection to grow faster without lowering my standards, and where are the best places to look for Tom Swift Jr. books?

Look around more. Shop at a lot of old bookstores. Bookstores that are in small, by-the-wayside towns and specialize in old or used books are especially good bets. Be sure to talk to the owner of the bookstore before you leave -- he might know someone who is selling them or may even put you on a list of people to call when he gets some in.

While I haven't had very much luck at flea markets or antique stores, other people have written in and told me that they have found tremendous bargains at these stores. If you have the time, then, you might try checking them out -- perhaps you'll have more luck than I did!

When you go on vacation or stop in a new town be sure to check the phonebook for old bookstores and call around. Sometimes enormously good buys can be found in small-town bookstores.

Also, you might want to get in touch with someone who has collected books for years and find out when book fairs come to town. Book fairs usually have a huge about of used, rare books, and if you are willing to pay their exorbitant prices you can usually find whatever you're looking for.

One last idea: the Internet. I have, over the past year, seen every single Tom Swift Jr. book for sale (even the rare ones) several times over. With a little patience and a lot of looking you can literally find whatever you are looking for. There is a huge selection of books out there. There is a catch, however: the price. Buying books over the Internet tends to be expensive, as the booksellers tend to charge more for them. Don't forget about shipping and handling charges, either. Still, if you really want that one book you're missing, the Internet is your most likely bet on finding it.


5. What flaws should I look for when I pick up a book?

  1. Cover flaws. Always look over the cover of a book very carefully. What shape is the cover in? Are the corners worn? Is there any writing in the inside of the dustjacket? Are there any holes? Is there any pencil marks? Are there any dents or flaws on any part of the cover? Is mildew growing on any part of the book? Does the book show any signs of being water damaged? Is the cover faded? Cover defects that really tone down the value of a book are badly worn, damaged, or faded covers; damaged dustjackets; heavy writing on any part of the book; water damage; holes in any part of the book; covers with mildew.
  2. Binder flaws. Is the binder worn in any way? Is the binder cracked? Has the binder been taped? Was the book once a library book? Does the book have a weak binder? Are the pages beginning to fall out? Is the binder faded? Is the binder missing? Is the binder falling apart? Binder defects that really tone down the value of a book are worn or taped binders; cracked binders; weak binders; missing binders; damaged binders; water damage; and binders that are starting to fall apart.
  3. Page flaws. Always be sure to flip through the pages. Make sure that the last page is intact -- sometimes the last few pages have been ripped out. Are the first few pages intact? Are any pages missing? Are the pages in danger of falling out? Is there any writing on any of the pages? Is there any ink or dirt splotches or holes on any of the pages? Are there any stickers on any of the pages? Does the title on the title page match the title on the cover? Does the title on the title page match the title on the dust jacket, if there is one? Page defects that really tone down the value of a book are missing pages; pages that are falling out; heavy writing on any part of the book; dirt or ink splotches on any part of the book; water damage; pages with holes; pages with stickers; damaged pages; pages with mildew.

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