Help for the Collector: Some General Information on Tom Swift Books

Disclaimer: Whatever you do, don't take my word as law. What I say here is just a sort of a general guideline. If you absolutely have to know, for example, how much book #40 is really worth, try looking elsewhere -- I really have no idea aside from my own personal experience. 

What different editions are available, and how much do they usually run?

The original Tom Swift books came in a number of reprints, formats and colors; to compound the problem they were even printed by two different publishers. I was completely confused as to who printed what; however, Christopher Pepin and Tony Carpentieri have both sent me e-mails explaining things. Thanks!

With two small exceptions, only two different companies published the original Tom Swift books. Grosset and Dunlap (which published the Tom Swift Jr. series as well) published the first 38 books of the series. The first editions of the first 35 books had a brown hardback format that came with dustjackets (a picture of the average Grosset and Dunlap reprint can be found on the Index. Do you see the image of "Tom Swift and his Motorcycle"? That's a brown hardback Grosset and Dunlap book). Later, the entire series and books #36-#38 were printed in a bright orange hardcover binding.

In 1935, Grosset and Dunlap transferred the rights to the Tom Swift series to Whitman Publishing Company, which reprinted books #29-#38 in a vast array of colors and two different sizes. In 1939, Whitman released a Better Little Book called Tom Swift and His Giant Telescope, and in 1941 Whitman released another Better Little Book called Tom Swift and his Magnetic Silencer.

Now for those two exceptions: In the early 1930's, the United Rubber Company reprinted "Tom Swift and his Motor Cycle" and "Tom Swift and his Motor Boat" in paperback form as part of a promotion for the Keds Shoe Company. The paperback books (I have a scan of one on my Tom Swift and his Motor Boat page) have artwork very similar to the artwork on the brown hardback Grosset and Dunlap books. These paperback books were printed on acid paper and are practically impossible to find; they can easily sell for more than $300.

Secondly, I have heard a report that a copy of Tom Swift and his Sky Train was printed in Japanese in the 1950's. I have never seen a copy of this book for sale, and I know nothing about it; while I believe it exists, I think that it is fantastically rare.


The brown Grosset and Dunlap books are not too hard to find; they usually average $10-$30 for a really good copy (minus the dustjacket), or possibly less than that for a not-so-good copy (minus the dustjacket). Occasionally you can find these books for less than $10; however, this rarely happens, and when it does happen the quality has almost always suffered greatly.

The orange Grosset and Dunlap books, on the other hand, are extraordinarily difficult to find and thus command a far higher price. If you want to save money, it's best to get the Whitman editions of the last four books in the series; they can be had for under $20 while the Grosset and Dunlap copies of Television Detector, Ocean Airport and Planet Stone usually sell for a couple hundred dollars.

The price for Whitman reprints varies greatly. Most of the Whitman editions can be had for prices comparable -- or less -- to the Grosset and Dunlap edition of the same book. There are only two exceptions to this rule: the Better Little Books that Whitman put out are significantly more expensive and will command a high price. The only time I've seen these books for sale in stores they were selling for over $100, but I've heard that if you watch the Internet closely you can get them for less than that.

Dustjacket editions of Whitman books or Grosset and Dunlap books can be difficult to find. Their prices vary very widely, depending on what edition, printing, and condition of book you're talking about. The average prices seem to be in the $20-$150 range, with the higher end of the scale being for the first-edition mint-quality early (or late!) books in the series. The dustjackets of the last four Grosset and Dunlap books, however, cost far more: the Planet Stone can sell for more than $1500; the Ocean Airport can sell for more than $800, and the brown quadrant with dustjacket of Giant Magnet can sell for more than $1000.


How long will it take me to get a complete set?

Well, that depends on your shopping habits. How much are you willing to pay to get these books? How much time do you spend looking for them? Are you willing to take the risk of buying them over the Internet?

In general, if you are willing to spend up to $20 for the more common books and perhaps 3-4 times as much for the last two (#39 and #40), and if you watch the Internet closely and shop around a lot (see the next section for ideas of where to look), with a little luck you should be able to get a complete set within a few months.

On the other hand, if you don't want to shop on-line for these books (which is certainly understandable) you could be in for a long search. Some of these books are hard to locate, and it's hard to find an old bookstore that carries books like these. So, even with a lot of diligent searching, it could take you up to five years to get a complete set of these old books, and even then there are no guarantees about getting the last two books.


Where are the best places to look for these books?

The first place to start is in the city where you live. Shop around at old bookstores; they sometimes carry these books. Antique markets can also be good places to find these books -- as old as they are (some of them will pass 90 years old before the turn of the century), they definitely qualify as antiques.

Old, small bookstores tucked away in small towns can also be a good place to look for books. I have got some great bargains in little shops. Sure, the vast majority of them don't have anything worthwhile, but sometimes, if you're lucky, an extraordinary good buy -- or perhaps an extraordinarily rare book -- will turn up.

The Internet can also be a good place to look for these books. There are a lot of places on the Net that sell old Tom Swift books. I've provided a list of sites that sell Tom Swift books; you might want to check them out (See the bottom of my Great Links Page for some sources). One thing to watch out for: while you can usually find what you're looking for, once postage and such things are added on the book could be more expensive than if you had bought it at your local bookstore. But then there's the possibility that your local bookstore would never have it

One last idea: 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.


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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