Monday, March 22, 2010

"Sex Life of a Cop" Chows Down Big Donuts at Paperbacks Show for Record $

Saber Books SA-11, true first edition, first printing.

In 1959, a trashy paperback was issued by Saber Books. Thirty years ago, when I began to take a collecting and scholarly interest in soft- and hardcore erotic pulp literature, if I paid 50¢ for it I was under the influence of something.

Yesterday, I saw a very attractive copy of the true first edition, first printing of Sex Life of a Copy by Oscar Peck (pseud.), Saber Books SA-11, at the Paperbacks Show in Mission Hills in Southern California.

The asking price was $200, a record for this book. Ten years ago, copies in similar condition were selling for $100.

What’s the story with this book? Who in their right mind would want to own a copy?

During the mid-’50s, Fresno, an agricultural community in central California and “Raisin Capital of the World,” had a socio-cultural raison d’etre: The books of Sanford E. Aday, a failed writer turned publisher and distributor, whose softcore imprints included Fabian, Vega, and Saber.

“Probably no one has given the FBI more trouble in the obscenity area than Sanford E. Aday. Certainly the Justice Department lawyers have had no tougher or more frequent customer on Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material (ITOM) than this man” (Peter Collier. Pirates of Pornography. Ramparts, August 10, 1968).

The most notorious of Aday’s ventures into scheis und dreck was the infamous Sex Life of a Cop. By today’s standards, it is innocuous fluff; by Cold War standards, it was evidence of Satan’s influence upon American culture. Prosecuted by the Justice Department in 1963, Aday was indicted on eighteen counts of ITOM but convicted of only five; of the eight books named in the indictment, Sex Life of a Cop was the only one found obscene under the Supreme Court’s Roth legal formula. Aday and his partner, Wallace de Ortega Maxey, were both sentenced to twenty-five years in prison, the stiffest sentence for an obscenity conviction in United States history.

Aday belonged to the early gay rights organization, the Mattachine Society, with Ortega Maxey, a retired Catholic priest who became minister of the Universalist Church in Los Angeles, where the Mattachine Society held their meetings. Aday was amongst the first to openly publish gay- and lesbian-themed books. Collecting interest in this misdemeanor has dramatically risen as word of it and its backstory and significance in the fight against censorship has become more well-known.

And that’s why a first edition, first printing in decent condition is now fetching $200. The books of Sanford E. Aday are significant enough for California State University - Fresno to house a collection of them.

While the trade in rare and antiquarian hardcover books is a mature business, the world of paperbacks is young and lively. I expect prices will continue to rise for the most desirable titles as new collectors, frozen out of the market for classic literature (or whatever) in hardcover, continue to migrate to an area of book collecting with prices still within reach of the average citizen.

I always learn something new at the Paperback Show. I am likely the last person with an interest in paperbacks to have picked up this little factoid but for those who don’t follow the paperbacks scene I offer this little wham-o:

 First edition under this title (1955) of Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. 
"She played a man's game with a woman's weapons."
Bond's got no chance with this broad.

Those who may be under the impression that the world of vintage paperbacks simply offers a cesspool teeming with crass, exploitive and sensational, sexed-up stinky-fish lit. unsuitable for living room bookshelves will be pleased to learn that the finest in Literature by the most respected novelists and short story writers has always been reissued by paperback publishers. It's a classy business.

I rest my case.

Portions of this post originally appeared in Sin-a-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties, to which I contributed a chapter on pulp porn publishers on the West Coast.

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