One of the joys of digital publishing is that it has made it possible for those of us who are fans of Golden Age detective fiction to acquire, at long last, copies of books that have long proved elusive. I've mentioned Bello and Faber Finds here in the past, and there are various other outfits who are doing sterling work in reviving old titles so that a new generation of readers can enjoy them.
But, at least for the present, there remain a great many obscure books that are still very hard to find. (Okay, some of them deserve their obscurity, but by no means all of them!) And there is something about having an original hard copy edition that is still very appealing to book lovers. But even if one can find a rare title, the question is whether one can afford it. And often, the answer is no.
There was a startling case on eBay recently when a little-known book by the prolific John Rhode, under his other pen-name, Miles Burton, was sold for in excess of £500. Yet this was a former library book that, from its description (by a totally honest bookseller from whom I've bought many much cheaper titles) was in pretty scruffy shape. The book was To Catch a Thief - no connection with the Cary Grant movie, though. Normally, you expect that a really expensive book will be accompanied by a dust jacket in good condition, or perhaps a really significant signature or inscription.
This did make me wonder if prices for rare Golden Age books are shooting up well ahead of inflation, driven by scarcity plus increasing interest and demand. When I talk to dealers like Jamie Sturgeon and Mark Sutcliffe, partly out of interest and partly as research for my portrayal of the world of Marc Amos in the in the Lake District Mysteries,the general theme is that it is harder to find old books in good condition than ever before. There is one rule that I've learned. If I come across an old book acceptably priced that I'm interested in, I tend to go for it. But the other day, at a book fair, I broke my own rule, and when I returned to the stall a few minutes later, the book I wanted had gone. A lesson learned!