Once upon a time, if you wanted a “certain kind of book” you had to go to a certain kind of shop or order from a catalog and wait for a package in a plain brown wrapper to arrive. With the internet, the doors have been thrown wide open and people can find any kind of book they want and have it delivered to them… for a price. And the price for vintage erotica is often VERY high for a tiny little paperback in awful condition.
Many dealers don’t want to touch erotica with a 10 foot pole. If you’re a specialist in a totally unrelated area, that makes sense, but many dealers find them just…. distasteful. The content is often not significantly more extreme than a modern romance novel, it’s just packaged to highlight the sex, not the romance.
A lot of vintage and antique pornography was printed on very, very cheap stock. These were also books that tended to be read and reread often so many fell apart. This means the prices are quite high and the supply very limited.
Content is generally king with erotica. Some writers are collectible, but often its the subject matter of the book or the cover art that is what the true collector is after. The more exotic, the higher the price. Straight vanilla pornography commands the lowest price. The more adjectives involved, the higher the price. The more “deviant” the activities depicted, the higher the price. Well known authors writing under a pseudonym will also command a good price. Of course what was once considered “deviant” is now turning up more and more frequently in modern romances.
If you do come into possession of some vintage erotica, the two key components to the listing: a picture and the contents. The picture alone may be enough to sell the book! As to the content, the key part is listing what type of erotica it is. Straight? Lesbian? gay? Multiple partners? Any fetishes involved? Wikipedia has a handy list of sexual fetishes. (click any of the individual fetishes and it’ll tell you more, there’s often subsets) The more specific you can be, the higher the odds of selling it. Is is part of another genre? There is a lot of erotic science fiction, but other genres spawned their own erotic spins offs.
Here’s some selections that have fairly typical cover art. Click on any of them to be taken to the original listing.
Really, do you need to know the plot with a cover like that? No. Not really. The cover sells it. Lesbians, whipping, AND Satan.
Books featuring spankings and S&M (sadism & masochism) are often very desirable. The naughty school girls motif often pops up with S&M. Prison is another popular setting for S&M scenarios.
Another one featuring spanking. Tongue in cheek (ha!) titles are common with erotica.
Lots of gay and lesbian titles fall into this “erotica” category, even if they contain very little explicit sex! Vintage pulps are highly collectible. You will sometimes see them described as “vintage sleaze”, especially if they are books featuring lesbians but are clearly aimed at men.
The price on this one also reflects that it IS actually by a well known author: Donald Westlake, writing under a pseudonym.
When erotica crosses over with another genre, things often get really strange. Scifi is the most popular genre to cross erotica with, but others are popular. The scifi and fantasy just stand out since it can involve alien species, like the bunny girls show here. Titles are often parodies of other books or movies.
It’s not often that these types of books walk in the door, but when they do, they often come from unlikely sources. Every time this type of thing has come into my shop it’s been brought in by stately older ladies wearing mink stoles who matter of factly plunk it down on the counter like it’s nothing unusual.
When one of these comes into your store, smile nicely, pretend it really is nothing unusual, and try not to giggle too loudly at the silly titles. Even if you don’t want to personally carry erotica, odds are good you can sell it to another dealer in a heartbeat.