We have divided this site into two categories. Vintage Paperbacks define mainstream books that may have had outrageous covers but were sold openly in racks at drugstores and news stands throughout the country. Their subject matter reflected whatever genres were popular at the time. Hard-boiled detective and murder mysteries originally and later spy novels, romance and science-fiction. Sleaze Paperbacks were sold from behind the counter of the same outlets or in specialty shops and promised sexual thrills beyond where the major publishers were willing to go. These books had their own genres and relied more heavily on the cover selling the titles than the contents. This site is designed as a gateway to paperback collecting and if it sparks your interest in this under-valued field of collecting then we have done our job.
This site is built on a WordPress platform using a powerful database that allows users to sort content in many ways. We’ve provided publisher and subject categories and key author and cover artist tags to aid you. The search bar has also been optimized for your convenience. If you have any requests for a sort criteria we haven’t thought of let us know. It is important to note that this site has not been created to become a database of all vintage paperbacks. We decided in the planning stage that like all things, 90% of all vintage and sleaze paperbacks had terrible covers. We are here to feature the covers that make vintage paperback collecting worth the effort.
Early Trailblazers: The paperback format was created in Europe. Albatross Books, which began publishing in 1932, was a British and German joint venture. The books were in english but sold only in continental Europe for copyright reasons. In 1935 Penguin Books began publishing in England. They became hugely popular and when the first American paperback was test marketed it was because of Penguin’s success. Pocket Books published their first paperback in New York in 1938. The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck, was selected. The test batch was 2,000 copies and we are using an image of one of them to decorate this page.
Ace Books – Ace began publishing in 1952. They are best known for the Ace Doubles, two books in one with a cover on each side. They started with mysteries and westerns but soon became masters of sci-fi.
Avon Books – Avon began publishing in 1941. The first 40 titles were not numbered. They are referred to by collectors as the “no-number” books. Some first printings among the no-numbered books have inside-cover illustrations known as “Globe Endpapers”. Avon would lead the way in creating sexy and exciting covers.
Ballantine Books – Starting in 1952, this publisher approached hardcover houses and convinced them to let Ballantine simultaneously release softcover editions. They were highly successful with this business plan through the 50’s.
Bantam Books – Bantam began publishing in 1945. They were a mainstream publisher but had some highlights including a few very rare dust jacketed paperbacks and most of Fredric Brown’s output through the 50’s and 60’s.
Beacon Books – Beacon began publishing in 1954. They were the largest publisher of sleaze during the 50’s and 60’s.
Berkley Books – Started as an independent in 1955 by ex-employees of avon paperbacks, Berkley was sold in 1965 to G.P. Putnam and Sons.
Dell Books – Dell Publishing Company already had its own pulp magazine and comic book empire when it started publishing paperbacks in 1942. Dell specialized in mysteries. The back cover of each book had a scene-of-the-crime map. Dell map-backs are some of the most-collected books among vintage paperback enthusiasts. Most of the early covers were done by famed artist Gerald Gregg.
Gold Medal Books – Gold Medal was started in 1950 by the news stand distributor Fawcett. They had a contract to distribute Signet paperbacks that prohibited them from producing their own paperback “reprints”. The loophole they used to get in the game was to only publish paperback originals(PBO’s). This opened a door for many authors who would later go on to great fame. They produced some wonderful covers.
Graphic Books -Graphic specialized in hard-boiled detective fiction from 1949 to 1957. They used low-rent authors but some of their covers are great.
Greenleaf Publications – Greenleaf started in 1959 and had a colorful history. Check out this article about Greenleaf’s top author for a good overview of the company.
Lion Books – Lion published from 1949 to 1957. Its most productive period was when Arnold Hano was in charge. They are considered a high quality house that dabbled in early sleaze.
Midwood Books – In 1957 two guys from New York decided to mimic the sleaze publishing model by purchasing manuscripts and art from the same agencies Beacon used. Their experiment worked and Midwood became the home of my favorite cover artist, Paul Rader.
Monarch Books – Monarch started in 1958 by ex-employees of Popular Library and was a professional operation from the start. Their sleaze and movie tie-in books are highly sought after.
Newsstand Library – Although only in existence from 1959 to 1962 Newsstand stands out for its crude and rude covers mostly done by Robert Bonfils.
Pocket Books – Pocket started it all. They were an immediate hit and early on locked up many of the best selling Authors. They stayed classy throughout the 40’s and 50’s so we won’t be featuring many of their covers on this site.
Popular Library – Popular started in 1942. They were already publishing the Thrilling series of pulp magazines. For the first four years Popular Library’s covers were all by the same artist, H. Lawrence Hoffman, and were fairly tame. After the war, things began to change. Covers were “reworked” from magazines to put on the paperbacks. Famous pulp artists, such as Earle Bergey and Rudolph Belarski were used often. Popular Library covers are some of the best and we will be featuring many.
Pyramid Books – Pyramid started publishing books in 1949. Their output remained small until they began focusing on sci-fi in the 60’s.
Signet Books – In the 40’s Penguin had an American distribution arm but refused to put racy covers on its books. In 1948 its New York office rebelled and started Signet. Numbering began at 660. Signet quickly became the largest paperback publisher in the U.S.
Foreign Publishers – We will be featuring many vintage paperbacks from other countries. We’ve pulled them together here.
Minor Publishers: There are too many minor publishers, many with only one book to their name, to list them all. Use the search bar to find any you are looking for.
Drug Fiction – Any book where drug use or drug related crime is part of the plot.
Hard-Boiled Detective – Started by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler before the paperback era began then fine-tuned by Mickey Spillane in the late 40’s this genre dominated men’s fiction throughout the vintage era.
Historical Fiction – Any book based on historical fact falls into this category. We will use this as a catch-all to include true-crime, western and romance novels.
Horror Fiction – This includes horrific fantasy like H.P. Lovecraft and the serial killer sub-genre.
Juvenile Delinquents – In the 50’s there was a huge surge in books about wayward youth. By 1967 the genre had been folded into young-adult fiction. Check out S.E. Hinton.
Lesbiana – A distinct genre in the field of sleaze paperbacks.
Mystery Fiction – Books written primarily for the female market. Someone is murdered and the detective solves the crime through deductive reasoning.
Noir Fiction – A distinctively American style of writing which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. The protagonist usually makes a trivial decision early in the book which leads to his death or incarceration by the end of the story.
Science Fiction – Any books with fantastical elements.
Sleaze Fiction – Any books by sleaze publishers that don’t fall into the other categories.
Spy Fiction – Books influenced by the cold war and the James Bond novels. This genre really only existed during the 60’s.