Collecting Stephen King: 10 of his rarest and priciest books

In the world of horror and (to a lesser extent) sci-fi publishing, there has been for many years a somewhat under-the-radar business in collectible books -- whether they be rare first editions, limited-run deluxe versions of mainstream novels or even stories privately published and circulated by the authors themselves. 

It should come as no surprise that the biggest and most collectible name in this market is Stephen King, whose huge popularity over his 42-year career as a published novelist has meant that the value of anything less than easy to find on the shelves of your local Barnes & Noble or at Amazon is usually quite high. It was fairly early in King's career that limited editions of his books began to appear, most notably The Dark Tower cycle; King himself apparently thought those books too weird for his mainstream publisher at the time, so he handed them off to boutique publisher Donald M. Grant and started a frenzy that saw Grant institute a lottery system for each succeeding book in the series.

King has done 'em all: rare first editions, signed limited versions and yes, he's even privately published a few things himself. As you might imagine, the prices for all these items (especially if they're signed) make collecting rare King a rather expensive endeavor, albeit a potentially good investment as well. If you're a fan, however, it's also a deeply satisfying hobby -- I've dabbled myself and some of the limited or special editions from King and other authors are not just books but works of art.

There's no way we can get to all of them here, but below is a sampling of some of the most sought-after and rare Stephen King editions around. If you feel like hunting a few down yourself, make sure your checkbook or credit card is in relatively healthy shape ... but it will be worth it. (Special thanks to The Collector for invaluable research assistance.)

10. Carrie / The Shining / Night Shift first editions (1974 - , Doubleday and others)

King has been a publishing phenomenon almost since his career began in earnest with Carrie, but many people discovered his early classics like that, 'Salem's Lot (more on that later) and The Shining through paperback editions. As a result, hardcover first editions of his first few novels are much more difficult to find and consequently very expensive depending on their condition. First printings of Carrie can go for $1,700, while signed copies can rocket up as high as $7,500. Signed first editions of The Shining can fetch anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 (more recent special anniversary limited editions of these books have also started to climb in value). As King has published more books and signed less, firsts of later novels have tended not to increase in value as much. But if someone in your family has an old copy of Carrie collecting dust on a shelf in their house, check it out...and if it's a first edition, politely ask to borrow it (ha ha).

9. Six Stories (1997, Philtrum Press)

Occasionally King has had a desire to publish something himself that he felt did not have huge mainstream appeal, so he set up his own tiny publishing house, Philtrum Press, to do it. One of those publications was Six Stories, a paperback collection of half a dozen short works, signed by King, that was released in a very small run of just 1,100 copies. 900 of those were sold through Philtrum, while King distributed the other 200 privately. Copies of both can go from $650 to $1300, while an even smaller batch of 28 "proof" copies and 10 "presentation" copies spike as high as $1,600. Most if not all of the stories are available elsewhere, but King completists will still want this.

8. The Dark Tower (1982 - 2012, Donald M. Grant)

The Dark Tower series, which in the main consists of eight novels and one novella, is the central linchpin of King's entire published canon -- the glue that holds all the universes of almost all his stories together. He began writing the horror/sci-fi/dark fantasy/Western hybrid early in his career as a series of novellas, three of which were collected as the first novel in the cycle, The Gunslinger (1982). The book was published in a signed, limited edition by the tiny Rhode Island publishing house Donald M. Grant, but once word got out about the book -- and the succeeding novels -- interest began to spiral upwards, along with the value of the original Grant editions. A complete set of the signed, limited first editions of the core seven books (minus 2012's The Wind Through the Keyhole and the 1998 novella The Little Sisters of Eluria) is going on one site for $22,000; but single copies of The Gunslinger can snag as much as $7,700 at eBay and other outlets.

7. The Richard Bachman Books (1977 - 2007, various publishers)

In the early days of King's career, the prolific author published several novels under a pseudonym, Richard Bachman, because publishers didn't like putting out more than one book a year from an author and because these novels weren't horror and might confuse fans of the King "brand." The secret was revealed in 1984 with the arrival of Bachman's first hardcover, a horror novel called Thinner, but his four previous titles were all paperback originals that included two thrillers (Rage and Roadwork) and two dystopian science fiction tales (The Long Walk and The Running Man). King also later published The Regulators (1996) and Blaze (2007) under the Bachman name. The early Bachmans have all been reprinted, but the original paperbacks are a hot commodity that go from $800 to $1100. The Regulators was also published in two limited editions that have rocketed in price from $1,500 to $8,000, while an inscribed first edition of Thinner will lighten your wallet by as much as $1,500.

6. The Plant (1982 - 1985, Philtrum Press)

In 1982, 1983 and 1985, in lieu of Christmas cards, King sent the first three sections of a serialized novel called The Plant as small, privately published chapbooks. The story, about an editor who receives a strange plant from a writer after he rejects the writer's disturbing manuscript, was never completed. King published the finished sections as an e-book in 2000, but those original copies (only 200 were made of one) that he sent out for the holidays are highly sought after by collectors. Prices are all over the place, from $1,100 for one chapter to $15,000 for the entire set of three. 

5. The Stand (1990, Doubleday)

When Stephen King published the unexpurgated edition of his post-apocalyptic masterpiece in 1990 -- with some 300 pages of material edited back in -- Doubleday created a signed, limited edition of 1,250 copies bound in leather with gold and red gilt lettering on the front, gilt edging on the pages, a sewn-in satin bookmark, a paper wrapper and an engraved brass plaque, all in a wooden box with a soft red velvet interior. The piece was meant to resemble a Bible, all too appropriate for what King always called a novel of "dark Christianity." Copies now will set you back $4,200 or more.

4. The Eyes of the Dragon (1984, Philtrum Press)

This epic fantasy, set in a universe (In-World) that is part of the Dark Tower mythos and featuring a villain named Flagg (whom King fans know all too well), was considered too outside the bounds of what regular readers expected from the author at the time he wrote it. So he published it himself, under his own Philtrum Press imprint, in a beautiful, extra-large, slipcased, illustrated and clothbound edition, signed of course. Only 1,000 were made, and even though the novel has been published in regular hardcover and paperback editions many times since, an original copy can fetch anywhere from $2500 - $3500.

3. My Pretty Pony (1988, Whitney Museum of American Art)

This strange, surreal and somewhat slight short story (with illustrations by noted artist Barbara Kruger) is the basis of one of King's rarest limited editions. The book was bound in stainless steel with a red leather spine and a working digital clock mounted in the front aluminum panel. Just 280 copies, signed by King and Kruger, were published. 100 copies were reserved for patrons of the museum, 150 copies were offered for sale at $2,200, and 30 were reserved for family and friends. Buyers at the time were provided with instructions with how to clean the steel covers and change the clock battery, so if you are flush enough to drop the roughly $5,000 that this goes for nowadays, make sure they're still included with your copy. You'll need a new battery for sure.

2. Firestarter (1980, Phantasia Press)

King's sixth published novel, about a little girl who can start fires with her mind, was issued as a mainstream title by Viking and a slipcased, signed 725-copy limited edition by Phantasia Press. But there was an even more limited version, of which just 26 copies were published, in which the book was wrapped in a special aluminum-coated asbestos jacket (get it?). The regular limited can go for a couple of grand; the asbestos version originally sold for around $2,000 but is now worth anywhere from $5,500 to $15,000 depending on its condition. A hot item, indeed.

1. 'Salem's Lot ("True" First Edition, 1975, Doubleday)

According to several collector's websites, a true first edition of King's second novel is the Holy Grail of collecting for diehards. What do we mean by "true"? In this case, the publisher made a last-minute change to the price of the book from $8.95 to $7.95 (for a hardcover!), but a handful of copies -- four, supposedly -- with the original price on them made it out into the world. One was offered for sale 10 years ago for $60,000. Copies of the "second" first edition -- which include a mistaken reference on the dustjacket to Father Callahan as Father "Cody" (see flap images below) -- can be found for up to $26,000. And hey, if you want to keep your investment in the four-digit zone, a 2004 limited edition of the book, including additional material left out of the original text, can be yours for just over $4,800.

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