Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
Welcome to the latest installment of “I Call Bullshit!” I understand that Mayfair men’s magazines with Burroughs appearances are a desirable collectible and that they are not as plentiful as they once were. I also understand that the condition of them can be funky. But the presence of officially graded Mayfairs being offered on eBay for $200 a pop is just too much. It does not appear that they are being marketed as Burroughs collectibles as el hombre invisible is not prominently featured in the item description or the available images. You look a little deeper into the seller’s items and it becomes clear that there is some serious bullshit going on. One hundred bucks for a beat-up version of the 1965 Grove paperback of Story of O. Come on man, that is a bargain bin book.
This is all clearly bullshit and not clearly thought out but it got me wondering if this is a premature ejaculation as much as it is bullshit. Is this seller on to something but just jumping the gun? Is this the future of men’s magazines? Is your Dad’s old porn going to be treated like Superman comics and Honus Wagner baseball cards in the near future? Will official grading become a thing? And three figure prices for mass market porn mags become the norm?
Fetish is a key component to collecting and porn naturally plugs into the same obsessive urges and desires. Porn has always been a niche collectible and as academic books like Porn Archives edited by Tim Dean demonstrate “the production and proliferation of pornography has been intertwined with the emergence of the archive as a conceptual and physical site for preserving, cataloguing, and transmitting documents and artifacts.”
Porn of the 1960s and 1970s is hitting that fifty year threshold whereby it is becoming high time to look back and reflect. To mythologize as well. David Simon’s The Deuce is an example of this process. Peter Doggett’s X-Rated: Adult Movie Posters of the 60s and 70s shows how the Golden Age of Porn is being appreciated on the level of graphic design. The documentary on Hustler magazine, Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story, made clear how cutting edge and edgy Hustler was in terms of design and layout in the late 1970s.
When you start talking about layout, design, and typography, you start getting into art appreciation and then the game is on in terms of increased collectability and increased prices. I would not be surprised to see an enterprising bookseller issue a catalog on the Golden Age of Porn presenting vintage magazines, films, and posters in terms of the art and rare book/periodical market, the fetish for dead technologies, and as relics from a print culture that no longer exists in the digital age. Couple this with the long-standing collectability of cult stars in porn (think Marilyn Monroe and Bettie Page), porn’s longstanding tradition of publishing work by outlaw and hip writers, and, as I mentioned in my introduction to the Evergreen Club News, porn’s insight into larger cultural and sociological issues, the stage could be set for a serious catalog that would reset, redefine, and legitimize the porn-as-collectible market much as Between the Covers’ The Great Mimeograph Revolution Catalog did in 2010. The next thing you know Burroughs Mayfairs are $250-$300 dollars like Floating Bears went up from $40 to $400 in an instant.
So maybe just maybe this eBay seller is not full of bullshit, maybe just maybe he is just ahead of his time.