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where to find vintage

Where to Find Vintage Books: A Collector’s Dilemma


Where to Find Old School Romance Novels

Old school romance novels are not so hard to find if you know where to look for them.

So you found your dearly-departed grandma’s stash of bodice rippers hidden in the attic and read them. Despite their flaws, the books gave you a thrill unlike no other. Now you want to read more old-school romance! Although, you’re not sure where to find them. They’re not sold at your local Barnes and Noble, and they don’t rank on Amazon’s best-seller lists.

Fortunately, we here at Sweet Savage Flame are book hoarders—er, collectors, and can help you with your search! We also looked to some friends for advice. Of great help to us were the Vintage Paperback Romance Novels group on Facebook, run by knowledgeable bibliophile @robimes from robimes.blogspot.com and @ArtoftheClinch from Twitter, who tweets out a couple of clinch covers from the 1980s and 1990s every day.

@ArtoftheClinch divides the areas where to search for paperbacks into two categories: “target-rich” Wild Sites, which she states are “Places where I can physically touch the books, and the vendor hasn’t priced them at maximum markup” and Non-Wild Sites, which are essentially online sites.

Wild Sites to Find Books

  • Thrift Stores: Local thrift stores, the Salvation Army, or even Goodwill, are the best places to look first. The key is to check often as their inventory is rapidly changing. One week there may be nothing to your liking, the next, you might find a huge haul of books.

  • Libraries: People donate their used books to libraries, which often have no need or desire for older paperback romances. My local library sells unwanted books at super cheap prices, usually for under a dollar.

  • Hospitals: As with libraries, many people donate their used books to hospitals, hoping they’ll find a good home. Due to the health conditions of patients, many books are not accepted. I recall finding a few Johanna Lindsey 1st edition copies at hospitals. I do not encourage anyone to bother hospital workers with requests for used books. But if you happen to be in the area, it doesn’t hurt to look.

  • Estate Sales: If it seems kind of morbid, don’t be dissuaded. It’s only natural that when people pass away they leave physical belongings behind. A friend of mine from Goodreads purchased a refrigerator-sized box of Harlequin Presents at an estate stale. Don’t know where to find them? Perhaps this site might help you find a local sale: https://www.estatesales.net/

  • Garage Sales: Sifting through someone’s junk while they stare at you and declaring how the items have huge emotional value might make you anxious. It does for me. Do it anyway. Go ahead and overlook crap like that purple and green ashtray Junior made in 4th-grade art class, now marked at the low price of $20. So what if you have to haggle that for that box of old bodice rippers Uncle Mark used to read? At a quarter a piece, they’re a bargain! Wake up early during your summer weekends and go garage-sale hunting before hitting the beach! Who knows what treasures you can find?
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  • Local Used Book Stores: While there are fewer bookstores around, which means fewer used bookstores in general, UBSes still exist. Take advantage of them! Although they’re more likely to stock hardbacks and other genres, romance is so ubiquitous. Even if their section is small, most UBSes have some in stock.

  • Antique stores: In the same vein as a UBS, you might find collectible books here along with old record albums, tarnished lamps that require electrical work, and old wooden desks that need sanding and polishing. While you might not find the 1980s to 1990s Harlequins, you may find rare, out-of-print-trade, and hardcover editions of classics or vintage romance.

  • Local Free Book Exchanges: According to @Artoftheclinch: “[My] local library has an area in the entry where people can leave books for taking if the books don’t meet the criteria for donating to the library’s shop.” I recently discovered The Little Free Library. This wonderful program is run in over 90 countries. While they mostly promote books for children, other popular genres include mystery, romance, and general fiction. I found two locations within 10 minutes of my home. Why not start your own book exchange and trade with neighbors? I’ve held on to books my daughter enjoyed as a child, but she’s 23 now and it’s time to let go! So this is a good case of taking one, leaving one. However, watch out for online book exchanges, as many people claim to have been scammed by them.

Non-Wild Sites to Buy Romance Novels

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  • Amazon.com: Have you heard of this place, Amazon.com? I hear they sell books and other stuff. In all seriousness, the internet’s biggest seller of everything is worth checking out if you’re not sure where to start. Don’t expect the cheapest prices and if you’re looking for a certain edition or cover, it’s often a gamble, unless you can contact the seller directly.

  • Alibris.com and AbeBooks.com: Like Amazon, you can find great used books here. If you’re searching for a particular cover or edition, you may have more luck finding them here. Purchase from Alibris and they’ll send you coupons for $10, $15, or $20 off per next order.

  • eBay.com: As with Amazon, Alibris, and AbeBooks, you can find plenty of used books here to buy. Some books are sold at fixed prices, while others are up for auction. What’s even better, is where you can purchase books in lots of up to 20 or more. Often the seller will provide images and relevant information about the books, other times they’re sold in bulk mystery lots, so you don’t know what you’re getting until you open the box. It’s like a birthday present, only you pay for the gifts! Through eBay, I’ve discovered numerous gems, although once or twice I’ve received duplicate copies in one purchase, so caveat emptor.

  • Etsy.com: While Etsy is more for selling home-crafted items, like eBay they offer used books for sale, usually in lots. Sometimes they’ll arrive with handcrafted bookmarks or other unique personal touches.

  • Facebook Marketplace: You can find many books sold in lots on Facebook or even given away for free! It’s merely a matter of how far you’re willing to drive and how much room is your vehicle to load it full of books.

  • Craigslist: Honestly, you might have more luck finding a kitten or used couch for sale on Craigslist, as more people use Facebook Marketplace now to sell or get rid of items locally. It’s still worth a shot. I checked my area and the pickings were slim. However, if I’m willing to drive 77 miles away, I can get a lot of 100 paperback romances for just $15. Of course, with gas and tolls, that’s hardly a deal, but if I’m ever on a road trip vacation, I could kill two birds with one stone! 😊

The Wild, Wild West of Book Searches

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  • PaperbackSwap.com: I know I said beware of internet book swapping sites, but Paperback Swap has been in business since 2004 and has 1.1 million books listed. You create an account to join, pay an annual fee of $20, list the books you have to swap, pay postage for the books you mail out, and collect credits. The credits allow you to choose a book, which you receive for free, minus the credit. Waiting lists for certain books can be long, however, so if you’re holding out for an OOP edition of Stormfire, you might want to search elsewhere.

  • Internet Friends: I’ve sent out numerous books to my Goodreads buddies and they’ve done the same for me. Nevertheless, trading books with someone you don’t know in person can be dicey. Most times I’ve gotten many grateful thanks and usually, I receive a book in exchange. Only once did a person not acknowledge receipt (they later unfriended me. The book was in pristine condition, too, so I felt like a sucker.). If you choose to exchange books with someone you know only through the internet, consider how close you are, how well you trust the person, and if you don’t mind losing a book and $2.89 if they don’t return the favor. That’s how much it costs to ship via media mail for items under 1 pound.

New Editions, E-books, and Borrowing Books On-Line

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  • Still in Print: Let’s say you don’t care about first editions or covers. You just want to read old-school romance! Well many authors, deceased or living, still have their backlists in print, like Johanna Lindsey, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Catherine Coulter, Rosemary Rogers, and many others.  On occasion, an author from the 1970 – 1990s will release e-versions of their older works for free or at discounted prices through Bookbub.com, or directly on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.  Just beware, some authors often alter (or “neuter”) their backlists to fit the modern era or to suit contemporary mindsets. Therefore, if you’re looking for old “old-school,” be sure to check the book description to see if it’s the original version or not.

  • Borrow or Download Online: Although I admit to having scanned books and pdfs on my PC and Kindle, at Sweet Savage Flame we try not to promote “free” book sites unless we can verify they’re legitimate borrowing services, like Internet Archive, Open Library, or Project Gutenberg. While you likely won’t find too many vintage romances on these sites, you might discover classics written by Edith M. Hull or Charles Garvice. If you don’t know who either of those authors is, why not download one of their books for free? I guarantee you will either be entertained or insulted, but you won’t be bored!  

Your Opinion

Do you have any other tips out there for vintage romance book-hunters? Have you tried these methods to obtain books, and have they been successful?

Please, drop us a comment, and let’s talk romance!