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?
bookshelves placed near wall in library
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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

person using e book reader while drinking coffee