Each Three Investigators collector is different and must determine for himself the parameters and goals of his collection based on his desires and resources. For myself, I started with the rather humble goal of simply obtaining each of the original 43 titles in hardbound. And then I wanted them all in First Printings. And then condition started to matter. And then I thought it would be neat to have each title in every format available. And then I expanded to include the FYF books and Crimebusters series. And then original art, autographed copies, related ephemera, - it simply kept growing. Most series book collectors also like to own some foreign editions of their favorite series. The variety of formats available world-wide is amazing and owning at least a few examples of each is a real challenge!
With the advent of on-line auctions and on-line bookstores it is quite easy to amass a nearly complete Three Investigators collection of books in a very short time providing one has the resources. For me, this is my hobby and passion - a very large part of my life. I have set a rather rigid price structure as to exactly what I will pay for certain titles in certain formats and it has proved a challenge to stay within that structure. The fun is in the hunt. I enjoy going to used bookstores, antique malls, flea markets, thrift stores, etc. to look for books. I make every effort to upgrade every book in every format in my Three Investigators collection to the absolute best condition possible. I often sell the spare copies of Three Investigators books I have. Please visit my Three Investigators books sales page: Seth's Salvage Yard.
Fans of this series enjoy reading the stories, learning about the history of this series and they may own some of the books. Collectors seek to own at least one example of every story in the series and, more often than not, want to own examples of every U.S. format/edition that is available. Some collectors look for unique items like original artwork or signed books. Most collectors also view their collection as an investment and hope that it grows in value. To achieve this it is necessary to collect books in 1.) the best condition one can afford and 2.) to collect First Printings if possible. These two things, above all else, will maximize the value of a collection. There are certain books in this series that are not First Printings but may be more highly valued than First Printings. For example, some of the hardbound trade edition "glossy covers" like Green Ghost, Talking Skull, Nervous Lion and the scarce white cover Windward paperbacks. Some of these books can be incredibly difficult to find.
As for the care and maintenance of one's collection, my best advice is to simply use common sense. As mentioned elsewhere in this site, the cover-to-text bindings on these books are prone to splitting and separation - so handle the books with care. Exposure to extreme temperatures, atmospheric conditions, and direct sunlight will obviously cause some damage and problems. Standing your books vertically on sturdy shelving as opposed to letting them lean or stacking them in piles on top of each other will help prolong the life of your books. For more detailed preservation techniques I recommend The Library of Congress Preservation site.
People often ask me where and how I obtain so many Three Investigators books for my collection and the piles of spares or extras I've got stacked around. Well, it isn't always easy but here are some sources for Three Investigators books:
I love on-line auctions. This is where you will consistently see the greatest variety of Three Investigators material. EBay is the best with 200+ Three Investigators items at any given time. It seems that anything goes at on-line auctions. Depending on a variety of factors, one can see a First Printing of Terror Castle in very nice condition sell for anywhere from $3.00 - $50.00+. I have monitored Three Investigators sales on eBay almost every day since August of 1998. In general, the months of October - February are when the overall highest prices are being paid. Summer is the best time to find great deals. However, you also have to be careful when buying books here:
Caveat Emptor! Let the Buyer Beware! Most sellers do not do a good job of describing their books. It is up to you to e-mail the seller and ask any questions you may have before bidding on a book. Do not rely on the description or scan alone. Always determine your maximum bid beforehand and do not second-guess yourself or you could very well get into a bidding war and pay much more than the book is worth. Be aware that the sellers of these books are trying to get top dollar for them and often misleadingly advertise their books as "RARE!", "UNREAD" and "LIKE NEW". Yes, sometimes these descriptors are appropriate but if you find a seller who advertises all or nearly all of his books with these terms, then something is not quite right. Three Investigators books are often found in well-used condition and the textblocks are notorious for separating from the covers. Sellers who utilize these terms are probably unscrupulous at worst, ignorant at best. A disturbing trend has developed where some on-line dealers will "touch up" the rubbed corners or edges on T3I books with crayons or markers to make them look like they are in nice shape. If you are interested in the long-term value of your collection, DO NOT BUY these books unless you knew up front that you were buying touched-up books. If you were the victim of such a scam, submit appropriate feedback to the seller and make arrangements to return the book(s). While T3I books are collectible, most Three Investigators books are not as hard to find as it sometimes seems. There are some truly rare Three Investigators books and items out there but they seldom find their way to on-line auctions.
Feel free to use this site as a resource. The Original Series page and the Sales page will give you a good indication of what a particular book is and what it might be worth - and if you don't know, ask! As a general observation, hardbound formats are plentiful at on-line auctions and one can easily build that portion of a collection in short order but exercise caution, do your research and know what you are bidding on.
Online bookstores like ABEbooks and Bibliofind are good sources for Three Investigators books. In general, the books are priced way above market value. This is a last resort source if one simply cannot find what one is looking for or doesn't have the time or patience to seek the books out through other methods.
It is always worthwhile to check out the used bookstores in your area. Bookstores vary greatly in the types of material they handle but most all have some type of children's section. One can often find hardbound Three Investigators books selling for under $5.00 and paperbacks selling for under $3.00. A dealer in a fixed location must have turnover to stay in business and usually cannot wait for the top-paying buyer to walk into his store. However, as the general awareness of this series continues to grow, prices will climb.
Places like antique malls are an excellent and often under-used Three Investigators book source. More often than not you won't find the books you're looking for but if you do, the likelihood will be great that you'll get them very cheaply. Flea markets and thrift stores like the Salvation Army and Goodwill occasionally will reap a harvest of Three Investigators books at very low prices but you will have the best luck if you regularly visit these places as their turnover is very high.
By far the best place to obtain the high-number GLB editions at a very low cost. This is where you might find #29 - 43 selling for less than $1.00 each if you can stand to fight the crowds. Keep in mind that probably by the year 2010, if not earlier, few if any libraries will have the GLB books. They've been out-of-print for years and are not being replaced. Their prices will continue to sky-rocket on the secondary market because examples in really nice condition are few and far between.