There are many reasons why a Twentieth-Century novel may be well-written and well-received, and few books exemplify these features as Ian Fleming’s James Bond series does. Fleming’s fourteen-book long series is critically respected, successful, and highly collectible. They are some of the most popular spy thrillers ever written, and they look wonderful as a set. They’re also a fun and accessible starting point for those interested in collecting modern literature. You can start your collection with more accessible copies and work your up to the more expensive ones. Affordability is another popular point of James Bond novels, as some first editions can be acquired with relative ease. Titles such as Octopussy, The Spy Who Loved Me, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Man with the Golden Gun (without the embossed gun on the cover) are common enough that quality copies can be can purchased without breaking the bank.
But scarcity also plays a role, and much more than other modern books, prices differ considerably according to levels of condition. One factor is that binding is greatly variegated. For example, the difference in the aged yellow shading on the dust jacket of, say, a first edition For Yours Eyes Only can negate the effect of the unique, fugitive red font color of the title. Thus a crisp, clean dust jacket can increase the value of the book six fold. Condition is crucial when valuing Bond novels, as with all modern literature. Even a blemish as slight as a price-clipped dust jacket markedly decreases the value. Of course, these variations make collecting Ian Fleming’s James Bond series more fun, as do the dust jackets.
The illustrated dust jacket designs are another good reason to collect the first editions. They are culturally and historically emblematic of the perceptions of the decade in which they were created. The first editions use symbols and static imagery to suggest themes too mature for public expression in the 1950’s. Fleming himself designed the cover of Casino Royale when it was published in 1953, and he described it as portraying exquisite symmetry and absolute chastity. The dramatic imagery of hearts, like those found on a playing card, gives the impression of wealth and gambling.
As the decades progressed, the front cover was changed from symbols to female figures, and a more open attitude towards sexuality can be seen in these simplistic designs. On Diamonds are Forever, we see a tame image of an elegant woman wearing a large diamond. Towards the end of the novel, Fleming writes “Death is forever. But so are diamonds.” Diamonds are metaphorical for death, and Bond is death’s messenger because he carries the diamonds from London to New York. This is reflective of the immense novelty diamonds had to the British populous at that time (Benson, 1988). The cover art symbolizes the adventurous themes and content of the Bond series, and by right of their playfulness, it is no wonder Ian Fleming’s series continues to be a commercial success.
The value of Bond first editions have steadily increased since publication, and the release of the blockbuster films has contributed to their success. Casino Royale is a title that has resurged in popularity since the release of the 2006 film. Interestingly, the film’s title sequence was directly inspired by the first edition dust jacket. For the collector, therefore, it is important to know how to identify the issue points of a unique, first edition.
Fleming’s first edition Bonds are easy to identify. This is yet another reason to collect his first editions: they are not complicated by publishing histories. First editions should be in their original dust jackets with no quotes from critics or reviewers. Quotes indicate that it is a later publication. All fourteen of the Fleming Bond series are published by Jonathan Cape in London between 1953 and 1966. A first edition should say Jonathan Cape on the title page and “First published” with the respective publication year on the back of the title page. The only Bond novel that has any other issue point is that of Live and Let Die, which should not have a line on the front flap of the dust jacket, crediting the jacket designer, which can be found on later printings.
For the true Bond collector, there are two particularly unique books to add to a set of first editions. There is a version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that is the only signed limited edition made while was living. Also The Man with the Golden Gun was originally published with a golden gun design on the front cover. This was abandoned due to the expense of the design, making these copies rare. These two are the perfect embellishment for collectors who already possess a basic set of the first editions.
We hope you have enjoyed this little exploration into the world of James Bond first editions. Please let us know if we can help answer any questions or clarify anything regarding these first editions or if you would like help in putting together your collection.