14: Jeff reveals his tips on collecting Spy Books

Collecting Spy Books – Jeff's secrets declassified!

In this episode of the Spybrary Podcast, Jeff Quest from Spywrite returns to the show to reveal his top tips for collecting Spy Books.

Jeff has over 300 signed, first edition and/or collectable spy books in his collection. For our money he is one of the most knowledgeable spy fans out there when it comes to collecting spy books. Jeff is not a multi-millionaire who can hand over silly amounts of cash for spy books so sit back and listen to his tips on how you can build up your own spy book collection without needing to rob a bank!

We even go through a live case study as Spybrary Host Shane Whaley found a lot of 16 Graham Greene hardbacks. Jeff checks 'em out on air and gives his verdict. Should Shane buy the 16 Graham Greene classics for $300 or not?

‘As I've fallen down the rabbit hole of collecting books, I've picked up a few tricks and secrets I'll pass along. Please use them for good and not evil.”

collecting spy books
Jeff Quest – the man behind Spywrite shares his tips on collecting spy books

Tip # 1 – Choose what you love. Jeff's particular passion is signed first edition spy novels and over time has collected over 300 of them.


Tip # 2 – He suggests picking a relatively narrow topic at first. “Maybe it's 60’s paperbacks, first editions of an author's work, limited editions, every different printing for a particular novel or something completely different, it doesn't matter. However if you start with something limited in scope, you can start to learn how to find something and what's worth getting.” Spybrary Host Shane collects East German memorabilia specialising in GDR propaganda, it does not get much narrower than that!


Tip # 3 – Be prepared to get the wrong thing, especially at first and for bigger authors. “As you start it's a learning process so be prepared to find out that beautiful first edition you bought is actually a reprint or the book you took a flier on because it said “Inscribed” just has a note from someone’s granny written in it.”


Tip # 4 – Once you start, keep a list and keep it updated.

Tip # 5 – Once you've decided on a topic, there are various things to look for. Tun in and listen as Jeff talks you through what to look for when it comes to book condition, dust jackets, boards, foxing, marriage, association copies and 1st editions!

For more tips and resources Jeff has gone into more detail on this blog post titled On Book Collecting Part 1

Further reading on book collecting –

Firsts, a book collecting magazine has a nice outline on how to begin collecting books.

Quill & Brush, a bookseller, also wrote one of the definitive books on book collecting. Find it here.


Jeffs advice on buying collecting spy books on eBay

Ebay Pros-
Sellers with good condition books will usually include lots of photos.
If you know what you're looking for can find some great deals
Sellers may not know what they have and therefore widely under price.


Use the advance search settings to see what similar items have SOLD for recently

Sold is different than for sale


You need to know what you're looking for.

Has the occasional shady character

Sellers may not know what they have and therefore widely over price.

Recommended Book Sites

Connect with a book dealer. They can find things before online, keep watch for books you are looking for.


vjbooks.com  large selection

Mysterious Bookstore NYC

Don't forget you can also take advantage of our Spybrary Facebook Group and ask other Spy book fans for advice on a book you may have found. You can also enlist the Spybrarians to help you track down a book you may be looking for.

Spybrary Spy Podcast Discussion Group
Talk more about collecting spy books in our Spybrary discussion group

Other resources mentioned in Episode 14 of Spybrary Spy Podcast

Mansion of Secrets – An Espionage Expert's Outrageous Spy Lair

Jeff Quest's Blog – Spywrite

Matthew Bradford Double O Section

Jeff Quest Review of the new Smiley novel ‘Legacy of Spies' John Le Carre

International Spy Museum Book Store

Listen to Jeff Quest on Spybrary Spy Podcast Episode 008





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5 Responses
  1. Top discussion. On eBay, I’ve always tried – where it’s possible – to use the ‘make an offer’ feature. Most sellers, particularly if the book’s been listed for a while, are open to offers if it guarantees a sale.

    The other essential for any collector, once they have the books, is maintaining them. I’ve always successfully used Adaptaroll, which is a flexible plastic cover specifically designed to protect dustwrappers. The other thing to be prepared for is the ravages of UV light and spine fading – nothing worse when a much loved book stands out as the colours (often red) have faded thanks to UV exposure.