Friday, November 11, 2011

Signet's JAMES BOND paperbacks

Anyone who has ever gone in search of second-hand copies of Ian Fleming's James Bond books in the U.S. knows that the paperbacks released by Signet in the 1960s dominate the shelves of used bookstores. These mass produced books are how most Americans came to know James Bond 007. But before Signet unleashed their familiar paperback series, they released earlier editions with terrific covers that are now highly collectible.

I've laid out the Signets here in the unusual order of their original U.S. release, not in chronological order of the books themselves. (The first four titles had already been released as pulps by Popular Library and Perma Books in the 1950s.) Signet's From Russia With Love, Doctor No, Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only are the true first U.S. paperback printings, although Moonraker and Casino Royale are the first paperbacks to be published in the U.S. under their correct titles.

You'll note that Diamonds Are Forever came late (in November 1961), and was the first Signet to sport the new series look. While copies of DAF with this cover art are among the legion of Signets that you can easily find out there, to find one that is a noted as a first edition on the copyright page is very tricky indeed. In fact, a first Signet Diamonds Are Forever might be one of the hardest of all the James Bond paperbacks to locate.

Starting in 1962, Signet re-released all the titles with series artwork that matched Diamonds Are Forever. Elements from the early Signet covers would find their way onto the new series covers, notably Goldfinger. The true paperback first editions of Thunderball and The Spy Who Loved Me, published in 1962 and 1963, would also sport series covers.

Starting with On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1964, Signet would return to doing original covers for the remaining Bond paperbacks as they were released (Signet's parent company, NAL, was now publishing the hardcovers). But the books would maintain a consistant size and font style on their spines, so they still fit in nicely with the other titles (and would later be included in box sets of all the books).

Signet would hold onto the rights of these last four books until the 2000s, which is why the Bantam, Jove, and Berkley series never went beyond The Spy Who Loved Me. Signet also produced several movie tie-in editions and some curious hybrids, but I will tackle those as a set another day.

Signet U.S. paperback publication order:

From Russia with Love - Sept. 1958
Doctor No - June 1959
Live and Let Die - Oct. 1959
Casino Royale - Feb. 1960
Goldfinger - June 1960
Moonraker - Oct. 1960
For Your Eyes Only - June 1961
Diamonds are Forever - (series cover) - Nov. 1961
Thunderball - Signet - (series cover) - May 1962
The Spy Who Loved Me - (series cover) - April 1963
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service - Aug. 1964
You Only Live Twice - July 1965
The Man with the Golden Gun - July 1966
Octopussy - July 1967


  1. Nice work John. You might want to include the alternate Casino Royale tattoo girl artwork for the 67 CR tie in.

    Also as a FYI, they added a green movie sticker to the YOLT to promote that movie.

  2. Oops, just saw you will be tackling movie tie ins later.

  3. Yep, movie tie-in's later. Lots of neat ones came from Signet. And some weird hybrids.

    Green sticker on YOLT? The one I have is pink.

  4. I love that they actually fit into a pocket. My forty plus year old copies are suffering but are still my preferred copies to read.

  5. Go check out your Diamonds Are Forever, Cameron. Maybe you got lucky and have a first. :)

  6. I have to say, one of the best things about my Signets is the smell. I don't know if it's the bookshop or the pages, but it's very distinctive.

  7. I loooove the smell of used bookshops. :)

  8. It interesting to see how popular Doctor No must have been in the U.S. All those early covers tout Fleming as "the author of Doctor No." And this is years before the film.

  9. These were the first Ian Fleming Bond's I ever owned. Yes I found them in a used book store and yes I too love the smell. These older versions also seem to lend something to the atmosphere of the books as well. Or maybe that is just crazy me.

  10. While the first Bond I ever bought was a new Berkeley Moonraker, most of the ones I read originally were these Signet paperbacks from used bookstores. (I have particularly fond memories of curling up with that FYEO in a bunk at camp one summer.) While I like the uniform design, I prefer the larger artwork on the early pulpy Signets, which are among my very favorite Bond covers--especially LALD and MR. And I love the box sets Signet put out.

  11. I just re-read my DAF about a month ago. My copy is close to a first, the 25th printing.

    I bought most of my Signets just after the release of the movie GF, one at a time for 50 cents each and read many of them in a single day. I'm not a collector and they are pretty rough but I keep dragging them into service. But what can I do? I am in love.

  12. The Signet 'Thrilling Cities' also has the matching typeface on the spine so it sits very nicely on the shelf with these. Also agree about the smell, it's quite specific, different to the standard 'old paperback' smell!

  13. Oh, you know, I completely forgot about Thrilling Cities and, for that matter, The James Bond Dossier that was also published by Signet and also matched. Those would have been worth including. Shoot.

  14. And don't forget O F Snelling's '007 James Bond: A Report', also published by Signet. I don't own that one but it looks like it would grace a Signet collection quite nicely!

  15. Did the last 4 Fleming books (On Her Majesty's, You Only Live Twice, The Man with the Golden Gun, and Octopussy/Living Daylights) ever get series covers like the ones up there by Signet?

  16. John, what would a Thunderball first printing fetch nowadays?

    1. A U.S. paperback first? If it's in perfect condition...I don't know...$15 maybe? The value of the later books drop off.

  17. I'd never seen some of these before. Interesting that FROM RUSSIA, WITH LOVE doesn't even show Bond's name on the cover...

  18. The whole lot sold on Heritage Auctions for US$20. Quite a bargain. More are going to be listed.

  19. I recently overpaid for a poor copy of Octopussy from the UK. It is Signet D3250 with a 50 cent cover price. Both the P3200 AND D3250 seem to be First Printings. It's referenced in Gilbert's Ian Fleming Bibliography. I've seen over a hundred copies in the US, but never come across the D3250. Was this D3250 only exported to the UK?

  20. You are now considering these paperbacks as Vintage/Collectors' skyrocketing value with high shipping cost as well...I'd rather find what I lack simply just here in the Philippines!

  21. there's a signet GOLDFINGER , P2729, with a light blue cover in lieu of the purple cover ... does anyone have any information abouit the bok? ...


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