Vintage Treasures: The Dreamhaven Box

Vintage Treasures: The Dreamhaven Box

The Windycon box-small

49 beautiful vintage paperbacks for $36, courtesy of Dreamhaven Books

On years I attend the World Fantasy Convention I don’t usually do Windycon, the local convention here in Chicago, the very next week. I don’t typically have the stamina for two back-to-back cons. But this year Richard Chwedyk, who runs the Saturday Writer’s Workshop at Windycon, asked me to fill in as a judge, and I learned that my friend Rich Horton and his wife Mary Anne were making the long drive from Missouri. So I decided to register for the con.

I made it to the Dealer’s Room only a few minutes before they closed Friday night. And who did I find in the back but the tireless Greg Ketter and his wife Lisa Freitag, manning the well-stocked Dreamhaven Books table. I’d seen both of them at World Fantasy, where they’d also had a table. They’d packed that up, driven from Baltimore to Minneapolis, and then here to Chicago — with brand new stock! Talk about stamina.

While we were chatting in front of their booth I discovered eight boxes at my feet, tightly crammed with paperbacks. “They’re all a dollar,” Lisa said, noticing my distracted gaze. “Less than that if you buy a bunch.”

Gentle reader, I bought a bunch.

[Click the images for vintage paperback-sized versions.]

The Windycon box 4-small

The books were all science fiction fiction paperbacks from the 50s to the 80s. Even a quick glance told me most of them were in fine, unread condition. This was a rare opportunity to pick up some very hard-to-find titles at a great price.

The books were so tightly packed that it seemed pretty obvious I was the first to touch them. By the time I’d make it back to the Dealer’s Room Saturday after the Writer’s Workshop, they’d have been picked over by numerous collectors, so I definitely wanted to browse through them now. However, I had no more than a minute or so for each box before the Dealer’s Room closed for the night.

If there’s one thing decades of collecting prepares you for, it’s quick decisions. I started pulling books from the boxes, making stacks on the floor. By the time the Dealer’s Room manager made a loud public announcement, asking everyone to make their final purchases and head for the exits, I was sorting through the sixth box. I handed Lisa and Greg several stacks, and while they totaled those up I stealthily browsed the last two boxes.

The Windycon box 3-small

“Thirty dollars,” Lisa said.

I handed her two more books. She added them to my stack with a shrug. “Still thirty dollars,” said.

“That’s some kind of bookselling magic right there,” I said admiringly. I  handed her a few more selections from the last box, just to see what would happen. Come on, you would have done the same thing.

In the end, I bought 49 books for $36, about 75 cents per book. Substantially less than cover price, for 30- to 50-year old paperbacks in virtually brand new condition. To call me a satisfied customer would be an understatement.

The Windycon box 2-small

An unexpected consequence of my hurried transaction — and that fact that I already had a heavy stack of books from the World Fantasy Convention waiting at home — was that I didn’t get to look at these paperbacks again until more than a week had passed. By that point I barely remembered what I’d grabbed, so sorting through them today was an exercise in discovery.

The 49 books I purchased from Greg and Lisa were a mix of classics, hard-to-find Year’s Best volumes, pristine replacement copies for well-worn favorites, oddities, unknown titles from well loved authors, books for which I’ve been searching for years, books I’d never heard of, vintage editions, British editions, and more than a few impulse buys.

In any hurried purchase like this you can safely count on a few mistakes, but when I finished inventorying my treasures, there wasn’t a single book I regretted buying. Of course, at 75 cents per copy, it’s easy to forgive a few hasty purchases, but in the end I was thrilled with what I brought home. Let’s take a closer look.

The Windycon box Judith Merrill Year's Best-small

The first books I found, and the ones which first drew my eye, was a very attractive set of Judith Merril’s Year’s Best volumes. The first, a pristine copy of The Year’s Greatest SF and Fantasy, a Dell paperback original from 1956, was — at 62 years old — easily the oldest title in the lot. It certainly didn’t look it, and in fact was one of the most well-preserved books in the whole batch.

Merril had more literary taste than the Year’s Best editors who followed in her footsteps, like Donald Wollheim, Terry Carr, and Gardner Dozois. It often seemed her selections were drawn just as frequently from Harper’s Magazine or The Saturday Evening Post as Astounding and Galaxy, and authors like Jules Feiffer, Bernard Malamud, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Roald Dahl, Art Buchwald, Bertrand Russell, Jack Finney, and Gerald Kersh shared place of honor on the covers, alongside Fritz Leiber, Arthur C. Clarke, Thomas M. Disch, J.G. Ballard, Fredric Brown, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, William Tenn, and more familiar genre names.

It certainly gave Merril’s anthologies a unique flavor, anyway. I didn’t really like it much when I first sampled them as a young teen, but I’ve grown to appreciate her more liberal definition of genre as I’ve grown older. I never made much of an effort to collect this series, and I was grateful for the opportunity to acquire so many at once.

The Windycon box Year's Best-small

Looking through the Tables of Contents of the assorted Year’s Best books though, it seems to me the clear winner was the 23rd Edition of The Best From Fantasy & Science Fiction (1980), edited by Ed Ferman, pictured above right. Just check out a few of the stories inside:

“I See You” by Damon Knight
“Stone” by Edward Bryant
“In the Hall of the Martian Kings” by John Varley
“The Man Who Had No Idea” by Thomas M. Disch
“Prismatica” by Samuel R. Delany

The Best from Fantasy & Science Fiction 23 contents

Coming in a close second has to be World’s Best Science Fiction: 1970, edited by Terry Carr and Donald A. Wollheim which, among many other treasures, contained:

“Your Haploid Heart” by James Tiptree, Jr.
“A Boy and His Dog” by Harlan Ellison
“Ship of Shadows” by Fritz Leiber
“Nine Lives” by Ursula K. Le Guin

World's Best Science Fiction 1970-small

The most popular author among the 49 books turned out to be, somewhat to my surprise, Poul Anderson, with four titles.

I’m not sure why I pulled so many of his books, although I think condition had to be a factor. More than a few of my Andersons have been well-read. Recently I’ve also been trying to collect the early 80s Berkley paperback editions of his novels, which have magnificent covers. I found one in this batch, the 1981 SF/horror collection The Dark Between the Stars, which has never been reprinted. The David Egge cover is particularly creepy and effective for this one, I think.

The Windycon box Poul Anderson paperbacks-small

I’m always glad to find books by Black Gate contributors, and I found a pair in this batch:

  1. Goblin Market (1988), by Rick Bowes, the sequel to Warchild (1986). Rick’s story “Straight to My Lover’s Heart,” part of his Time Rangers series, appeared in the second issue of Black Gate in 2001
  2. Going to See the End of the Sky (1986) by William John Watkins. His “Seijin’s Enlightenment” appeared in Black Gate 9 in 2005

I also discovered three books of interest I’ve discussed here recently:

  1. Soldier Boy (1982) by Michael Shaara, a science fiction collection by the Pulitzer Prize-winning of the Civil War novel The Killer Angels
  2. The Blessing Papers (1980) and Imram (1981), two novels in The Blessing Trilogy by William Barnwell

There are probably a few others, but those are the ones that stuck out immediately.

The Windycon box William Barnwell-small

Among the others, there are several worthy of note:

  1. The Further Adventures of Solar Pons, by Basil Copper, because Bob Byrne is always urging me to try Solar Pons
  2. Two novels in the Far Stars and Future Times trilogy by Richard S. McEnroe, The Shattered Stars (1984) and Flight of Honor (1984), since I’d never seen the UK editions before
  3. The 1973 Award Books edition of Damon Knight’s classic collection Off Center, because I liked the cover
  4. Gordon R. Dickson’s 1997 Hugo Award-nominated novel Time Storm, just because it was in great shape and I’ve always wanted to read it
  5. Patrick McGrath’s debut horror novel The Grotesque (1989), because I remember how widely praised it was when it first appeared
  6. Jan Clark’s 1997 debut novel Prodigy, the opening novel in her two-book Rieka Degahv series
  7. Warren Hammond’s Ex-KOP (2008), the sequel to his hard-boiled SF novel KOP (2007), mostly for the cool Chris McGrath cover

And of course, the moment I put these books down on the floor to photograph them, the inevitable happened… my cat Jazz showed up within seconds to see what was going on. I swear, Jazz must be the most well-read cat in science fiction.

The Windycon box and my cat Jazz-small

I love vintage paperbacks, but there are precious few booksellers left who put in the effort to sell them. In case it’s not already obvious, I’m enormously grateful to Greg Ketter and Lisa Freitag at Dreamhaven Books. Not just for doing all the hard work to transport these books back and forth across the country and get them into eager hands, but for taking the big risks that come with buying and selling collections like this.

Those risks don’t always pay off. As I was arranging everything for this article yesterday, Greg Ketter posted the following on Facebook.

I’ve been a bookseller for damn near 50 years. I’ve had a store for forty-two. It’s not been easy. In fact, it’s never been easy; I seem to have a knack for doing everything the most difficult way possible. Now, as I contemplate retiring some day, I find I may never be able to do so. The business has changed and continues to change more quickly than I can handle. E-books have taken their toll but seem to have leveled off in their impact on my own business. Amazon continues in its relentless pursuit of world domination. And one of the biggest changes has been the buying/collecting habits of older customers. People complain every day that they have too many books/comics/toys and would I like to buy them? I’ve bought many collections recently and I think I may have bought myself into a difficult situation.

What I’m trying to say in my very long-winded way is, I need your help. I’ve never been any good at asking for anyone’s help but I have to do it now. I really need people to come in and buy one book, just one. (Of course, if you can buy more I won’t complain). We have the largest inventory of new, used, rare, and interesting books we’ve ever had. Books in all price ranges. If you haven’t been here in a while, now would be a great time for a visit. If you were going to order a book from Amazon, consider ordering it from us. We’ll special order any sort of book and in most cases can get it to you within days. We’re open Tuesday- Saturday from noon until 6:30; Sundays until Christmas from noon until 5:00. Our phone number is 612-823-6161 and our website is

Greg and Lisa are two of the pillars of the bookselling community in science fiction. If you’ve thinking about buying a special book recently, I hope you’ll consider buying from them. Their store is in Minneapolis, but they do much of their selling online, and their prices are terrific.

Check them out here. And thank you for helping keep independent booksellers alive.

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Thomas Parker

Soldier Boy?! Blankety blank blank blank!! (I’ve been fruitlessly looking for that one.)

Tony Den

I was waiting for a post like this when I saw you went to the World Fantasy Convention John. What a great haul and such good condition. Note to self: Still have not read A Boy and His Dog, must pick it up sometime.

Recognised that Arsen Darnay cover instantly. Classic from Boris.


while Ex-cop is not that old, i LOVE that whole series, if you havent read any of them, i highly encourage you to check it out, i wish more books were in that sort of genre these days… nice haul, i have to get to one of these types of conventions to pick stuff up like this, i have almost no collection. thanks for sharing.


Congrads on your find! I recently got a bunch of Ace doubles from ebay.

I love that paperback format and someday I’ll want to print some of my own works just like that.

Once again you’ve scored Big Time! I like the variety of books you bought. Those YEAR’S BEST volumes by Judith Merril are the cream of your purchases! They look to be in great shape for books decades old!

R.K. Robinson

Not to be gross, but let me pause while I wipe the drool off my whiskers, and the keyboard…

John, that’s what I call striking it rich, in spite of having to pay for those boxes. I always love to see Poul Anderson in your finds, and those Merril Best Of anthologies are tops.

Jazz is a very handsome cat, with good taste.

James McGlothlin

I’m fortunate enough to live just a few blocks from Dreamhaven here in Minneapolis. Not only do they have a large room of such books, but they have a very nice collection of collectibles as well. I wouldn’t say they’re cheap, but they’re reasonably priced for collector items.


John, you picked up some lovely books (as always!)

I love Nightchild by Scott Baker to pieces. I finally met Scott at World Fantasy this year and gushed at him about it 🙂


>Have you read Blood Orbit by K.R. Richardson?

Mr. O’Neill,

yep read about it on this very website, thank you, have it on my wishlist while i finish up a couple series!

Rich Horton

Alas, only one Ace Double. I have read and reviewed it — I’ll have to post it sometime.

Arsen Darnay was a regular in the Baen-era GALAXY, and quite an enjoyable writer. His career didn’t last all that long, though. I believe that much later he published some work on his own.

Tony Den

> Have you ever read Darnay? I grabbed this one because I’m totally unfamiliar with the author.

No totally unfamiliar with Darnay. I see Rich shared some info. Wold be interested to see your review of it here in due course. I was just attracted to the cover art, have a collection of those Boris (and Achilleos) collectors cards somewhere so the image was familiar.

Joe H.

Nice haul! And I have fond memories of Dreamhaven from back in the day == that’s how I filled most of the holes in my Ballantine Adult Fantasy collection once upon a time.

Rich Horton

Arsen Darnay was born in Hungary but came to the US fairly young. I believe his wife is Russian (his blog says “we are both from Europe”). He lives in Michigan.

His latest books — GHULF GENES and THE SEARCH FOR ANNA MAGNA — are part of a planned trilogy, but the third book has not appeared to my knowledge. They were published by Dwarf Planet Press, a micropress I suppose, but not really self-publishing. I had jumped to that conclusion when I first saw his posts about them back in 2010 or so when the books came out. The publisher’s blog has not been updated since 2010 so I don’t know if they are still extant — my guess is no.

And Doh! I was trying to think of “self-publishing” and it wouldn’t come into my head.

Joe H.

I still do live in Minneapolis. And somewhere I still have (in very battered condition) my old canvas Dreamhaven 10% discount bag.

I went to the store when it was in Dinkytown and later in Uptown, but I admit I haven’t gotten to their current location.


i dunno if this is still checked days later, and this is the only place i would know to ask this: is there a place that lists the big/decent used book stores somewhere, places like Dreamhaven? when i moved to columbus i tried looking, a couple months in, i found a place with a TON of old sci-fi, bought sort of a starter collection set of stuff i found, and then they went out of business… so now i am just wondering how many of these types of shops are left, and where they are. i know of one other in florida (i shopped there while i lived about 50 miles away), but that is it.

Tony Den

It seems to be a trend, of second hand bookshops closing down. Even flea market stands seem to be less visible. We could brainstorm reasons, I can think of a number off the top of my head.

A possible idea to locate physical shops may be to troll through Alibris. It will no doubt be a slog but I perceive a number of sellers there have a physical shop, using Alibris as a way to expand their store front.


Mr. Lien (care of Mr. ONeill)

wow i kickstarted the magazine and remember seeing that list, and am surprised i forgot about it with as much as i have been getting into searching for my own used book collection.

Mr. ONeill please thank Mr. Lien for me, i will pull my issues out of Magician’s Skull.

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