It was early on a Monday morning. Atlanta Vintage Books had just opened for the day. Longtime employee Megan Leach hadn’t even had her coffee yet.
“I was here with my coworker and a guy just walked in the door,” Leach says. “He had a list printed out and said, ‘I have a couple of books, and I’m curious if y’all would be interested.’ I took one look at the list and said, ‘Oh, my gosh.’”
Leach and the staff at the 31-year-old bookstore on Clairmont Road are used to customers coming in daily looking to hand off used and antique literary wares for consignment or trade. But this customer was different. His spreadsheet didn’t just contain a couple of books. It contained row after row of rare Stephen King titles, kitschy ephemera and memorabilia, a lifetime’s worth of devoted collecting.
Leach found herself glancing over pages of first-edition/first-printing copies of classics like Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining. An expanded coffin-boxed signed edition of The Stand. Long out-of-print copies of the U.S. and U.K. versions of Rage, the 1977 novel King published under the early pseudonym Richard Bachman. Several of the first King short stories to appear in print. Rare printings from specialty horror presses such as Cemetery Dance and Subterranean Publications.
To properly assess the legitimacy and value of such a collection, Leach knew she’d need to see and appraise the items in person, so she and Atlanta Vintage Books co-owner Jan Bolgla scheduled a visit to the collector’s house. Everything he was offering was in mint or near-mint condition. Many items were signed. Some were truly one-of-a-kind. The collection was staggering.
Among other items, the collector owned piles of pristine editions of Castle Rock, an obscure, out-of-print Stephen King fan newsletter. He had rare, uncorrected publisher’s proofs of such King titles as Nightmares and Dreamscapes and The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels, as well as first edition/first printings of Cujo and Christine. He had a complete hardcover, first-edition, signed run of the entire Dark Tower series, which would go on to be listed for $6,500.
“The condition of a book constitutes probably 50 percent of the value,” Leach says. “For folks who really collect and get into it, having the dust jacket with your book is also maybe 50 percent. Having the first edition/first printing is crème de la crème, and having it signed is also a part of the major things we look for when we’re going through items. For this collection, they’re all in great shape. They’re first edition/first printings and a bunch of them are signed. We hit the trifecta.”
In total, Atlanta Vintage Books would estimate the value of nearly 20 full boxes of books and other items at roughly $50,000 retail.
“Stephen King is an interesting instance, because he’s a living author,” says Leach. “There are very few living authors whose stuff is valued this highly. J.K. Rowling would be another one, Cormac McCarthy. But it’s a pretty small pool of folks who have achieved this level of collectability during their lifetimes.”
The store began releasing small batches of items from the King collection in May. Both editions of Rage sold immediately. It’s already sold the coffin-box signed copy of The Stand, the first-edition/first-printing copies of Carrie, The Shining and Salem’s Lot, as well as a handful of other pieces, including a holographic sign from The Stand book release party. There are additional items listed for sale on the Atlanta Vintage Books website, and more will be released in the coming months.
The customer “had an incredible collection,” says Leach. “It’s fun to go to people’s houses, too, because you can see how they live within it, how they experience these items. His was a Stephen King library that Stephen King would have been proud of.”
31 years of cats, comfy chairs and community
Atlanta Vintage Books has been a purveyor of contemporary used and antique collectible books for more than 30 years. Owners Bolgla and husband Bob Roarty have had the store since 2007.
They bought it “lock, stock, and barrel,” Bolgla says, complete with the same comfy furniture that’s tucked into store corners for customers today, as well as some 75,000 books.
The shelves on the store’s main and basement levels heave with nearly 80,000 titles on subjects ranging from world history and art, to horror and detective novels, from rock ‘n’ roll to radical literature.
Resident cats roam freely. Glass cases display rare, age-old volumes and that comforting smell of old book pages hangs in the air. The shop has the warm, lived-in feeling of a true community space, and every customer is greeted like a neighbor, a friend.
Leach says it’s not uncommon for people to spend hours getting lost in the stacks. Customers have even fallen asleep in those old, oversized chairs, waking to find themselves locked inside, the shop long closed.
Leach frequented the shop for years before becoming an employee. Atlanta Vintage Books was the first place she drove when she got her driver’s license at age 16. “I remember coming in for the first time to this unassuming labyrinth crammed full of books and cats and worn-in reading chairs, and straight away feeling at home,” she says. “Jan and Bob let me buy a signed copy of Fahrenheit 451 on layaway with my babysitting money.”
Roarty likes to describe the shop as “Cheers without the beers,” and Leach agrees. “We like to get to know everyone who comes in,” she says. “We have folks whose kids come in to visit the cats. We have collectors, mathematicians, horror lovers, students, artists, activists, historians. The list goes on, but what we all have in common is just that love for reading and for learning, and that makes for a very warm and caring community.”
In addition to being a beloved gathering spot for local bibliophiles, Atlanta Vintage Books is a primary source for movie and film productions looking to stock its characters’ on-screen shelves and libraries. The shop’s basement houses rows and rows of vintage magazines and antique volumes that have been used on the sets of productions like Stranger Things and Selma.
“We’ve done several of the Marvel films,” says Leach. “We had a blast pulling pulp horror and sci-fi books for Lovecraft Country, Hidden Figures, A Wrinkle in Time. We did a season of Atlanta — sadly, I did not get to meet Donald Glover, though God knows I tried. We have a few shows we are working on now that are still in production, so we can’t disclose titles just yet, and another one we just pulled for is an ongoing series called The First Ladies.”
Walking through the shelves at Atlanta Vintage Books feels like something beyond just browsing.
It’s almost a kind of time travel mile-marked by the gently peeling spines of 1940s detective novels, the cracked covers of 19th-century Jane Austen titles, the burnished pages of midcentury socialist literature — and now, the spine-tingling 20th-century cemeteries, school gyms and haunted hotels of Stephen King.
Maybe that’s what King meant when he said that thing about books, about their being a uniquely portable kind of magic.