There are 43 titles in the original Three Investigators series, 4 Find-Your-Fate titles, 11 Crimebusters, and then there is the Book of Mystery Puzzles. All told, there are 59 different TITLES available in the U.S. Most titles had numerous print runs in a variety of formats/editions making them easy to find but many had only one known print run in a given format/edition and come up for sale on the secondary market much less often.
So which specific TITLES are toughest to find out of the 59 available? I wouldn't classify any of them as rare, they've all come up for sale numerous times at various auction sites but the one that easily wins the #1 spot is the Three Investigators' Book of Mystery Puzzles with 13 known copies selling at eBay in the last three years [as of Dec. 1, 2001]. After that, specific titles aren't as easy to classify as the 2nd toughest, 3rd toughest, etc., but let's at least get an idea of what ranks near the top:
None of the original series' 43 titles comes close to making the Top 5 toughest Three Investigators TITLES to find. "Cranky Collector" is rightly regarded as the toughest to find TITLE of those 43 but I stopped keeping track after 50 of them appeared on eBay. This title saw only one known print run in pb and at least two print runs in GLB. Creep-Show Crooks and Wreckers' Rock both had no fewer than three print runs in paperback and at least as many in GLB. While I haven't kept track of the numbers being sold on eBay, they sometimes seem to appear less frequently than does Cranky Collector.
The number of books printed in a run varied so it's quite possible that a book with fewer print runs is more common than one with an equal or more number of print runs. A good example of this is the Find-Your-Fate books. To the best of my knowledge, each of the four titles had only one print run but 'Weeping Coffin' and 'Dancing Dinosaur' appear much more frequently than do 'House of Horrors' or 'Savage Statue'. This seems to suggest that the print runs for the first two titles consisted of more books. But let's also compare 'Weeping Coffin' and 'Dancing Dinosaur' to 'Cranky Collector'. Assuming they all had only one print run in pb, the print runs for the two FYF titles appear to have been smaller than that of Cranky Collector because these both appear less frequently at eBay. Again, other than "Mystery Puzzles" and the white Windward titles, I haven't kept a written log of how many times each specific title has appeared for sale but I've checked the listings at eBay on an almost daily basis since 1998 so I have a pretty good idea of what's common and what's not. Anyone who has kept track of the appearance of certain titles and their frequency is welcome to post their findings.
In my experience, of the latter two FYF's, "House of Horrors" has appeared less frequently than "Savage Statue" on eBay. Keep in mind that eBay is a good, probably the best, place from which to take a sample because this is where one finds the largest variety of Three Investigators material being sold - but, as with all polls, there is certainly some degree of error possible. I remember a few years ago that an eBay seller had a Dutch auction consisting of five mint uncirculated RLB (similar to GLB) "Savage Statue" books. I wish I'd have bought more than just one of them! Who knows where she found them but warehouse finds are still possible and could drastically affect the prices and status of some of the harder to find titles.
Many of the 11 Crimebusters titles appear very infrequently on the secondary market, especially titles #7 - #10. Oddly, title #11 "Fatal Error" which only had one pb print run that I'm aware of, seems to appear almost as often as titles #1 and #2 which both had two known print runs in their original paperback trade edition. This seems to suggest that the one print run of #11 was larger than that of the other titles. It is my opinion that #10 "Long Shot" is the toughest to find Crimebusters title followed closely by #9 "Foul Play". Title #8 "Shoot the Works" was not formally incorporated into the German line-up when the books were translated so that title is often sought after by German fans.
To summarize, (based on personal experience, observation, and raw numbers) the TOP 5 toughest to find U.S. Three Investigators TITLES are:
1. "The Three Investigators Book of Mystery Puzzles" (no contest here)
2. FYF "House of Horrors"
3. Crimebusters #10 "Long Shot"
4. FYF "Savage Statue"
5. Crimebusters #9 "Foul Play"
A TOP 10 List could feasibly include any of the following titles, no particular order, but it should never include any of the original 43 titles:
Crimebusters #8, #7 and #6. FYF's Dancing Dinosaur and Weeping Coffin.
Please keep in mind that the value of these books is very subjective and in large part depends on the needs of a given collector at a given time. But most importantly it is the condition of a book which most greatly affects it's value. With the exception of Mystery Puzzles, any of the books listed in this TOP 5 can be found for less than $10.00 with a little patience.
On a forthcoming post we'll take a look at some REALLY rare material and try to identify the most elusive Three Investigators editions/formats. Until then, happy collecting!
Seth T. Smolinske