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A Worthless Treasure


How many times have we ran across something in our collectible travels that tells
a net story whose value is clearly greater than the monetary value of actual item? This item
may have been ignored, overlooked, or avoided out of buyer suspicion. It endured yet another 10 day auction on Ebay with no bids. The seller relentlessly relists it in hopes that someone's Ebay search connects them to that item.

On a whim, without much spare cash, I took a shot at just such an item. My Ebay search finally collided with just such an auction. At first glance it seemed as if it had to be a hoax. It had to be a cheap reproduction of the original items. Rarely is counterfeiting a worthwhile endeavor. There are just not that many items that command enough money on that open market that could offset the effort it would take to produce it in small quantities. Most of the high end TSR Gems have slick color cardstock covers, too difficult to cultivate.

This sense of logic drove me to write the seller, to test my theories by seeing how he would respond to a basic query. In this collectible genre associated with Internet transactions, a savvy collector must rely on instincts alone to sense a bad deal when it comes their way. In all of my 10 years of collecting, perhaps a mere 1% of the transactions have been with bad folks. Even then, the safe guards associated with feedback and peer pressure within the collectible community are substantial. Nonetheless, after watching others lose a cool thousand after one bad deal, one must proceed cautiously.

I wrote the seller asking about the items that were clearly a derivative of the original rules books from the OD&D Boxset. They were coverless interiors of volumes 1 Men and Magic and volume 3 The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures. The Men & Magic booklet was white but The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures was actually a light green colored paper. I mentioned that they were coverless and appear to be mere copies and asked where the seller had gotten them. He responded that he had just found them with some other role playing materials and had no idea what they were. How could he be so certain that they were treasure? He responded that they looked very old with discolored paper, and the staples were oxidized, and he couldn't understand why were perfectly cut if someone had just made a simple copy of the original set. He indeed had a first printing of Dave Hargrave's Arduin Grimoire to compare them too. Heck, having a first printing of Arduin Grimoire in the same lot went a long way to convince me they could be legitimate.

They indeed did look to be perfectly cut. They were staple at the top of the booklet in a tablet form. The staples appeared to be identically aligned in both of the of the booklets as if they were mechanically stapled. What really caught my interest was that they were nearly a half of an inch longer than the original booklets.
I let them pass, out of disinterest, the auction ended without a bid. I contacted the seller again a few days later to ask him if he would just sell them to me for the opening bid. Nearly a week later the the seller finally wrote me to let me know he would indeed sell them to me.

After some time, they finally arrived in the mail. I looked them over just long enough to realize they were indeed some type of photocopy. But they truly were as old as any material in my collection from OD&D line of product. They were indeed perfectly cut. The staple on top of both of the copies were indeed made mechanically, albeit however crude the mechanical system was the staples lined up perfectly from copy to copy.

I finally came back to these to compare with all of my other authentic copies. These were actually copied from the original first printings in 1974, not any of the later reprints nor the faux originals from the OCE sets in the late 70's. The Men and Magic item mentioned Hobbits and Ents and had the more difficult to read typeface on the interior absent from the latest copies and the only mention of printing date is 1974.

So this could lead me to only one logical conclusion that may carry, if nothing else, a perspective into the earliest days of role playing games. Only a thousand copies of the original boxset were made. This was considered quite a few at the time as most new games only sold a few hundred at best. Gygax and company knew they had a hit when they began to print and assemble these first printings from his basement. Unfortunately, they had no idea how huge a hit they would be. Word spread like a firestorm about this new game called Dungeons and Dragons. Everyone was eager to get their hands on a set so that they could too play it. The folks at the newly formed TSR in the Gygax basement could not make these fast enough and in large enough quantities. Gamers had to take matters into their own hands.

There are many reports from industry folks through the years of what extent they had to go through to finally get a set of rules from 1974-75 and beyond. The most effective way to share was to bust open the books and copy them for friends. My copies last place of existence was on the East Coast which further supports my suspicions about what occurred. Being from the Midwest, the first batch of D&D did not extend very far from the core fantasy gaming group Gygax and Co. had developed in the region. Surely, folks in metropolitan areas would hear of this terrific new game. Copies had to be made to fill this demand.

What remains perplexing is that the rules are indeed perfectly cut and mechanically stapled. Why would someone's buddy go through so much work for a set or two? Perhaps this set was an official copy of the original ruleset to meet demand? Maybe this set existed prior to the existence of the first printings release? Maybe beta sets were passed around before the first printing returned from the printers?

I wrote the seller to report that I believed the set to be copies but I found them to be interesting just the same from a theoretical standpoint. I asked the seller where he had acquired these as this could help me with my research. He said he saved them from the paper recycling pile in the basement of his Manhattan apartment building. He had never played the game but having had been on Ebay before he figured he might as well try to turn a profit on someone else's trash. Well, he made a few bucks off of me but I think the speculative value of these surely was worth the risk. Of trash or treasure, I am still not sure. There are not that many people who have even seen an original of the 1st printing rules set much less a well crafted copy from someone who actually owned one back in 1974. Perhaps others know more of where these originated and why they were made? Perhaps time will tell or the truth is lost to history.

The Scribe - April, 2004

Impressum (Imprint)