Thursday, October 15, 2015

The True Value of Collecting Books

I never gave much thought to book collecting until I came across a copy of Book Collecting: A Comprehensive Guide, 1995 Edition in the hidden shelves of the cavernous Strand Book Store, my all-time favorite bookstore.  After reading this book I can say I find book collecting a fascinating art and can appreciate those who collect books.

So how would one really go about book collecting?

1.      Set your goals on what you would like to collect.  Will it be books of a certain genre, such as horror, or an era, such as the 1930s, or those by a certain author, i.e. George Orwell?  Will you look for “first edition,” all editions, or even foreign language editions?  Figure out what you’d like to collect and start to assess how many books are you talking about?

2.      Set a budget – per book, per collection, or per month/year that you’ll spend on this.

3.      Start reading books about book collecting so that you gain an insight and an understanding of how it’s done.  You’ll want to know how other book collectors think as well.

4.      Begin to understand the different conditions books can come in and of how that influences price.  “Unless one is a book collector, dealer, or book scout, it is difficult to understand how to describe the condition of a book,” write the authors.

“Even within this group there can be wide descriptions of opinion, which only confirms the fact that condition descriptions are somewhat subjective.”

General gradings run from mint (unread, newish); fine (signs of age but no defects); very good, good, fair (worn and used, cover tears, some defects), and reading copy (a poor copy with complete text and not much else).

Another influence in price is the dust jacket or wrapper. Is it missing or if it’s intact, what shape is it in?

5.      When it comes to which authors to collect, it’s a totally bias and arbitrary choice.  Even within a genre, time period or some other grouping, which ones do you collect?  Are they merely your favorite writers, award-winners, best-sellers, socially significant titles, or some other classifying trait?  If you go by awards, you may consider winners or finalists for The Booker Prize, the Caldecott Medal, the Edgar, National Book Award, the Newbery Medal, PEN?/Faulkner Awards, The Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Achievement, and others.

6.      Consider collecting odd books, such as books about dogs that bite people, or regional books (books by or about Brooklyn writers), books that are over 1,000 pages long, or books that have the word “park” in them.

“In order to understand the drive of a book collector,” write the authors, “One must understand that most are attracted to book collecting for three reasons: the true enjoyment or fun of the search, the love of the book as an object, and the economics or investment potential.  From our experience with collectors – and most dealers for that matter – all three motivators exist in varying degrees.”

7.      Signed books – autographed by the author – add value to the book, especially when it’s not made out to anyone, unless to a famous person.

8.      One needs to know book lingo and a good book to learn the terms used by bibliophiles is John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors.  You’ll learn about advance copies, antiquarian books, biblioclasts, biblioklepts, bibliophobes, blurb, dumny, dust wrapper, endpapers, front matter, galley proofs, limited editions, pictorials, pirated editions, out of print, proofs, provenance, remainders, signatures, and trade editions.

9.      Be aware of pseudonyms used by authors that you seek to collect books for.

10.  There are hundreds of qualified book dealers out there. Get a list from the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America or The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

11.  There are many, many sources to find the books you want to collect, including:

·         Garage Sales
·         Library Sales
·         Street Fairs
·         Book Fairs
·         Church Book Sales
·         Antique Stores
·         Used-Book Stores
·         EBay
·         Amazon
·         Auction Houses

The Ahearns identify over a dozen auction houses in their book, including these:

·         Baltimore Book Auction
·         Christies
·         Kane Antiquarian Auction
·         Richard E. Oinonen Book Auctions
·         Pacific Book Auction Galleries
·         Plandome Book Auctions
·         Swarn Galleries
·         Samuel Yudkin & Associates

12.  There are useful pricing guides online and in book form.  These guides also contain bibliographical information that’s useful in determining whether a book is a first edition.

Book collecting, to me, seems to run counter to what books are supposed to be about. For instance, when one collects something, the approach now moves to the commoditization of the object.  A book’s real value is what it does to impact its reader.  But now, as a collector, the attention goes to treating the physical book like a coin, piece of art, or some old furniture – look but don’t touch!  How can one buy a book and not read it?!

But preserving books is a great idea and gathering thematic collections sounds useful.  I just hope collectors don’t lose sight of why books are really collected or kept – so they can be re-read, referred back to, and showcased in hopes of influencing future readers.

I can purely see why people collect books and I’m glad that people see it important to invest time and money into protecting these prized specimens.  But I just hope that we all keep our eye on the real prize: to read books, let them influence us positively, and to then share them by living out their values. 

You can’t put a price on that!

Noted bibliographer Jacob Blanck once wrote: "Since book collecting is a sentimental manifestation what truer type of bookcollecting than the gathering together of the books read as a child and affectionately recalled. Certainly there is no period of man’s reading life more often remembered than the first wondering years and the discovery of the strange new worlds that are the printed page.”


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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