What is book collecting?
A book collection is simply a collection of books that reflects a unifying theme or interest. It can be any number of books, and the monetary value is not what makes it valid. Although you could amass a collection of ebooks or audiobooks, we will be focusing on collecting physical books. Back in the ancient world, when words were written on papyri and scrolls, people saw books as objects to be collected. As printing technology evolved through the 17th and 18th centuries, more people could amass the knowledge and pleasure from owning their own texts, and content grew from strictly religious and scientific to broadly entertaining. Into the 20th and 21st centuries, affordable good books could be attained by even more of the population.
Is a Book Collection the same as a Personal Library?
A ‘book collection’ is centered around one idea, be it an author, an era, an interest, a format, etc…. while a personal library is not built around any central motivating factor – it can be an assortment of genres and subjects and formats. A library can also be the room that houses your book collection.
Your collection can center around any number of things: an author, a title, an era, a topic, or lists such as Pulitzer Prize winners. Start with your interests. What type of book do you like – Travel guides? British romances? Photography books? Children’s books? Are you interested in Antique and Rare books or Modern First Editions? The world is your oyster.
What is the purpose of the collection: as a financial investment? To pass down to your children? To look nice when people visit? For your own benefit? Although building an expensive collection is not for everyone, you should consider how much money you would like to spend.
Like art and antiques, book prices are subjective, and they rise and fall with demand. There is no single comprehensive price guide for collectible books, although there are many resources, including online retailers and experienced Antiquarian Booksellers.
Where can I get books?
Obviously, Biblio is the best place. Why? We host the inventories of thousands of independent booksellers around the world. Many of our sellers are seasoned professionals and members of the most prestigious book collecting associations such as the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, and the Independent Online Booksellers Association.
Other places include in-person used and rare bookstores, other online sites, auctions, thrift shops, garage sales, and library book sales.
The basics of book collecting:
There are a few basics to educate yourself on when starting your book collection.
Condition is everything in the world of book collecting. An old book in terrible condition is generally worthless. Even a highly sought-after first edition can be remaindered to the bargain bin if it is missing its dust jacket or bumped and torn. If you’re buying online, read descriptions carefully, and ask for pictures if there are none with the listing.
For many modern books, the binding is either hardcover or paperback. If it is hardcover, you will want to ensure the presence and condition of the dust jacket. For older books, boards may be cardboard, cloth, or finely bound in different types of leather. Educate yourself regarding materials if you are looking to build a collection based on fine bindings
For most collectors, a first edition in the first state or printing is the most desirable of editions. Identifying “true firsts” can be tricky, and if you are unsure, it is best to enroll the help of an experienced professional. A later release of a novel by a different publisher can be listed as a ‘first edition’ – for example, a 1960 version of Great Gatsby in mass-market paperback. It is still honestly a first edition, but of the 1960 mass-market printing, not the original 1925 hardcover that can sell for over $100k.
A fantastic rule of thumb for collecting books (and life) is – if it seems too good to be true – it probably is.
That said, purchasing later or different collector editions can help collectors on a budget. There are beautiful later editions of classic books from the Limited Editions Club, Folio Society, Modern Library, and Easton Press.
Other considerations for book collectors:
Consider the ‘provenance’ or the chronology of ownership for the book. Value and interest can increase if a particular copy was owned by someone famous or noteworthy.
Is the item ‘signed’ or ‘inscribed?’ Many think just the signature of the author makes the item more valuable than an inscription. Others argue that a signature can be faked, while a personalized inscription is harder to copy.
This should help get you started on your book collection. Both the treasure hunt and the process of learning the intricacies of collecting can fill up an entire lifetime. Luckily, there are enough books for every burgeoning bibliophile to build an exquisite and personalized collection all their own.
Amy C. Manikowski is a writer living in Asheville, NC.