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Collecting Books General Knowledge/FAQ About Books

Books About Book Collecting

One of the best ways to get beginners’ knowledge, or even more in-depth expert knowledge, on book collecting is from (not surprisingly) books. Bibliophiles are a literate bunch and they literally love books. They love to read them, collect them, and even write them. To embolden you in your quest, there are more than a handful of guides.

When looking for a guide to book collecting, know what information you are seeking. Are you trying to gain novice knowledge about first edition points and book condition grades? Do you already have a collection you’re caring for and building, or do you want to start but don’t even know what a book collection is? Do you want to sell books to make money, or to make an adventure out of finding old gems off the beaten track? Are you interested in antiquarian leather bindings, or are pulpy sci-fi paperbacks more your style?

Below are some of the top book collecting guides published in the last hundred years. Note that only the books published after 2000 will have relevant information on buying and selling online, with the exception of Bookselling in the Future by Martin Seamus McFly.


Classic Books on Book Collecting

A Primer of Book Collecting by John Tracy Winterich 

Originally published in 1926 and revised in 1966, A Primer of Book Collecting was by author John Tracy Winterich. Winterich was a writer, editor, and prominent American bibliophile of the early 20th century. This tome can be a monotonous and wordy read, but it earns a place on our list as one of the earliest titles on collecting.  

ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter

Oak Knoll Press published the first edition of ABC for Book Collectors in 1952. Author John Carter was a writer, bookseller, book collector, and vice president of the Bibliographical Society of London. Carter died in 1975. The book is now in its ninth edition, most recently published in 2016, revised and re-edited by Nicolas Barker, former Editor of The Book Collector, and Simran Thadani, Executive Director of Letterform Archive. The ninth edition has illustrations in black and white and color that are not included in other editions. Any edition of the book will be helpful, as it offers a dictionary of book terms, many of which, such as end-papers and errata, foxing, and tree calf, have not changed over the years. There is also an index of abbreviations. John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors is considered one of the best guides on book collecting. You can get a free PDF via ILAB.

Collected Books: The Guide to Values by Allen and Patricia Ahearn

Allen and Patricia Ahearn became book dealers in 1962 and they began issuing catalogs under Allen Ahearn, First Editions. The couple went on to establish Quill and Brush, a bookstore that specializes in first editions, in 1976. The first edition of Collected Books was published in 1991. The fourth edition, published in 2011, includes identification information and estimated prices for over 20,000 collected books in all categories. This book has been a standard reference guide for many prestigious publications. It offers an authoritative source on first printings and first ‘states’ or ‘issues’ that are not easily accessible through other means. 

First Editions: A Guide to Identification by Edward Zempel and Linda Verkler

First published in 1984 by Spoon River Press, the 3rd edition of First Editions was published in 1995, and a 4th in 2001. Edward Zempel and Linda Verkler took statements directly from publishers to compile this reference work. This work harkens back to Zempel’s A First Edition? Statements of Selected Publishers guide that included the publisher’s own words on how they denoted first editions. 

A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions by Bill McBride

The seventh edition (revised) of A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editionspublished in 2012, is the latest version of this work. This handy pocket guide offers explanations of first editions and a range of publishers listed alphabetically with how they note true firsts in their books. For example, “Penguin (US): FPu(y) or FPu(y) w/N or N” – using the ‘Key to the Listings with Complete Definitions’ from the back of the book, you see that means the words’ First Published’ must appear on the back of the title page, with no additional printings mentions, and also the N, or ‘Numberline’ must also appear in full sequence with a ‘1’ present. This guide may be confusing for a relatively new book collector, but it still has valuable information in a small, easy-to-tote size. 

Publisher Bill McBride offers two other titles,  Book Collecting for Fun & Profit: Building a Book Collection Building a Book Business, and Points of Issue: A Compendium of Points of Issue of Books by 19th-20th Century Authors. While Points of Issue still holds some relevance,  Book Collecting for Fun & Profit was last revised in 2002 and is out of step with today’s internet selling. 

Collecting Books for Fun and Profit by Arthur H. Minters

Arco Publishers published Collecting Books for Fun and Profitby Arthur H. Minters, in 1979. Subtitled: “A basic methodology for selecting, ordering, paying for, cataloging, caring for, and eventually disposing of book collections,” it includes collector’s and professional associations, auction houses, book museums, and special libraries that would be outdated by now. Arthur H. Minters owned a bookseller business specializing in 19th-century European material in the arts, architecture, small press publications, photography, manifestos from the French Revolution, and ephemera. He also lectured extensively and taught courses on rare books and printed materials. There is only one edition of this title. 

Collecting Rare Books for Pleasure and Profit by Jack Matthews

Published in hardback by G.P. Putnam’s Sons in 1977 and paperback by University of Ohio Press in 1981, Collecting Rare Books for Pleasure and Profit is subtitled “A Practical Manual on Collecting Books From the 15th Century to the Present Time.” This title is one of a plethora published in the late 1970s and early 1980s when book collecting gained prominence as a trendy way to make money. 

Antiquarian Books: An Insider’s Account by Roy Harley Lewis

First published in 1978 by Arco Press, Antiquarian Books: An Insider’s Account delves into the history of collecting rare books. 

Understanding Book Collecting by Grant Uden

Understanding Book Collecting was published by Antique Collectors Club Ltd on June 1, 1984. It contains technical aspects of bookmaking, information on first editions, explanations of conditions, and a glossary. This is a beautifully bound book that focuses on the British Antiquarian Market. 

How to Buy Rare Books: A Practical Guide to the Antiquarian Book Market (Christie’s Collectors Guides) 

How to Buy Rare Books was published on December 1, 1985, by Seven Hills Books. This Christie’s Collectors Guide explains how to start a book collection, describes the qualities which make antique books valuable, and discusses book printing, binding, and storage. Since this book was published in the 1980s, there is no relevant information about buying books online—an excellent vintage coffee table book. 


Books on Collecting in the Digital Age

Rare Finds: A Guide to Book Collecting by David and Natalie Bauman 

Rare Finds was initially published in 2007 by Bauman Rare Books, a preeminent rare book company started by Nathalie and David Bauman in 1973. This book is designed to be an easy-to-use guide for any want-to-be book collector, with basic information, a glossary, and frequently asked questions. 

Book Collecting Now: The Value of Print in a Digital Age by Matthew Budman

Published by Chatwin Books in 2019, Book Collecting Now is a newer guide focused on novice collectors that introduces book collecting and has relevant information for modern buyers. 

Budman also published a guide, Instant Expert: Collecting Books, in 2004 by House of Collectibles, which focuses on the financial components of book collecting. 

Book Finds: How to Find, Buy and Sell Used and Rare Books by Ian C Ellis

The third edition of Books Finds by Ian C. Ellis was released by Perigree in 2006. Although outdated, it still contains relevant information on book grading, first editions, readers’ copies, avoiding common mistakes, and professional book scouts’ secrets on getting books at a bargain. The focus is on the business of bookselling rather than a passion for collecting books, mainly in the modern American market.

Modern Book Collecting by Robert A. Wilson

The First edition of Modern Book Collecting was published by Knopf in 1980. The latest edition was published by Simon & Schuster in 2015. An in-depth look at collecting, this guide has a dictionary of book collecting terms, a key to identifying first editions, a directory of auction houses and rare book dealers, and more. 

The Care of Fine Books by Jane Greenfield 

The Care of Fine Books by Jane Greenfield, a Conservator at the Yale University Library, is a guide on how to care for books of value. This information is relevant no matter your means of purchasing books. 


That’s a hefty list of physical books to use as resources, but don’t overlook our online guides to get you going with your own collection:

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