My daughter started collecting Alice in Wonderland a few years ago. Her budget is limited, but she has already collected nearly 200 unique copies, some hardcover, some soft cover, some cheap and some moderately expensive. Her love for Alice in Wonderland has expanded her collecting to other Lewis Carroll titles, but Alice is still her primary focus. She also collects Alice merchandise, games, movies, and items that parody the book. She even went so far as to have a family friend decorate the walls of her bedroom with characters from the book.
Bill Pettit’s 25 years of collecting Herman Melville’s Moby Dick parallels Captain Ahab’s pursuit of the great white whale. He now has more than 200 volumes, including illustrated versions, cheap paperbacks, foreign language editions, children’s versions, and leather-bound editions. Pettit blogs about his collection. Various newspapers, including the New York Times, have written about or featured photographs of his collection.₁ Parts of his collection have been on display at Arrowhead, Melville’s home, now a museum, near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. According to Pettit’s blog, his only regret is that he turned down a braille edition of Moby Dick because of the price.
My own desire is to collect Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I have only begun so I do not have many books yet, and none of them are rare or expensive. The apex of collecting Fahrenheit 451 is a signed limited edition bound in asbestos, pricey at $11,5000, but one which Captain Beatty and his firemen can’t burn. Another desirable copy is the Bal-Hi expurgated edition of the book prepared for high school students.₂ Apparently, the irony of expurgating Fahrenheit 451 was lost on the publisher, Ballantine Books.
The opportunities for collecting a single title are virtually endless. There are different bindings including hardcover, softcover, slipcased editions, library bindings, and leather-bound editions. There are anniversary, annotated, braille, comic books, firsts, foreign language, graphic, illustrated, large print, limited, and pirated editions. Highly sought after are signed, inscribed, and presentation copies. There are quality printings by Easton Press, Franklin, Heritage, and the Limited Editions Club. Other well-known editions include Armed Services, Everyman, Modern Library, Norton Critical Editions, Quality Paperback Book Club, and Penguin Classics. And this is only a partial list.
Some readers might be skeptical about collecting various editions of a single title. Why do it? One might ask why collect First Editions of famous writers? For that matter, why collect the autographs of baseball players? Why collect anything? Collecting one title needs no more justification than collecting anything else.
Collecting unique editions of one book, however, does give the collector a different outlook on books. Most collections of books are wide but somewhat shallow. Collecting one title is narrow but deep. It provides the collector with an opportunity to see the entire history of a book’s printing, the fickleness of critical and popular opinion, the way different illustrators interpret a book and its characters, and the way the illustrations and printings may represent the values of different time periods.
If your favorite book is a recent one, your opportunities for collecting are limited. But if it is an old classic, a lifetime of pursuit and pleasure awaits you.