Starting off a book collection.
A question often asked is “Where do I begin with book collecting?” There is no straightforward answer but firstly you have to love what you collect! Starting off a book collection begins with finding an area of interest and keeping focused – it is very easy to get distracted with tempting book offers and chasing elusive editions! Honing down the topic can simplify the process and reduces the draw to go “off piste”.
There are many routes to establishing a fine book collection – here are a few paths that collectors often get started with:
“Author” Collector: These collectors focus on building up a wide number of works from a specific author, perhaps only first editions. Over time the joy can be in acquiring better quality versions of the books. Alternatively the collection can extend to reprints, foreign translations, special editions and magazine appearances of the author. The “Author” could also be an illustrator, for example, collecting all the illustrated books by Arthur Rackham.
“List” Collector: Using an established and well-known literary list, like the winners of the Man Brooker Prize,ng. Or perhaps all the James Bond films? This collection is typically the first editions of these works and can include reprints or other important editions of the authors.
“Niche” collection: Choosing an an obscure but interesting topic makes for a special collection. Topics can be wide ranging and assembling these editions will truly reflect the personality and interest of the collector. The advantage of this type of collector is that there is often less competition for the books – how many people will be seeking books on say the subject of African Insects?
“Artistic” collection: These collectors will focus on books that have an ascetic appeal. They could be illustrated editions, finely bound or have dust jackets of particular artists. Often this type of collection can be a starting point and can extend to building up a wide range of artifacts. For example, collecting illustrations of work of Pauline Baynes (best known for her Narnia series) may extend to her other images in magazine covers, dust jackets, maps and posters. These types of collections will often have the added value of looking attractive so represent art in themselves.
Of course it is rare to find a pure collector of just one of the above, as more often they’ll be made up of a little of all the types. (That tendency to go off piste is very alluring!) Whatever is collected the mantra of all book collectors is “Condition, condition, condition” and establishing a set of fine editions can take some time, not to mention money! It is better to have smaller set of fine quality books than a larger number of poorer quality books. Researching your topic is advisable using the wealth of information on the web and in books. Bibliographies of chosen authors can be essential in extending knowledge. Book dealers can be of a real help too – and making use of the established organisations that promote trustworthy and reliable book sellers is invaluable – as is attending reputable book fairs.
So where is best to buy from? The easiest option is to visit your local antiquarian bookshop and spend pleasurable minutes or even hours studying many an old book. Bargains can best be found on websites like Ebay but beware potentially less than scrupulous sellers. They may not be accredited by associations such as the ABA, the PBFA or the IOBA and, whilst this is by no means always the case, subsequently may describe books poorly or even dishonestly. They may place fascimile dustjackets on books without telling the buyer or massively inflate prices with high ‘Buy it now’ price tags to give the impression the book is worth considerably more than the market rate. Ebay have tightened their rules and process more recently with the buyer’s best interests in mind, so if you’re unhappy with a book, you can now request a return and, as long as the description was dishonest, Ebay will force the seller to refund in full.
Bargains can, of course, be picked up at car boot sales but if you are focused on a specific subject, it can appear like looking for a needle in a haystack! Sometimes a bookshop might have a good deal on book held in stock so it is always worth a look. Similarly traditional antique auction houses can now invariably be viewed online, thus opening literally the whole world to an auction which would previously have only operated on a local level. This is a double-edged sword of course as it can push the price up but good prices are often achieved too.
Then there’s the internet and online offerings, which have transformed the way we buy rare and antique books like never before. Many traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ bookshops have now added website to their means of selling, so finding that special book you’ve always wanted can be done quickly and easily. It is best to buy from online book dealers who are accredited for the reasons mentioned above and always check their returns policy, so you don’t get caught with something you wished you hadn’t bought. Generally, a quick Google search for a specific book title or author will then display numerous specialist booksellers holding exactly what you are looking for.
To go back to the original question, if you are asking yourself “where to begin building up a book collection” you probably already have a vague idea of what you might be interested in and just need to go ahead and enjoy!