Now that you’ve been introduced to “The Librarian”, he has requested that I spend a little bit of time discussing the finer points of book collecting. He’s in a great mood this morning too, by the way, so we need to appease his fickle green heart before his mood changes [tiptoe carefully around the study….]. Did I mention that he uses the “vine-whip attack” tactic when he’s aggressive. Let’s avoid that situation, shall we, and get to the heart of the matter….?!
First of all – Why Collect Books?
I’d like to say that if you need to ask this question, you really shouldn’t continue reading on – but all of us Bibliophiles were “book newbies” once, so the importance of the almighty “tome” should be reiterated for the benefit of the uninitiated. Simply put, books are very valuable trading and investing commodities (see here for an example!). “Even now, in a digital age?” you might ask yourself. Yes, books are even more important now than ever in an age of PDF and other electronic files. Books are old-fashioned (yay!), I agree, but they make great gifts and they are more tangible and classic than their shinier CD counterparts. I could go on about the pros and cons of electronic vs. traditional book formats, but I can refer you to this site for a list of opinions. Regardless, I feel as though there are no real answers to this debate. I imagine that some subjects might be more appropriate for electronic format than others. For example, I might want an electronic copy of a 2000 page reference manual or peer-reviewed journal, but I would certainly not want to snuggle up to a warm fireplace and quote poetry (for my sweetie) from a PDA screen. Ugh. Now, for me, that’s a very un-romantic thought.
First of all, you need to start looking in the “right” places. Funny thing is – there really aren’t any “right” places (technically). Believe it or not, amazing finds have been noted to turn up in the strangest of places – yard sales, used book stores (a given), thrift store shops, attics, basements, libraries (on the “used-for-sale” cart) just to mention a few. Just keep your eyes open. Many of my favourite gems have just serendipitously landed in front of my feet (literally) as I cruised the odd bookshelf or table. Now, I tend to be more of a literary connoisseur. I find myself lurking around at Abebooks or AdAll.com (I should seriously start requesting commissions for this shameless advertising) [The Librarian is nodding his head in agreement – recall that he needs a raise in salary!]. My searches are more specific and refined and I certainly take my time shopping for that perfect book.
Book Collecting Terminology
Fortunately, I did my homework before I started collecting books a few years back. Plus, I was gifted with a bibliophile parent and learned such terms as “first edition” and “foxing” early on [ie. the age of 6]. My advice is this – when reading through the descriptions on Abebooks or whatever “used/rare books” site you frequent, read the descriptions extremely carefully and be familiar with the language. You should also compare the quality of the book to the price across a range of vendors (individual dealers). Also remember that although a book might “seem” cheap at first, that $15 shipping fee from the UK might make the difference (sometimes, it’s worth it, depending on the book).
The Paper Tiger is a great site to help you get started. I won’t bore you with a rundown of the definitions here.
Care of Your New Friends
Many books do not sip from the fountain of youth, so they tend to age rapidly given the proper conditions of neglect (ie. sunny spots, damp basements, curious pets and toddlers). Thus, it is quite important to care for your investments properly. Some of my most valued copies are actually housed in an enclosed bookcase away from sun (which, in addition to a dire lack of space, seems to be enemy #1 at this point in time). Also, and this is not always obvious, but I do not write anything in my books (and that includes my new hardcovers since it decreases their value). The only time an inscription increases the value of a book (there are probably exceptions) is if it [the book] is bequethed and inscripted by an author or other significant individual (possibly to another famous person).
Well, I hope I didn’t bore you too much. The Librarian is content with my mini-treatise (thank goodness) so I’m sure that he’ll spare me from his painful “vine-whip attack” for now [grin].