Shhh…Quiet in the Library

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.

Getting Started

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 (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].

-Poseidon’s Muse

5 responses to “Shhh…Quiet in the Library

  1. Great post. My only concern is that directing people interested into collecting books to ABE to learn about book terminology might do more harm than good. There is not any barrier of entry to who can list their books there and it can actually be quite confusing for someone with little book experience to make any sense of it.

    If you would like to learn about the terminology, whether you want to buy a book or not, I would highly recommend a site like Here you will find catalog descriptions from people with years of experience in the trade. There are also links to other resources that might be of help.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that we all make mistakes when we first start out collecting. Unavoidable and necessary for what we learn from them.

  2. poseidonsmuse

    Michael – Thank you for your input. You brought up some very good points here and addressed some of the finer points of book buying. I would have to agree with you on your comment regarding Abebooks. I have made my fair share of mistakes when buying books from sites such as these (and you are right – these places can be confusing at best for the beginning book collector). As for the site – excellent recommendation. Bibliophiles rule!


  3. I’ve found the most amazing books in the stacks of antique stores. I have an 1850 Home Companion book that had lots of odds and ends stuck in the pages – Victorian ear valentine, newspaper clippings, postcards, etc. It’s one of my very favorites. I also like to collect old Home Ec textbooks and old medical pathology textbooks. It’s so much fun to find a really great old book. I also had a “doorstep experience” when I took a box of discards from my neighbor and found lots of treasures.

    I guess I’m not a collector, per se, but I love to peruse books. Spending the day in a bookstore is my idea of a good time (cheap date!).

  4. poseidonsmuse

    Observant – I knew it – you’re a “bookie” too! I would have to agree with you on the antique store comment too! There is a local antique store with many “gems” in my area (and I always have to take a gander at the spines when I visit!). Wow! Sounds like you found a treasure trove of goodies within the pages of one of these books too (timeless and classic!). Vintage rules! I also agree with you on the old med path books too (some eerie pics in some of those texts). I have a very neat copy of a 1930’s laboratory (biology) study guide – quite unique. I’ll keep you posted on any of my new discoveries.

  5. Hey, I missed this post – perhaps it was before I discovered you here in the used to be vines?? I collect books too since I come from a whole family of librarians (father, mother and sister all) and now I’ll have to read back further and “meet” the librarian.

    When my folks died I inherited ALL the books so whenever I don’t have something to read – I always have something to read.


    Lol! Actually, I think I wrote this post rather early on (when I started blogging on my original blog)…But, really, it [the post] was probably lurking and shrouded in the vines of my last site (lol!). Wow! So you come from a long line of Librarians Ruby?! That really is quite an incredible lineage to be proud of. Plus, the fact that you inherited a library from your librarian folks is rather remarkable (even if the inheritance was rather bittersweet, given the loss of your parents…sorry to hear about them too…). Anyway, I’m sure that you never have a shortage of interesting books to read. There is nothing quite like a great read on a cold fall or winter evening (fireplace lit…house cozy and warm…cat/dog curled up by your feet/lap…)….Love you too Ruby…xoxo

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