Guide to book collecting

When considering book collecting as a hobby, taking the time to learn why to collect, what to look for, where to find books and how to care for them is worth the effort.

There are those who have a collection of books that have accumulated due to necessity and reading interests. Then there are those who purposely collect books for the pure love of books. They are known as book collectors, bibliophiles and, in extreme cases, bibliomaniacs.

The book collector collects books that are of interest. Perhaps he collects the works of a favorite author or a topic of interest. He is not necessarily interested in which edition or printing the book is or even if the book is in hardback or paperback. He simply will buy books that please him. An attractive modern edition of Whitman's poems or a history book on WWII found on the sale shelves at a local book store may attract his attention and he will buy it, take it home, perhaps read it, and then add it to his collection.

Then there is the bibliophile, the book lover who collects books much more precisely. He is concerned with edition and printing in addition to the author or subject matter. He will spend much more time tracking down a specific book than the casual collector would. He would not be content with a modern inexpensive edition of Whitman's poems. He would want a collectable edition, perhaps even a first edition if he could afford it. He may also collect books as an investment.

The bibliomaniac takes the hobby of book collecting to the extreme. He has an extreme urge to possess books, the rarer the better. He will spend an unusual amount of time hunting down books and an unusual amount of money in the pursuit of possession. Bibliomania is actually mentioned in some medical encyclopedias as a disease. It has been dubbed "the gentle madness."

If you are interested in book collecting as a hobby or as an investment consider the following:

Why collect books?

Book collectors see value in a book that book readers do not. There are many prolific readers who have no affection for a book beyond the story or information it contains. If you have an interest in books beyond their content, then book collecting may be for you. If you get excited by the beauty of a special edition, if you find value in finding a first edition of a book you love, if you protect your books from damage out of respect, then you have the makings of a book collector. Learning more about this hobby may be of interest to you.

Beyond collecting books simply for the love of books, you may also want to collect books as an investment. Many books, particularly early and special editions, appreciate in value. It's not an exact science, and no book is financially worth more than what you can actually get someone to pay for it, but with a little education and research you can build a collection of books that will rise in value.

What to look for in a collectable books.

First of all, look for books that you love. Collect books that you would want to read. Some collectors actually read their books, but it is not a requirement of the hobby. However, if you collect books that are of interest to you, your collection will have value to you even if you are not collecting for investment purposes.

Although there are many factors that make books valuable to collectors, probably the most important factors are edition, printing and condition. The information about edition and printing of a book can be found on the copyright page. The book will usually say first edition, second edition, etc. First editions are usually the most valued.

Along with edition, the printing is also a consideration. A first printing of a first edition is generally the most valuable. With the exception of extremely popular authors, the first printings usually are small in number and are therefore rarer than subsequent printings. Different publishers have different ways of identifying printings. There are published guides available that help collectors identify printings. However, the most common method used modernly to identify printing is the number line. Somewhere on the copyright page there will be a number line. The lowest number, no matter what order the numbers appear in, will be the printing. Therefore if you have a number line that reads 765123, it is most likely a first printing of that particular edition.

Condition is also extremely important. If you have two of the same book that are identical in edition and printing, but one book is in fine condition and the other is in poor condition, the book that is in fine condition will be worth more. Some of the things that damage the condition of a book are writing within the pages, ripped, torn or folded pages, discoloration, odor (either musty or smoky), and bindings that are bent or coming apart.

In addition to the condition of the book, the condition of the dust jacket, if one exists, is also important. Ripped, price clipped (where the price has been cut off from the corner of the jacket), or dirty dust jackets will lessen the value of a book. The presence of a dust jacket in good condition can greatly increase the value of a book.

These are only a few of the things to be considered when looking for a collectable book. For a more comprehensive discussion there are many fine books that have been written on book collecting that go into great detail on what to look for in collectable books. Two of the most trusted by those who collect books are ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter and Book Collecting, 2000 by Allen and Patricia Ahearn.

Where to find books.

Some collectors find the thrill of the hunt as pleasurable as the possession of the book. They spend countless hours searching for a particular book. Where do they search? The obvious place is book stores. Book stores that sell new books are useful for recently published books. If your favorite author is coming out with a new book, it is to your benefit to buy it as soon as it is published so you can acquire a 1st/1st (that's collector's speak for first edition, first printing). Used book stores are ideal for finding books that have been published in the past.

Online auctions are another source for collectable books. Be sure to ask many questions of the seller before you purchase to make sure the book you are getting is the edition, printing and condition you are seeking. Many auctions will say a book is a first edition, and it may really be so, but if it's a 57th printing, it's probably not a very valuable first edition.

Traditional auctions are also a great place to find books. They auction off single books and entire lots of books at a time.

Yard sales and library book sales are places where you can find some real gems. People who put books out at yard sales frequently do not know if they have any books of value. Library book sales not only sell books that a library is looking to get out of circulation, but frequently they sell books that have been donated by people in the community. It is in these books where some real finds can be uncovered. A word about used library books - the markings that libraries usually put in their books decrease the value of a book greatly.

How to care for your books.

Once you have started a collection, care needs to be taken to make sure the books stay in good condition. Keep the books out of extreme heat, cold or humidity. Do not store them in direct sunlight as the sun can fade the spines of books. Books should be stored upright on a shelf making sure that none of the books are tilting so the spines do not get damaged. However, be careful not to pack the books so tightly that damage occurs when removing them. Very large, heavy books should be stored flat. Good air circulation is needed to keep the books from becoming musty and moldy. Do not write in your books or place book plates in them.

Keep the dust jackets protected by buying Mylar covers for them. Do not clip the price off of the dust jacket. Never use your book as a coaster. And finally, do not lend out your collectable books if you want to keep them in collectable condition.

Now that you have a basic understanding of book collecting, perhaps you are ready to join the ranks of collectors all over the world. They are easy to spot. They are the ones who automatically turn to the copyright page of a book when they first pick it up.

© High Speed Ventures 2011