THE PASSION FOR BOOKS
By Ray Boas, Bookseller
I opened my first bookshop in Haddonfield, New Jersey in 1990. In the Fall of 1991 I began publishing a newsletter - BOOK NOTES - in which I included articles on book collecting. I then developed it into a seminar that I gave in my shop, and lectures that I gave to historical societies, collector's clubs, and other organizations. My notes are extensive, as is the assortment of examples I would take to the lectures. But I had never written the high points of the seminar down as one article. From my files of notes I finally did write the seminar into a condensed article which I am happy to present here. And, I will be posting a segement a week for 6 weeks beginning Monday, August 28, 2006. So stop back for the segments until complete, and also for the illustrations that I will be adding. And, finally, if your club, organization, historical society, or group nearby to us in Walpole, New Hampshire, would like THE PASSION FOR BOOKS as a program for your meeting, please get in touch with me. Thank you, yours, RAY
September 11th, scroll down for part threee.
THE PASSION FOR BOOKS
Introduction - Becoming a Collector
By Ray Boas
Books are special things that we develop a relationship with. In fact, we develop relationships with most items that we collect. There is no right or wrong way to go about book collecting, thus collecting books is one of the few remaining ways to express your individualism.
I would like to suggest that everyone is in some way a collector of books, but may not even be aware of it. Most people have assembled a collection of books to support a vocation or hobby. For example, an engineer or architect will have a reference library to support his or her work; the cook will have a selection of cookbooks focusing on a particular area of cooking; and the collector or hobbyist will have books to provide background and helpful information about that hobby or collection. As a deltiologist (collector of postcards) I have assembled my own collection of over 60 books on postcard collecting, or of postcard collections. For years I sold books to scripophilists - collectors of antique stocks and bonds. Their hobby was the collecting of the certificates themselves, but to learn the history of the companies and industries they collected, and the lives of the robber barons who signed the certificates, they would purchase books to build their library of business history. A focused book collection was thus formed, and the information and stories in those books enhanced and brought life to their collection of antique stock certificates
You become a collector, instead of an accumulator, when the focus of what you are acquiring becomes specific. What I call the life cycle of collecting then begins. First the collector must have everything that fits within the broad area of interest. As the collector sees what is available and learns more about the subject, he becomes more selective in the focus, and learning what is a common item, becomes more selective in both quality and condition. An upgrading process of the collection begins. Quantity and generality are replaced with uniqueness and quality. It is this process of refinement in narrowing the focus that gives the collection a unique interest and life of its own. Eventually the true collector finds and adds to the collection (regardless of cost) the item he or she has never seen before. And in the end, a collection that has been nurtured over time is broken up and dispersed. The items from the collection begin anew in the cycle of building someone elses collection, possibly even with a new focus as many items are "cross-over collectibles" and can fit in many categories.
Collectors are motivated in many ways. The motivation may be an emotional passion -- one collects what they love. There may be an intrinsic appeal of the object itself, or its associative interest (e.g. a baseball fan collects baseball cards). Some people collect with the hopes of profit gain, but this should never be the reason to build a collection. A collector has control over his collection and can decorate with the collection and arrange and rearrange again and again. The act or art of collecting becomes the process of discovery and the passion of the hunt. Fifteen years ago a woman came into my bookshop and asked for a beloved title she lost years ago. I showed her the book on the shelf. The price was but $5.00. She carefully handled the book, smiled with joy to see the book again, and handed it back to me. Surprised, I asked if she would like it, to which she replied, "I think I will wait until I find it at a garage sale." It was the hunt, the discovery, which motivated her. The mark of a true collector. Remember hunt for, discover and collect what brings you pleasure.
As we continue this series we will focus on becoming a book collector; what and how to collect (and what to avoid); what makes a book rare or collectible; evaluation of condition; some book terminology; and, much more.
THE PASSION FOR BOOKS
By Ray Boas
What to Collect
Books have been around for a long time. One of the earliest forms of writing was on clay tablets called cuneiforms. An archive containing some 25,000 cuneiform tablets dating from c2000-1750 BC was found in 1933 in the ancient city of Mari on the west bank of the Euphrates. These tablets of Biblical scholarship formed a very early book collection. The Chinese were making books from wood blocks as early as 450 BC. Prior to the development of the printing press, scribes labored duplicating manuscripts by hand often with extensive and intricate illumination of the letters. Gutenbergs Printing Press with movable type revolutionized the production of books in 1450, and by 1485 printing presses were to be found all over Europe. As with the hand illuminated manuscripts, early printing was mainly of religious works, which remained to be the most commonly produced subject matter through the nineteenth century. The hand setting of type in the production of books advanced in the nineteenth century with stereotyping - a cast was made of the type set pages to facilitate the printing process. Eventually this was replaced by the linotype machine, photo typesetting, and now the computer. Each of these changes has affected the production of the book, and what the end product looks like.
A knowledge of the development of the book is helpful as you begin your book collection. Knowing some basic terms and nomenclature of the book itself is essential. For example, the size of a book is described with terms relating to the size of the printed sheet of paper and the number of times it is folded to form a signature in the book. The early papers were made by hand, and the largest sheet would be what the papermaker could conveniently hold (19 inches by 25 inches) with his hands outstretched as the newly laid paper was removed from the baths. Many signatures are then bound into the book block which can then be case bound in hard covers, or wrapped in soft covers. If the book block is not trimmed by the binder (as was often done in the 19th and early 20th centuries for decoration) rough edges remained, and there were unopened pages that the reader would have to carefully open with a straight edge.
Your collection of books will depend upon your interests, and you can build a collection around any theme. Cookbooks and mysteries are two of the best selling genres of new books today. If you are a mystery lover, you probably have a favorite author and want to read and collect all that author has written. Thus, a collection can be based upon an authors works. If an author becomes popular, more copies of the first edition of subsequent works will be printed for the reading public. As the author catches on the earlier works will be reprinted for the consuming public, but the true collector will desire the first edition, the first appearance of the book. As more collectors begin to search for the first editions of an authors early works the laws of supply and demand drive prices up. Condition is an overriding factor, and the collector wants a book that appears to have never been read. The books dust jacket must be perfect, and often can add two to ten times more than the value of the same title that lacks a dust jacket. Often to maintain a book in unread condition in your collection you will want to have a second "reading copy." I was fortunate to buy a first edition of John Dunnings BOOKED TO DIE in a new bookshop when it was first published. I put it away unread because I had previously read a friends copy; and, as a result, my copy could now fetch $500 or more. But you have to be careful collecting books by a particular author because that author in time may no longer be collected. The fiction and literature of many early 20th century authors that commanded good prices 40 years ago, today go lacking for any buyers. There are fads with books, as with any collectible. Each generation has its own interests based upon what it grew up with and was exposed to, so again -- collect what brings you pleasure.
Americana has always been a popular collecting field with a sub-field Western Americana being a perennial good seller. Many people collect books about their hometown and surrounding areas. Genealogists become book collectors in search of information about their family and where they lived. Books about your hobby or profession easily form a focused collection.
Besides building a collection around a particular author, collections are formed around a favorite illustrator either from the past such as Harrison Fisher or Howard Chandler Christy, or a more contemporary illustrator such as Maurice Sendak or Marguerite de Angeli. Some libraries are created based upon the aesthetics of the bindings, either fine leather bindings or decorated cloth bindings (books that have wonderful images stamped/printed on the cloth). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries prior to the common usage of dust jackets, elaborate illustrations would be created for the spine and cover of a book to enhance its beauty, and its appeal to the potential book buyer. Some artists, such as Margaret Armstrong, are collected for their cover art. In her case, her work was identified by a MA worked cleverly into the design. I have had customers eagerly searching for her works, and one collector once she had assembled all the cover art done by Margaret Armstrong sold her collection. The fun of the hunt was over, it was time to move onto something else.
The list of possibilities is endless. If you collect a particular author of fiction or literature, your collection falls within the field of Modern Firsts (literature published since 1900),. Illustrated and private press books are closely aligned fields. Childrens books can be fun, and bring back fond memories of ones own childhood. Again your childrens book collection can be based upon an author, illustrator, or subject like Fire Engines or Bears. A interesting childrens subject is ABC books - in which the illustrations depict associated items through the alphabet from A to Z. As one gets into ABCs you will find that there are many targeted for adults including some that can be risqué. Those titles can crossover to another collectible area - Erotica - which is tastefully done. Many people eagerly hunt for sporting books (pun intended), and collections are even developed based upon "books about books." I even have my own collection of books about collecting. The possibilities for collecting books are truly endless.
Now that you have narrowed in on an area of books to collect I will discuss the ways to build your collection in the next segment of this series.
THE PASSION FOR BOOKS
By Ray Boas
How to Collect
Books are everywhere !!! But now that you know what books you want to collect, how do you find them? Bookselling is one of the oldest professions, and until the advent of the personal computer the avenues for finding books remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Books would be found in book shops, through dealers catalogues, at auctions, estate sales, and the like.
As you specialize, you will want to find the book dealers who specialize in your area of interest. They can be found in the directories of book dealer associations in the various states, or a national association such as the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA -- www.abaa.org). You will want to visit the shops, or receive the specialty catalogues featuring those books in your area of interest. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, however, that surpasses the joy and satisfaction of browsing books in a shop. The more books you browse through in more shops, the more you see what is available in your field, and what appears to be common because you see it again and again. Learn from this, so when you spot an item you have not seen before, pull it from the shelf and learn from it. When examining a book I have not seen before, I usually start with the bibliography and list of notes and sources. I learn two things from this review: 1) if the book is scholarly and well researched, and 2) the bibliography and annotations provide an excellent list of other books to search for. And, if I have not seen it before, I usually buy it.
As you travel around the country, check the yellow pages for out-of-print or used bookshops. Each out-of-print or antiquarian book shop that you visit will have its own personality, reflecting the personality of its owner. Some people enjoy a neat and orderly shop where they can immediately find their area of interest, but others enjoy a shop that is in disarray with piles of books scattered everywhere which they feel adds to the thrill of discovery. I have always had a neat and orderly shop, but sometimes have had piles of books scattered about that were recently purchased, and yes, that is where some eager customers immediately gravitated hoping to find that new treasure. Remember it is the hunt that adds to the thrill of building your collection, finding something that no one else has yet seen. Do not forget to also browse the shelves of new book stores. Titles are published in vast numbers today, and with limited space in a new book store, a title may go out-of-print in six months and no longer be readily available.
A great deal can also be learned from dealers catalogues and auction catalogues. Auction catalogues usually feature books on specific subjects, and often those that were collected over decades by one collector (remember the life cycle of collecting). It is interesting to see what that individual has collected, and how he or she has put the collection together. The specialty dealers catalogue presents books in specific subjects under its covers. Each book will be described, not only bibliographically, but as to its importance to the subject, and to the reader. An additional resource for learning about books in your area of interest is to locate hobby or professional groups for that specialty. For example, if you would like to develop your collection of Sherlockiana (the collecting of Sherlock Holmes) contact, or join one of the many clubs or associations devoted to the study of Arthur Conan Doyle or Sherlock Holmes to obtain their recommendations for resource material.
Finally, in the last ten years, the vast resources of the internet have changed the way you can build your book collection. This has been both good and bad. Collectors in the early days of the internet were able to find those hard to find items that had been eluding them. But in time, everyone found those elusive items, more items appeared in the marketplace, and the forces of supply and demand have driven down values for many books as well as for many other collectibles. Items that at one time were thought to be scarce are now almost commonplace. The internet has become a wonderful place for collection development, and I developed my website (www.rayboasbookseller.com) in early 1996 presenting our books in subject catalogue format so the collector could focus right in on books of interest. But with the proliferation of "booksellers" on the internet, due to the ease of entry into the marketplace for those sellers, the collector has to be careful to learn what to look for in accurate descriptions of both condition and content. As the internet grows, it remains a best bet to work with experienced seasoned booksellers (such as members of the ABAA) for your collection development. But remember, nothing still beats the fun and joy from browsing through an old book shop.
THE PASSION FOR BOOKS
By Ray Boas
What Makes a Book Rare or Collectible
I answer the phone in the shop. The voice on the other end begins, "I have this old book, the covers are off, but it is 100 years old, so it must be valuable. Can you tell me what it is worth?" I hear this question many times a week. When I'm offered books to buy, the seller is often apologetic that his books are not that old. I hasten to add that the books need not be old for me to be interested, or to have value. This article will give some idea as to the criteria for value in books. Despite what common sense would seem to dictate, age is the last thing to be considered in determining the value of a book. Except for incunabula (printed before 1501), which is a whole field of collecting in itself, if a book does not have value or interest for one of the following criteria, it will not be valuable due to its age.
The subject matter, or content, of books is the most important criterion for judging value. Books are subject to the same laws of supply and demand as any other durable good or service. If there is only one copy of a book, but no one is interested in purchasing it, then it will have no value. However, if there is only one copy of a book and two or more people want it, then the price will rise to whatever the market will bear. A bookseller friend once found and consigned to auction a very scarce early Western American pocket map booklet. Bidding was fierce and the item was "hammered down" at well over $30,000. A few years later another copy surfaced, and again was up for auction. This time it only brought a small fraction of the previous record. Common sense would say that there would have been an increase in value, but it was learned that the under bidder on the first copy had died, and there was no longer the same interest and competition between bidders to add the piece to a focused collection.
The edition of a book also affects the price. As a general rule, book collectors will want only first or limited editions. Someone wanting a book to read, or a title that provides information in support of another hobby or interest may not care about the edition, and may even prefer a less expensive later or reprint edition. For years, THE PENNSYLVANIA-GERMAN DECORATED CHEST by Monroe H. Fabian, published in 1978, commanded a price of $400 or more. Collectors of that furniture needed that book. This title was reprinted in 2004 by another publisher for $49.95 and today still remains in-print. As a result, the first edition is now difficult to sell for even $100. The collector needs the information, and the reprint is more than adequate. Some advanced collectors still want the first edition also, but no longer have to pay the price the book brought three years ago. In some instances, a subsequent edition may have updated information, and may be the preferred edition to the reader or collector. First editions do not have value just because they are a first edition. This is an important point to remember. There is a first edition of every book, only the better books go into additional printings.
An old joke in the antiquarian book world says that there are three determinants of value: condition, condition and condition. Humor aside, it is true. The condition of a book is as critical to the value as any other factor. A book worth $50 in fine condition may be worth nothing if it is frayed soiled or broken. Age, even of 200 or more years, is not an excuse for poor condition. I have recycled poor or incomplete 200 year old books, and paid hundreds to thousands of dollars for 20 to 30 year old books. Associated with condition is the completeness of a book. All of the original parts issued with the book must be present including: dust jacket, slipcase, endpapers, half-titles, advertisements, maps, frontispiece and illustrations. Personal signatures or inscriptions do not add or necessarily detract from the value of a book. If the book is signed by a famous person, or collectable author a premium can be applied. The term "association item" is applied to a book which is verifiably associated with another famous person. For example, William Faulkner may have inscribed a book to F. Scott Fitzgerald, or a book may contain the bookplate of a famous collector . Got it all straight? Evaluating books is obviously an art and not a science. Proficiency in valuation is gained from continually looking at thousands and thousands of books. Rarity is a relative term, and something rare you may only see once in your lifetime. Just remember condition, content, completeness, and forget age as a determinant of value.
THE PASSION FOR BOOKS
By Ray Boas
Evaluation of Condition
In 1948, THE ANTIQUARIAN BOOKMAN began as a separate publication having previously been a feature in PUBLISHERS WEEKLY. In 1967 the title was changed to AB Bookmans Weekly. AB was the trade publication used by antiquarian booksellers to locate rare, out-of-print and scarce titles. It featured articles on dealers, news of sales and book fairs and special topical issues. Most book dealers subscribed to AB, and I proudly "cut my teeth" with AB, when I began subscribing in 1980. Sadly, another victim of the internet, the last issue was published in December 1999.
In 1949 the magazine first proposed a set of terms that could serve as a standard in catalogue and mail-order transactions for books, and in describing books for sale in the magazine. The list was published again in the 1975 edition of ABC of the Book Trade by Sol. M. Malkin. The criteria for each category have become the industry standard:
As New is to be used only when the book is in the same immaculate condition in which it was published. There can be no defects, no missing pages, no library stamps, etc., and the dust jacket (if it was issued with one) must be perfect without any tears.
Fine approaches the condition of As New, but without being crisp. For the use of the term Fine there must also be no defects, etc., and if the jacket has a small tear, or other defect, or looks worn, those should be noted.
Very Good can describe a used book that does show some small signs of wear - but no tears - on either binding or paper. Any defects must be noted
Good describes the average used and worn book that has all pages or leaves present. Any defects must be noted.
Fair is a worn book that has complete text pages (including those with maps or plates) but may lack endpapers, half-title, etc. Binding, jacket (if any), etc., may also be worn. All defects must be noted.
Poor describes a book that is sufficiently worn that its only merit is as a Reading Copy because it does have the complete text, which must be legible. Any missing maps or plates should still be noted. This copy may be soiled, scuffed, stained or spotted and may have loose joints, hinges, pages, etc.
Ex-library copies must always be noted as such no matter what the condition of the book.
Book Club editions must always be noted as such no matter what the condition of the book.
Binding Copy describes a book in which the pages or leaves are perfect but the binding is very bad, loose, off, or nonexistent.
The more faults a book may have, the less a dealer will want to shelve or catalogue the book, and the less you will want to own it in your collection (unless it is a particularly scarce title). Again, age is no excuse for condition, and if you see a book described as "good for its age" be wary of making a purchase. As with any collectible, it is always best to purchase the best copy of the book you can for your collection.
THE PASSION FOR BOOKS
By Ray Boas
The Care of Books - Conclusion
As you develop your book collection, you will want to protect your treasures to enjoy and for future generations to enjoy. Books like to live in the same environment that we do. The proper conditions for preserving books are 65 degrees (+/- 5 degrees) and about 50% relative humidity. Do not shelve or store your books under the attic eaves with wide temperature variations, or in potentially damp basements. Dust and moisture are the biggest enemies of books. If you allow dust to accumulate on the top of the book blocks, the dust can then attract organisms and moisture that can cause damage to the books. Ever notice the gilding on the top of a book block? This is not only decorative, but utilitarian to protect the book from dust and moisture getting into the book block. To properly remove this dust, hold the book block firmly, and with a soft cloth push away for the spine. Another enemy of books is direct sunlight which can fade dust jackets and cloth covers.
The proper shelving and handling contributes to the longer life of a book. Books should be shelved close enough to support each other, but never "jammed" into tight quarters. It is imperative that your shelves be full and tight with only enough free space for a finger to fit between all the books. Use bookends to support the weight of the books if not a full shelf. This will prevent any books to flop or tilt over thus causing a book block to twist or cant. Paper and book bindings have a memory, and once the book block is twisted or canted there is no way to correct it.
If you purchase a book with newspaper clippings or related ephemera in it, remove it. Likewise, resist placing your own clippings or artifacts in a book. To do so will put pressure on the binding and weaken it. The acidic nature of newsprint can offset onto the pages and yellow them. Do not make marks in your books which will impact on the value, and watch what you use for a bookmark to also avoid damage. I have found some wonderful bookmarks in books including Stevengraphs, and early paper collectibles that were meant to serve as book markers. I have also found as book markers many items not designed for that purpose. The most unique book marker I have found was an old slice of baloney. It need not be said that this book was not saleable. Books with poor or broken bindings should not be repaired with tape or other such home remedies. It is best to consult with a bookseller or bookbinder to learn what can be done for a proper repair. In taking care of your growing book collection the best advice is to follow common sense.
With this brief introduction you are ready to build your book collection. There are many excellent references on book collecting that you may wish to read such as: ABC FOR BOOK COLLECTORS by John Carter; A PRIMER OF BOOK COLLECTING by John T. Winterich; and, BOOK COLLECTING: A MODERN GUIDE edited by Jean Peters. And, for a "fun read" I recommend BIBLIOHOLISM: THE LITERARY TRADITION by Tom Raabe. All of these great titles are available on Amazon.com. The rest is up to you, pick your topic, narrow your search, and off you go. Happy hunting!!!