The Essentials of Book Collecting

An Essay in Parts

by Robert F. Lucas

Part   1 - Introduction
Part   2 - Importance of priority relative to book collecting
Part   3 - Jargon - Reading a catalog description
Part   4 - Jargon - Condition and its importance
Part   5 - Bibliographies and other useful references
Part   6 - Rarity & scarcity and supply & demand
Part   7 - Ephemera - what is it and is it part of book collecting
Part   8 - Understanding book values & pricing
Part   9 - Some physical aspects of the book - bindings & paper
Part 10 - Book illustrations - variety of & illustrators
Part 11 - Investing in Antiquarian Books

Part 3 - Jargon - Reading a catalog description

In this part we will look at a few actual bookseller catalog entries and "walk" through the descriptions with you, explaining the terminology. Reading and interpreting an antiquarian book catalog is just as easy as reading anything else once you understand the specific jargon. We will provide a link to each bookseller whose catalog entry is used so that you may visit their site and see other similar entries by the same bookseller. Near the end of this part we will include a brief glossary to the most commonly used terms used to describe antiquarian books.

First we should define a term we have been using - antiquarian book!

An antiquarian book should refer to an old and "rare" book, preferably 100 years old or more, similar to an antique, BUT with common useage the term has come to mean any book that is out-of-print, old, rare, scarce, common , used, remaindered - virtually any book that is not a new or in-print book.

Most antiquarian booksellers would probably prefer to believe that they do not buy and sell "used books" or otherwise common, out-of-print books (no longer available as new books), but with a few exceptions most of us have a stock that is far ranging and often includes some recently out-of-print volumes and other less than "rare" books.

The first book catalog entry we are providing is from Second Life Books, Inc. Second Life Books, Inc. Catalogue 115N An Antiquarian Miscellany:

[this catalog is no longer on line at Second Life Books. <ST>]
A leader of the "Hartford Wits," Dwight also served as a chaplain in the Revolutionary War. This was one of his most popular poems and includes a vivid description of the burning of Fairfield Connecticut by the British in 1779.
The item number (129) should be used to reference the book when ordering. Next the author (Dwight, Timothy) is listed followed by the title (Greenfield Hill:a poem in seven parts).

The next section is the "imprint" virtually always at the foot of the title page and it usually includes the city (NY) (of the publisher or sometimes the printer), the name of the publisher (Childs & Swaine), and the year of publication (1794). When the year listed is enclosed in parentheses that normally indicates that the year is missing from the imprint and the date given is the latest year of copyright or otherwise presumed year of the publication

This is the first edition and occurs as an octavo (8vo) size volume, approximately nine inches tall (see definition in glossary). The volume has 184 pages and when the page number occurs in parentheses it indicates that the final page (184) or sometimes all of the pages are not numbered.

The condition of the book is listed next - "Some foxed" means that there is at least occasional foxing (the rust-colored spots that occur on paper resulting from certain mold fungi); "removed from a bound volume" means that this book (or pamphlet) had been bound with other pamphlets in a single volume and that volume was "broken" and this item was removed, which also means that the item now exits without any binding. "A very good copy" gives the bookseller's impression of the overall condition of the book (later we will provide a whole section on condition - a very important aspect of book collecting).

"Evans 26925 and BAL 5048" refer to bibliographies or other references which list and describe the item, the numbers are the entry number in the reference. Evans is a thirteen volume set by Charles Evans which attempted to list and describe essentially everything printed in Colonial America prior to 1801. BAL is the Bibliography of American Literature compiled by Jacob Blanck and Michael Winship et al. (and others).

"Scarce" is an indication of the relative availability of the book as an opinion of the bookseller. The price ($145) is listed next, followed by annotations or notes to further describe the book and/or the author.

For the next entry we will skip over terms already covered and just discuss those which are "new". The following catalogue entry is from Ten Pound Island Book Company's Maritime List 109W:

[this catalog is no longer online at Ten Pound Island Book Company. <ST>]
There are black and white plates (b/w) (separately printed illustrations, often added to the text prior to binding) and the book occurs as a 2 volume set (2 vols.) There are 34 pages of preliminary matter (probably table of contents, preface and possibly introduction) which are numbered with roman numerals. The first volume has 494 pages, but page 494 is not numbered, hence it occurs in parentheses. The second volume contains pages 495-899.
Forster 128 refers to number 128 in Honore Forster's "The South Sea Whaler. An Annotated Bibliography" published by the Kendall Whaling Museum in Sharon, MA in 1985. A slipcase is a box usually made of paper-covered relatively thin cardboard (not the corrugated board found in "cardboard boxes") with one end open so that one or several volumes (in this case two volumes) can be slipped into the box for protection. Glassine wrappers are a transparent, usually only semi-transparent or opaque, cellophane-like paper protective cover similar to a paper dust jacket, but normally without any printing which is common on a dust jacket.

This next catalogue entry is from De Wolfe & Wood's catalogue 25 The Shakers and other American Communal Groups:

[this catalog is no longer online at De Wolfe & Wood's. <ST>]
23. [Catalog]. CATALOGUE AND PRICE LIST OF SHAKERS' CHAIRS. [n.p.]: Canaan Printing Co., [n.d.]. 16 pp. Very good in original yellow wraps. (R239) $525.00. A wonderful chair catalog with great illustrations. The first chair catalog we have had in a number of years.
The "n.p." in brackets refers to "no place of publication known" (no city listed in the imprint - if the city is known from a bibliographic entry or a printer's imprint elsewhere in the catalog, then the city would be given enclosed within parentheses). One also sees the use of n.p. without bracketts, without periods, and sometimes in upper case letters (NP). The "n.d.", as you have probably guessed, refers to "no date of publication known", this also occurs without brackets, sometimes without periods, and seldom in upper case letters. Occasionally in place of "n.d." one will find "circa 1930" (or any other year, which is presumed to be the approximate year of publication). Circa is sometimes abbreviated as "ca." or simply "c".

Yellow wraps defines this book as a pamphlet with yellow paper covers. Wraps is a commonly used abbreviation for the word "wrappers", which when used by itself does not refer to "dust wrappers" which is another term sometimes used for "dust jacket". When one sees "wraps" or "wrappers" the item is a pamphlet with paper covers, often of a different weight and color than the text pages.


Part   1 - Introduction
Part   2 - Importance of priority relative to book collecting
Part   3 - Jargon - Reading a catalog description
Part   4 - Jargon - Condition and its importance
Part   5 - Bibliographies and other useful references
Part   6 - Rarity & scarcity and supply & demand
Part   7 - Ephemera - what is it and is it part of book collecting
Part   8 - Understanding book values & pricing
Part   9 - Some physical aspects of the book - bindings & paper
Part 10 - Book illustrations - variety of & illustrators
Part 11 - Investing in Antiquarian Books

Books and Book Collecting