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 5 - Bibliographies and other useful references

References, and bibliographies in particular, are the tools of a book collector. You can collect books without ever using a reference, but you will be missing much of the satisfaction of collecting. You might think the first edition of your favorite author's first book, "Pruning Willows for Fun & Profit", is common because you found two copies of it during the past year at Bob's Used Books on Main Street, but if you owned the bibliography of this author's work you might find that "Pruning Willows" was published in an edition of only 100 copies and is a very rare book. You might also learn that this author's third book is the scarcest of all his writings, with only two located copies of a possible total edition of ten and that you should purchase this book without hesitation if you are lucky enough to see a copy. A biography of the author might be the source where you learn that his correspondence with the chief horticulturist at the Philadelphia Arboretum has been published as part of the memoirs of the horticulturist.

References provide information which is extremely valuable to book collectors — they aid in the identification of first printings, help determine scarcity, let you know what is available in your chosen field of collecting, help with collation of pages and illustrations to determine whether a copy is complete, provide information on variety of bindings to expect, give details on the non-fiction subject or life of the author you collect, and are the essential ingredients for initiating and building a successful book collection.

Many bibliographies and other references are relatively expensive because they are normally published in small editions. If you cannot afford to purchase the references appropriate to your collection, you should be able to find many of them in most large university or major city library collections. You will, most likely, have to use the references in the library so plan on spending some time there with pencil and notepad or make use of copy machines for the information most useful to you.

References are so important that you will find, with few exceptions, that the information you gain more than pays for the 'investment' in useful references. We would go so far as to make this generalization: "you can never own too many references which relate to your collection! "

If you decide to collect the writings of a specific author, during the early stages of collecting you should determine whether a useful bibliography of that author's work exits and, if it does, you should make that bibliography one of your early purchases. The same holds true for collecting a specific topic, if you decide to collect 18th century American almanacs you should own a copy of Milton Drake's "Almanacs of the United States" — if you decide to collect books about Afro-American participation in the American Civil War, you should own Thomas Moebs"s "Black Soldiers — Black Sailors — Black Ink: Research Guide on African-Americans in U.S. Military History, 1526-1900."


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