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The best collector is an educated one. The Educated Collector will feature information about antique and collectible objects to help collectors learn more about what they collect. Each column will give a brief history of a particular type of antique or collectible, known makers, and something about the market for it.

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Book Collecting
by Bob Brooke

It has been centuries since anyone could afford to be a general collector of books. Money aside, there are simply too many volumes published-52,000 last year alone--in any single year for a collector to acquire a copy of everything issued. To maintain control over a book collection, a novice collector must choose an area of special interest when beginning a collection.

While there are no hard and fast rules for collecting, there are ways to avoid the pitfalls beginners encounter. There are several excellent Web sites catering to book collectors, including that of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (http://abaa.org/) and Bibliofind.com, (http://www.bibliofind.com/), the Internet's largest inventory of old, used and rare books.

Another way to find information on book collecting is to read any two of the following: Modern Book Collecting by Robert Wilson; Book Collecting by Allan & Patricia Ahearn; How to Buy Rare Books by William Rees-Mogg, and for your permanent collection, John Carter's ABC for Book Collectors.

Pick an area of interest, such as children 's books, or juveniles, illustrated books, western Americana, first editions, limited editions, or books with inscribed bindings. Illustrated books contain engravings, etchings, photos, or other mechanical reproductions, either uncolored or colored; sometimes they are hand-colored. Western Americana includes everything published west of the Mississippi River, plus books on voyages, explorations, and western politics.

Identifying a first edition is often the most difficult part of collecting books. One thing you'll need to do is rid yourself of the belief that just because a book says "First Edition" it must be important or valuable. Non-collectors looking to sell books often say, "It must be worth a lot of money, because it's a First Edition." Every book has a First Edition; for many, it's the only edition. In fact, if publishers had their way, there would only be First Editions, at least for fiction. As far as they're concerned, a second edition (or even second printing) means the extra cost of going back to press, because they didn't accurately gauge the demand for the book. After all, the publisher never makes any money on future price increases for First Editions of an author's books.

First editions for beginners relate to modern fiction, while limited editions are books issued simply to line a publisher's pockets. The most personal of items-inscribed books-are highly regarded by book collectors and autograph collectors. And, lastly, fine bindings are books which are a pleasure to own and a joy to hold and examine because some craftsman took pride in its manufacture.

One of the keys to verifying that the book is at least a first printing is to look at the "number line" on the copyright page. The lowest number is the printing. If you see "1 2 3 4 5 78 77 76 75 74", this indicates a first printing, and in 1974.

Are book-club editions collectable? Certainly. There was a time when collectors could easily identify them. They were smaller, looked cheap, were lighter in weight, and each had "Bookclub Edition" on the dust jacket. Today, book clubs try hard to disguise their editions, and with original editions getting junkier, there's often little apparent difference between the two. It's quite common for book-club editions to use the original publishers' first-edition negatives or printing plates. According to Robert Wilson in his book Modern Book Collecting, many book-club editions come from the original publishers in identical format. Either way, book-club editions can bear "First Edition" on their copyright-pages.

If you find a circle, square, maple leaf, dot, or star blind-stamped on the bottom right of the outside back cover, it's a Book of the Month Club (BOMC) edition. The great majority have this stamp. BOMC has been doing this since 1948. And BOMC books published prior to that time are very difficult to distinguish from true first editions. So buyer and collector beware.

How do book collectors refer to book sizes? They refer to the way printers print and bind them. A folio puts two pages on each side of one sheet of paper-a single sheet of paper with two pages on it is called a leaf. When you print a quarto, you put four pages on each side of a leaf, so that eight pages are printed on one sheet of paper.

Some book sellers refer to eight pages printed on a leaf as an octavo. This just isn't true.
It was-and sometimes still is-eight pages printed on each side of a leaf, or 16 pages printed on one sheet of paper. This bundle of 16 pages is called a signature. A signature can be as few as four pages in the case of a quarto. Many modern paperbacks have 48-page signatures. Basically, 8, 12, and 24 leaves are the most common number to be printed on a single sheet of paper.

Today, all hardbound books come with dust jackets. Those published after 1930 can be expected to come with a jacket. Books between 1915 and 1930 weren't always published with a jacket and you should consider them scarce. Jackets before 1915 should be framed and usually come with a high price tag. However, most books in the science fiction and fantasy fields didn't have jackets prior to 1915.

Finally, as with any antique, a book collector should what he or she likes to read and the best copy he or she can afford.


As an avid collector of a variety of antiques and collectibles for the last 20 years, Bob Brooke knows what he's writing about. Beginning with one modest English writing box, he's developed a variety of collections. Besides writing about antiques, specializing in furniture, Brooke has also sold at flea markets and worked in an antique shop, so he knows the business side, too. He's a regular feature writer for AntiqueWeek, and also writes for a number of other publications and Web sites, including British Heritage, Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting Magazine, OldandSold.com, and many others.

Author: Bob Brooke
URLs: The Antiques Almanac - www.theantiquesalmanac.com
Writing at Its Best - www.bobbrooke.com

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