Have you been bitten by the bug yet? The rare book collecting bug that is. Once bitten, the unsuspecting individual is euphorically transfused with a passion for observing and collecting old master and modern firsts, literary and music manuscripts, illuminated texts, or early examples of the printed book. Another telltale sign of the bug is to honestly reflect on the time and money you have been investing in rare books as of late. It may indeed have gone unnoticed that you spend a great deal of time reading through blog postings such as this, or shopping for books online, at a bookstore, at a book sale, or at a book fair. Before it seems possible to grasp, rare books, old books, and antiquarian books have become very much a part of your life.
I have myself just bought a limited edition Storie naturali by Jules Renard, which has illustrations by the recently featured Luigi Serafini, brand new at €300. While the 660 copies which were published of this work were slow to sell out, they were delightfully, boxed, cloth framed, signed by the illustrator, and included thick paper pages and pockets filled with Serafini’s contemporary work. A few people whom I have proudly exhibited the book to have nearly fallen through the floor once they were informed of its price. Only time will tell how well the book complements my collection, but for me it was a purchasing decision which I made based on the following disciplines:
Collect Vs accumulate: Try to collect and not accumulate. Collect means to be choosy and be educated, and it means to only gather books which are significant or will add value to your collection. Specialize in collecting related books by not randomly accumulating any type of book that you come across. A book collection must have a target and a theme, and should be focused and usually limited to acquiring the certain number of rare books that are more difficult to be obtained.
Collect what you love: Collecting what you love means that you will contribute feelings and passion into what you are doing. It means you scrutinize things, and if you collect what you love, chances are that you have a vested interest in what you are doing that is above and beyond a common practice. If you love horses and you love collecting rare books for example, combine the two and start collecting rare books about horses. Amalgamating what you are passionate about with the scarcity of antiquarian books will have a much bigger impact than simply collecting rare books on any random genre or topic.
Education: It is very important to keep learning. You will need to learn how to identify a first edition, and you will need to learn the proper terminology to properly communicate the description and condition of a book. If you are interested in taking rare book collecting to a more serious level, there are many Rare Books Schools in the US where you could attend courses in. You could also attend some of the many seminars and short courses which are offered by Antiquarian Book Societies all over the world.
Book fairs: Attending books fairs is another way to keep your mind informed and up to date with what is happening in the rare book world. During a successful book fair, you can examine up close some of the books of your interest without any obligation. You may also get the opportunity to attend lectures, mingle with people who have the same interests, and be able to evaluate your status as a book collector while there. Check the calendar of rare book fairs for an event near you, or explore a far away event by taking a spontaneous journey.
Networking: Apart from networking with your peers at the book fairs, it is equally as important to establish relationships with certified and experienced rare booksellers and antiquarians. These professionals will not only educate you, but will also alert you or inform you about an auction, a rare book opportunity, or a rare book sale. Booksellers and book dealers are offering their goods and services both online and at bricks & mortar establishments of all types. You may need to make sure that you choose the right professional to deal with, depending on the type of interests that you have. Book dealer associations guarantee that their members are qualified and certified.
I continue to find large quantities of books at bargain prices at local bookstores. While there is always a nagging worry behind buying them that perhaps I have been misinformed about the “bargain prices,” if I have chosen the books right based on educated, well-informed, familiar topics which I love, while avoiding impulse accumulating, then I am confident that my speculation will produce positive results.