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Book Collecting Basics

Posted Nov 06, 2013
Written by Jessica May
Category General

Depending upon a collector’s interests, the focus of a book collection can vary greatly. A collector can focus on only one author, such as Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, or only focus on certain subjects such as the history of medicine or exploration, or perhaps only Kelmscott Press titles are of interest. The possibilities are almost endless. However, there are a few general rules for the novice collector to keep in mind.
  • Book condition is extremely important. Whatever your budget is for buying books, it is wise to try to find a book with as little damage. Have the corners of the covers been bumped? Are the covers gouged or rubbed? Are there any water stains or foxing to the pages? Are there signs of insects? Does the book smell of mildew? Personally, I would stay away from any book with signs of insect activity – you could be introducing the bugs to a much bigger banquet if you take that book home to reside with the rest of your collection, but stains or damage are extremely common. They will not be as valuable as a book in pristine condition, but it may be the case that you cannot afford the pristine copy, but one with a bit of damage is within your budget. Many collectors will buy the more affordable copy to fill a gap in their collection and hope to replace it with a copy in better condition at a later date – it all depends on what you value most as a collector. You should also become acquainted with how bookseller’s grade condition – my general advice is to look for “fine” condition if possible and to remember that “good” condition for books is never actually good; it’s probably just a reading copy.
  • If the book was issued with a dust jacket, then the dust jacket is an important characteristic of value. The presence of the original dust jacket and the condition of the jacket are almost as important as the condition of the book. If you read any bookseller’s description of a book, they will describe the condition of both the book and dust jacket or note the absence of a dust jacket. Be sure to check if the dust jacket is price-clipped; a price-clipped dust jacket is less desirable that one in its original condition.
  • Be aware that books are not just published in different editions, but also different printings. You may have a first edition, but on closer inspection find that it is from the second or third printing. Depending on the title, the printing as well as the edition can make a big difference to its value.
Obviously, these are just a few general tips, not rules to be followed. Many people collect books without really caring about their value. You may buy a book with a water stain down the spine because you love the title and had a copy from the same edition as a kid. There’s certainly no wrong reason to buy a book, but you also want to pay a fair price for whatever you are buying and the condition, presence or absence of a dust jacket, and edition and/or printing all affect the pricing of book.