Identification of First Editions

One of the basic skills the novice collector (not to mention the novice bookseller) needs to learn is how to properly identify first editions. Depending on the book, and the publisher, this can be a very simple task, or quite complicated. Within this article I will do my best to provide a series of steps you can use to verify the edition of the book(s) in question. I’ll also recommend a number of handy references that you’ll want to acquire if you are serious about collecting or bookselling.

First, look at the book. It seems obvious, but you would be surprised how often books are bought based on a belief that they are something they, in fact, are not, simply because the buyer did not look closely enough at the book. I can say this without any fear of appearing judgmental, because I have been a good example of this phenomenon numerous times myself. In the words of one of my colleagues with a knack for brevity, “We all allow our hearts to get the best of our heads every now and then.”

And so, I say again, look at the book. Are there any indications that this is a reprint, or a book club edition? (More on this later.) Statements such as ‘the bestselling novel, now with a new introduction’ or ‘over 1 million copies sold’ on the dust jacket are dead giveaways (though it is rarely this easy). Who is the publisher, and what date is listed on the copyright page? Based on the general appearance of the book, does this date make sense? Many reprint publishers simply reuse the printing plates from other editions, without adding information about when the reprint occurred. Other reprint publishers list no date at all. Still others produce facsimiles of original editions, sometimes providing separate information about the reissue on a different page; sometimes not. With some practice handling books on a regular basis, you will learn which publishing companies were reprint outfits (Grosset & Dunlap; Henry Altemus; M.A. Donohue; John Lovell), and which tended to release originals (Macmillan; Putnam; Scribner; Little, Brown). As with most rules of thumb, there are exceptions to these tendencies, but it is far more efficient to learn the exceptions than to discard the rule.

I mentioned book club editions earlier. These are hardcover editions reprinted either by the original publisher, or by special arrangement between this publisher and another. These are often a slightly stockier format than trade edition hardcovers, and are not considered collectible editions except in very limited circumstances. ‘Book clubs’ or ‘BCEs’ often bear certain distinguishing characteristics: 1) lack of a list price on the jacket, sometimes accompanied by a statement of Book Club Edition on the front jacket flap; 2) inexpensive boards [generally paper over boards instead of cloth]; 3) a small blind stamp on the corner of the rear board [often a square or a circle, which is sometimes colored in]. Some book clubs masquerade very convincingly as trade editions, though, so make sure to follow the other steps in this article even if your book does not match these criteria.

If the book passes muster so far, step two is to check it against references. I find Bill McBride’s A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions (pictured below) an invaluable resource. In a compact 142-page paperback, he supplies identifying characteristics of first editions for hundreds of publishers. And, despite a peculiar tendency of ‘pocket’ guides to be anything but, this one will fit quite easily in one’s back pocket, so there’s no excuse not to have it on-hand when shopping at bookstores, antique malls, or book fairs. It will pay for itself quickly by saving you money on mistakes. We offer copies for sale at our shop, and it can also be ordered directly from the author quite easily. Common identification points listed here range from obvious designations (e.g., ‘states first edition on copyright page’; ‘states First published in <year>’) to rather complex uses of jargon (e.g., one publisher uses a two-digit code to represent month and year). You will find yourself memorizing the simple ones if you use the guide frequently.

A check of what is now in the trade simply called McBride’s should let you know that either 1) it’s not a first edition; 2) you don’t have enough information to determine this definitively. Again, there are exceptions to rules. In addition, there are sometimes states within an edition that make identifying true first editions a bit more difficult. So, just because the conventions stated in McBride match does not necessarily mean it is a first edition in every case. I could get into a larger discussion about states, but this is a subject unto itself, so sufficed to say that sometimes identification points for first editions can get complicated. Two useful references to consult  in these instances are www.fedpo.com, and another guide by McBride entitled Points of Issue (pictured below). These often provide minutiae related to particular titles that can be used to authenticate a first edition. For Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, there are several typographical errors in the text that indicate a first edition. Sometimes the price listed on the jacket is a point of issue (i.e., a detail that helps differentiate a first edition from other imprints).

If these references do not provide enough information to make a definitive assessment, it may be necessary to locate a bibliography that treats the work specifically. A number of subject-based bibliographies, and bibliographies of specific authors, are available, and these often differ quite a bit in format. Some are basically checklists, and provide little information regarding bibliographic details or differentiation of editions. Others, collectively known as descriptive bibliographies, are exhaustive publication histories of known versions of works on certain subjects, or by certain authors. These are often the best available reference, and as a result bibliographies for particularly sought-after authors and subjects can be quite expensive. Again, though, they make up for this cost by helping us avoid acquiring books that are not, in fact, first editions, though represented as such (and in today’s world of online bookselling, this is a valid concern, as many transactions are happening sight-unseen, between individuals that have not met one another).

The first edition of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street we featured in our blog recently was authenticated using a bibliography of Dr. Seuss’s works written by Younger & Hirsch. This is a work that is readily available in various reprints, but sought after by collectors because it is Seuss’s first book.

If you determine that the book you have is a first edition, then your assessment of value should involve comparing it against other first editions. Other factors (e.g., author signature; condition; lack/presence of dust jacket; etc.) may play a role in this as well. But generally, determining whether you have ‘the real thing’ is one of the largest steps towards figuring the value. If you do your research online, you will of course need to apply again some of the steps detailed above to make sure that other people offering first editions for sale have actually done their homework. Do not simply trust websites to return only first editions because you clicked the ‘First Edition’ box when searching. Watch out for phrases like ‘First book club edition’ (which is on the edge of being deliberately misleading). ‘First thus’ is another one that can trip you up here, but this generally refers to the first printing of a work that was published previously, but has been updated to include new information or features (e.g., illustrations), or sometimes to the first appearance of a work in book form (as distinct from appearance in serial form – think Charles Dickens).

So, to summarize:

1) Look at the book – is it a reprint or a book club edition?

2) Check your references – does it follow the conventions that publisher used to designate first editions?

3) Invest in a bibliography.

Once you have followed these three steps, you should have a good idea whether you have a first edition. If it is a book you own, congratulations! If it is a book you intend to buy, do some research to see whether the price is reasonable; if so, and you can afford it, and it matches any other guidelines you generally follow when collecting… buy it! If it is a book you would like to sell, visit your local secondhand book shop to see if they would be interested in purchasing it, or try to sell it yourself. Make sure not to misrepresent what you have, though, and be sure to mention your research.

If the above still leaves you wondering what you have, contact a local bookseller, or consider inquiring with one of the trade organizations associated with collectible books. These are the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America) and IOBA (Independent Online Booksellers Association). For those located outside the United States, try ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers) – this is the worldwide organization of which the ABAA is the American chapter. Booksellers are, in large part, very congenial and helpful in this regard. And if you find that the one you choose to contact is not, worry not… There are plenty of us, so just try the next one on the list; it is important that those you deal with in the book trade are people with whom you feel comfortable, and who display that they are trustworthy.

Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller
President, Yesterday’s Muse Books
Vice President, IOBA
Sellers of fine books in all categories, with specialties in:
Castles & Military Fortifications; Dystopian Literature
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580
Phone: (585) 265-9295
www.websterbookstore.com
https://musebooks.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/yesterdaysmuse
www.twitter.com/ymbookseller
http://pinterest.com/yesterdaysmuse/
www.linkedin.com/in/yesterdaysmuse/

Worth every penny.

Worth every penny.

poi

This Just In

Here is today’s crop of bargain books – if you’d like any of these, comment to claim them!

 

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Published in: on June 28, 2013 at 4:11 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Assorted Edgar Allan Poe

1828773

Tales of Mystery and Imagination,
with Harry Clarke illustrations

Edgar Allan Poe was a prolific writer in the nineteenth century, well-known for his macabre and mysterious works of short fiction and poetry. He is considered by many to be the inventor of the detective fiction genre, paving the way for other writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and Dashiell Hammett. Most of us immediately recognize his most famous poem, The Raven, by just one word – nevermore. This came 18 years after Poe’s first foray as a published author, with his first work Tamerlane and Other Poems (a work that is now eminently collectible – one of the greatest book scouting stories of the 20th century centers around the location of an original copy in a barn in New Hampshire in 1988).

Poe had a unique knack for horror and suspense – who can forget the beating of that tell-tale heart? – and influenced many writers who came after him. He was also a prominent literary critic, known for his biting reviews of other works of literature. As a result, though his own writings were popular, he was not generally well-liked. His own character seems to match the mood of his stories – darkly romantic, enigmatic, but nonetheless compelling.

I have compiled here for your literary enjoyment a group of Poe volumes we currently have in inventory. Many of these were purchased as part of a small collection focusing on Poe, and as a result some interesting editions are represented. To the right is pictured a well-known edition of his Tales of Mystery and Imagination, which includes wonderful illustrations by Harry Clarke. This imprint was originally released with a dust jacket, as well as a collector’s box, both of which are often missing (as is the case here).

Below are two editions of Poe’s poems, both issued by The Roycrofters (Elbert Hubbard’s Arts & Crafts group, based in East Aurora, NY, and known for their high quality book designs and printing). These are just two versions of many that were released in the same year (for a wealth of information relating to this and other titles published by The Roycrofters, this website is invaluable: Roycroft Books).

Poems: Roycrofter Edition, Suede Spine Over Boards

Poems: Roycrofter Edition, Suede Spine
Over Boards

Poems: Roycrofter Edition, Half-Leather

Poems: Roycrofter Edition, Half-Leather

Poe’s first novel (and his only complete one), written more than ten years after his first poetic works, was The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, first released in 1838. It would be an influence on the nautical fiction of Herman Melville (Moby Dick) and Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). The Gold Bug was a short story, also in the adventure fiction category, which proved very popular during Poe’s lifetime.

A number of multi-volume sets of Poe’s complete works have been released (though, it is useful to note, many that purport to include his complete works do not – check those tables of contents!). Numerous decorative and collector’s editions are also available, and the serious collector can seek out original publications of his work, much of which was first printed in serial form in various literary magazines. In short, those interested in compiling a collection of Poe will find it difficult to grow bored.

For more information on the titles pictured here, click the image to view our full descriptions of these titles, and the specific editions.

 

Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller
President, Yesterday’s Muse Books
Vice President, IOBA
Sellers of fine books in all categories, with specialties in:
Castles & Military Fortifications; Dystopian Literature
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580
Phone: (585) 265-9295
www.websterbookstore.com
https://musebooks.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/yesterdaysmuse
www.twitter.com/ymbookseller
http://pinterest.com/yesterdaysmuse/
www.linkedin.com/in/yesterdaysmuse/

Arthur Gordon Pym: A Romance

Arthur Gordon Pym: A Romance

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The Works of Edgar Allan Poe,
in Ten Volumes

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Prose Tales

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The Gold-Bug

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The Bells

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The Bells

Complete Poems: Easton Press Leatherbound Edition

Complete Poems:
Easton Press Leatherbound Edition

Published in: on June 27, 2013 at 12:49 PM  Leave a Comment  
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This Just In

This is our first blog post in what will be a continuing series featuring new arrivals, and offering them to you before they hit the shelves at our shop. If you don’t live locally and wish you could shop at our store, this is the next best thing. If you do live locally but want to get a deal on new stock, here’s your chance.

All books are priced in the captions, and (this part is important) for any of these titles if you BUY TWO you GET ONE FREE. If you want something, make sure to claim it by commenting – we will contact you to confirm your purchase and arrange payment and pickup (or shipment if necessary).

Watch for more future entries in this category, all of which will be tagged ‘This Just In’! Also watch for ‘New Features’, which will highlight some of our more valuable inventory. Make sure to follow this blog to stay up to date on these offers – we generally add several hundred books every week, so there will be lots to see!

Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller
President, Yesterday’s Muse Books
Vice President, IOBA
Sellers of fine books in all categories, with specialties in:
Castles & Military Fortifications; Dystopian Literature
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580
Phone: (585) 265-9295
www.websterbookstore.com
https://musebooks.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/yesterdaysmuse
www.twitter.com/ymbookseller
http://pinterest.com/yesterdaysmuse/
www.linkedin.com/in/yesterdaysmuse/

$3 each

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$5 each

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$3 each

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$3 each

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$3 each

$3 each

Published in: on June 27, 2013 at 11:39 AM  Leave a Comment  
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First Edition Dr. Seuss

Our first edition copy.

Our first edition copy.

One of the perks of owning a used and collectible bookstore is having the opportunity to interact with great books. Historically important books, books that inspire nostalgic wonder, visually stunning books… books that have a meaning beyond what lies between their covers. Today I’ll feature just one of these, recently acquired: a first edition of Dr. Seuss’s first children’s book, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.

As we all know by now, Seuss went on to become one of the most popular and influential children’s authors of all time. His illustrations and his trademark style of verse are instantly recognizable, as are many of the creatures and contraptions from his stories. The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch, Horton – these are all household names. And to think that it all started with one 32-page long book…

What many don’t know is that this book was not an instant hit. It was rejected for publication by dozens of publishers (the exact count is different depending who you ask). Seuss almost incinerated the manuscript.

The significance of this book (and other Seuss titles) has not gone unnoticed in the collecting world. First edition copies in the (scarce) original dust jacket often have asking prices in the mid-four-figure range. There is a bibliography entirely dedicated to identification of Seuss first editions — Younger & Hirsch’s ‘First Editions of Dr. Seuss Books: A Guide to Identification’ (which, by the way, is extremely detailed and helpful – I signed copy of it has a permanent spot in my reference library).

This story in particular is a great example of the power of the imagination. The story follows a young boy named Marco, and his fantastical depiction of a series of events taking place on Mulberry Street (named for a real street located near Seuss’s boyhood home in Springfield, Massachusetts). Seuss’s colorful illustrations draw us into a world that exists only in the mind of an imaginative, imaginary child. But the book allows that unreal world to live forever, because we can each remember it in our own way, and take it with us through our own lives, returning to it when we return to memories of our own childhoods. It is truly an amazing achievement, and a reminder of how powerful books can be.

View our online listing for this title here:

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street

or better yet, stop by the shop to see it!

Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller
President, Yesterday’s Muse Books
Vice President, IOBA
Sellers of fine books in all categories, with specialties in:
Castles & Military Fortifications; Dystopian Literature
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580
Phone: (585) 265-9295
www.websterbookstore.com
www.facebook.com/yesterdaysmuse
www.twitter.com/ymbookseller
http://pinterest.com/yesterdaysmuse/
www.linkedin.com/in/yesterdaysmuse/

Published in: on June 26, 2013 at 12:51 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Redoubled Efforts

After quite some time of not tending to my blog, I feel it’s time to give it another try. I realize now that, in previous incarnations of this blog, my attempts to post regularly were often hampered by excessive self-editing, a tendency to think that every entry needed to represent some significant contribution to the bookselling trade or the world. And while I’ll still try to make that the case whenever possible, I have come to understand that sometimes a quick post featuring a picture of one of the store’s resident cats, or a recreation of a slightly fragmented conversation between myself and an employee or customer, is not only acceptable, but a refreshing change.

With that in mind, I will dive into this again, with renewed resolve. Look for: the occasional book review; regular (but not religious) up-to-the-minute information on new arrivals; more extended commentary on highlights; informational articles about book buying, selling, trading, and collecting; reports on events in or around my shop, and throughout the trade in general; tidbits on literature, history, and local lore; and of course periodic musings in my previous style. Those who are familiar with our Facebook page know that we have a photo album called This Just In, which features photos of stacks of new inventory waiting to be shelved – I will be mirroring this here. I will also do my best to feature an interesting book from our stock in each post.

Watch for the occasional guest post by employees Robert Grenier and Neil Grayson, as well, though these will be infrequent enough to hide the fact that they are better writers than I. I’ll leave you with one of the cat photos I referenced earlier…

Ophelia, still a fan of her heated bed, even in summer.

Ophelia, still a fan of her heated bed, even in summer.

 

Jonathan Smalter, Bookseller
President, Yesterday’s Muse Books
Vice President, IOBA
Sellers of fine books in all categories, with specialties in:
Castles & Military Fortifications; Dystopian Literature
32 W Main St Ste 1
Webster, NY 14580
585-265-9295yesterdays.muse@gmail.com
www.websterbookstore.com
www.yesterdaysmuse.com
www.facebook.com/yesterdaysmuse
www.twitter.com/ymbookseller
http://pinterest.com/yesterdaysmuse/
www.linkedin.com/in/yesterdaysmuse/

 

Published in: on June 26, 2013 at 12:23 PM  Leave a Comment  
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More Than You Can Chew

NOTE: This post was originally written in June of 2012.

Well, with the exception of attending the Buffalo Niagara International Antiquarian Book Fair with several dozen other dealers, I spent the month of May furiously working through the collection in my last blog post.

The result? I would be more than halfway done, but the consignor has added even more!

It got me thinking about the challenges we face in life, and how we approach them.

In this instance, my strategy was to divide and conquer – watch for the release of Part I of the collection as an e-list very soon. Looking at the scope of the collection, how much more work it will entail, and the fact that it won’t generate income for me until I start making it available for sale, this decision to release it in parts was essential.

Trying to offer it as one piece would be like drinking the ocean so I would never be thirsty again – not only am I incapable of doing it, even if I were, it just wouldn’t work. Better to take small gulps.

Now that got me thinking about the way we, as individuals, process information, and how that fits in with the way things are laid out these days. We live in the information age, so things should be pretty good, right?

Well, maybe not. It turns out that, though we are surrounded by information that is readily accessible, it is still very much an ocean. As individuals, we need this ocean split up into small, manageable chunks. We can’t digest a whole ocean at once. Now, you will probably say, “That’s what a search engine is for – it drills down to get what you need.”

Let’s say, for this discussion’s sake, that that’s true (though I would probably have some arguments counter to that belief). In order to use a search engine to get to that manageable chunk of information, I need to already have some information. I need to have a question, and I need to translate that question into a group of words that a search engine will understand.

If I am looking for a recipe for cheesecake, or directions to a local movie theater, that’s fairly straightforward. Even more complex questions are pretty easily answered (e.g., What caused World War I?; What is existentialism?).

I see two problems here. First, these answers aren’t gulps of information; they’re droplets. There’s a whole world in between the ocean and the droplets, and I want to be able to get at it. Second, what happens if I don’t know the information I need to get at an answer. Put a different way: What if I don’t know that I don’t know something?

Let’s start with the first problem – simple searches don’t get us to manageable chunks of complex information. It turns out, that’s something that computers and the internet still just aren’t that great at. If you do manage to find a well-researched, capably-written response that goes deeper than a trivia-show-length Q&A, you’ve probably located either an online article, or an excerpt from a book.

Which brings me to problem two: what if I can’t find that article, or that excerpt, because I can’t generate the magic sequence of keywords to bring it up as a search result? Or what if I am ignorant of my own ignorance, and never do a search in the first place? I am a better search engine user than many, in my opinion, but I often give up when I am unable to quickly generate useful results. And I’m fairly sure an internet search for ‘What don’t I know?’ would be vague enough that we’d just end up with the ocean again.

So what does this mean? It means that we are faced with an unlimited amount of knowledge, to which our access is limited based on how much we already know. What’s worse, the way search engines work is designed around what you’ve already done, what you’ve already searched, but in a way that returns sameness, that repeats your previous experience, not in a way that adapts to show you new things.

Instead of playing the role of teacher, the internet as viewed through a search engine is the consummate yes man. It will lead you to pages that affirm what you already think, sell what you’ve already bought, and encourage what you already do.

So what is the alternative? My answer: Read books. Now, you might say, “Certainly there are books that do the same thing.” And you’d be right.

My new answer: Read old books. Ones that have stood the test of time. Read works by authors whose names we still remember, though they lived decades or centuries ago. Read Dickens. Hugo. Tolstoy. Read Plutarch. Marcus Aurelius. Plato. Darwin. Rousseau. Dostoevsky.

And when you read them, don’t look for answers to specific questions. Learn. You’ll realize the questions they’ve answered were ones you hadn’t thought to ask yet. And eventually you’ll realize that, though you came to the ocean hoping to understand a few things and move along, now…. now you can swim.

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 11:40 AM  Leave a Comment  
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The Importance of Being a Bibliophile

NOTE: This post was originally written in April of 2012.

Wow, time flies when you’re cataloging books! I’ve been away from the blog for about two weeks, knee deep in a recently acquired World War I collection, and the project is still only about 1/4 completed.

Stay tuned for a giant subject list of material ranging from modern accounts of The Great War, to contemporary books and ephemera. Also peppered throughout are various peripheral items, and a few sub-categories (e.g., women during the war, African-Americans during the war, etc.).

Working through this collection has me marveling at the power of a single individual to collect and curate. While much of the material is not particularly scarce, the scope of the collection is grand (about 2,000 volumes), and the previous owner maintained a careful cataloging system of his own to keep track of what books he owned, and where they were. Any well-known work pertaining to WWI is represented in the collection, sometimes several times over, and many obscure titles as well, plus a smattering of other military history (Civil War, WWII, Vietnam, etc.).

A few highlights so far: a history of a company in the American Expeditionary Forces, inscribed collectively by the company to the parents of a fallen soldier; a copy of Lawson’s Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo signed by 18 members of the Doolittle Raiders; several issues of the scarce WWI periodical ‘Gas Attack’…

This is the tip of what is quite a large iceberg. Also included in this gentleman’s collection were numerous periodicals on everything from American history to automobiles, from the U.S. military to railroads… and that’s just in the part of the collection I’m handling.

He also collected vintage toys and advertising, war memorabilia (including original photographs, various textiles sewn by French women during WWI, military medals, portraits of soldiers, etc.), phonographs, furniture…

The capacity for people to collect is an amazing one. Those who excel at it often exceed professional historians and archivists in the scope of their activities. Indeed, within this collection is evidence that the owner aided military historians by providing otherwise unavailable source material for books and articles. The urge to preserve is not one we all share, but for those of us who do, the compulsion is an easy one to understand. The importance of scarce items, especially those that hold particular historical value, need not be explained to our fellow addicts.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of viewing a well-chosen collection knows that its quality is immediately apparent. The shelves upon which the books rest seem almost to glow with a borrowed radiance. Closer inspection only increases the level of excitement. The level of discernment becomes apparent in the condition of each volume, in the care with which they were organized on each shelf, in the careful insertion of related material within certain volumes.

Everything, even those things easily obtained, has been elevated to a higher status. You can almost hear a voice saying, “Sure, Speer’s Inside the Third Reich is nothing special. But this is my copy, the best one I could find in my 45 years collecting. I first read a tattered paperback copy, then found a hardcover missing the jacket at a thrift shop, and finally upgraded to a first edition in jacket, and one in exceptional condition. I bet it’s among the best copies you’ve seen.”

And there’s the rub.

Collecting books actually has very little to do with intrinsic value at the outset. It has very much to do with the peculiar tastes and tendencies of the collector. Because, in a very real way, your collection is who you are. It is a complex, living document of your own existence.

I often think of my bookstore in this way. I look down the rows of shelves and say, “Everything here is part of a set of footprints. Looking at the rows of books is like reading a menu of what we’ve been up to as a society recently. What authors people recognize. What local lore has remained in our collective consciousness. What historical figures intrigue us. What we wish we were brave enough to do, but read about instead. What books from our childhood we still cherish. What we view as beautiful, or holy, or worth holding onto.”

The tricky part is making other people think that way too. But that’s my job, and I don’t think I’d rather do anything else.

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 11:40 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Journey as Destination

NOTE: This post was originally written in April of 2012.

I am writing this blog post aboard a train, on my way to New York City for the Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair. The unique blend of anxiety and excitement that characterized the final days of preparation for the trip has subsided, and I finally have a few hours to relax.

As often happens when I travel by plane or train, I find myself musing on things philosophical. Something about gazing out a window as countryside hurtles past lends itself to reflection. (I’ll warn you now, this post will be one mostly dealing with thoughts on life in general, but worry not — I will tie it into books towards the end.)

The dialectic part of my brain can’t help but juxtapose the lazy idyllic landscapes with the quick steel of the train as it rumbles through. That dichotomy unearths the usual inquiries I tend to draw forth at times like these, most of which are comparisons of points on continua: leisure and work;  personal fulfillment and social responsibility; beauty and efficiency; love and friendship.

In life we continuously balance considerations such as these with one another, sometimes effectively, other times poorly, and I think our management of those balances determines how good we feel, and how effective we are in accomplishing our goals.

The problem is, most of us don’t view the relationships between these considerations the way we view other cyclical processes. Breathing in and breathing out are easy to think of as a single process. But thinking of work and leisure like this seems less instinctive. We have a tendency to elect one as the other’s superior, to favor it any time the two conflict.

It’s easy to tell when one is favoring breathing in or out too much – it’s uncomfortable, and not sustainable for very long. Other signs of imbalance are more subtle – we become irritable or agitated, less patient with minor inconveniences. What’s worse, we often ignore this feedback, or don’t link it to its cause, and continue behaving the same way. Sometimes this can make us pretty miserable people to be around (I can say this, I’ve been that guy – in fact, I was that guy when I was preparing for this trip).

Am I saying we need to avoid work? No. What I am suggesting is that, as a culture, we rearrange our way of looking at things. And here is where the title of this post comes in. Too often in life we conceive of things in a way that marginalizes some aspect of life. If we are headed to the store, the drive there becomes a nuisance. Our daily commute to work becomes a necessary chore. Our job is a necessary evil to sustain our lifestyle.

What this does is set parts of our life against one another. It makes us resent all the journeys for not being the destinations. That strikes me as a difficult way to live, and also as pretty boring, and definitely quite constricting. After all, if I make my life all about destinations, that means I need to know exactly where I’m going all the time.

If, instead, we embrace journeys as something to be valued, it changes the game. There need to be moments in life when we stop, look out the window of the train, and just think for a while.

Which brings me to books, and why I believe they are so important. Books give us that opportunity. They remove us from the incessant bustle of everything else; they demand quiet attention, and at the same time encourage us to relax. They are the window of the train, but better, because every book looks out on something different, brings you a different world, one you weren’t specifically looking for, one that has the potential to surprise and excite you, reinvigorate you, take you down a new path, or make you believe that something incredible is possible. They don’t just pick you up in Rochester and plop you down in New York City, they let you see everything in between.

It turns out a lot goes on between page one and ‘The End’. Don’t miss it.

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 11:39 AM  Leave a Comment  
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Treasures Found in Books

I’m sure all of us have opened up a recently purchased used book and been surprised to find additional material laid in (i.e., inserted but loose) or tipped in (i.e., mounted on one edge). The question is, what do these do to value?

I have found many things in books, some as ordinary as business cards, others far more unusual (a lock of hair was a strange one). Newspaper articles, bookmarks, original receipts, pressed flowers, and postcards are all common finds. Sadly, finding money doesn’t happen too often, though once we did find $120 in twenty dollar bills (this in a book that ended up not being worth cataloging).

The interesting books are ones that have unique material that is somehow related to the book or the author. ALSs (autographed letters signed), original photographs, and extra illustrations are all good examples. A first edition copy of Dracula with photographs taken on the set of one of the film adaptations would be far more interesting than one without. A first edition copy of The Cat in the Hat is most certainly collectible, but not as desirable as one with a signed letter including a one-of-a-kind Seuss doodle.

Most collectors of books crave the unique, which is why these extras sometimes become so important. Not only do they add flavor to what is otherwise one of thousands of copies of a book, they tell a story that transcends the content of the book. They establish the book as a historical artifact, something that was present during a particular sequence of events. That is what most bibliophiles are interested in preserving – history.

This is the same logic that makes signed books more desirable and more widely collected. Certainly a particular arrangement of characters in ink added to a page doesn’t impart any value – what is valuable is the knowledge that this book was in the presence of its author. Historical proximity brings a premium.

I could probably wax philosophical about the reasons for this (as human beings we fear death and therefore cling to the past, nostalgia is a powerful intoxicant, etc., etc.). What interests me at present, though, is the tendency of people to stow these historical items in the first place.

As I work through a recently acquired consignment of World War I material, I notice many inserts. Newspaper articles. Photographs of regiments laid into volumes dedicated to the history of the same. Correspondences with authors. Original purchase receipts. Post-It notes marking significant passages, or demarcating mentions of a particular historical figure.

The tendency to catalog is fascinating to me, and I see it in many collectors. It is almost as though many see themselves as curators of the past, bestowing upon themselves the responsibility of preserving knowledge and passing it along to future generations in a coherent way. Books become time capsules, awaiting the hands of careful scholars yet to be born.

I like to think I have some part in this. Gathering these items, examining the constituent parts, and arriving at some sort of conclusion regarding what this book’s life involved. Who it involved. Why that was important, and why we should be careful to remember that. Certainly the texts these books contain can be preserved by many means, digital, curatorial, or otherwise. But the extras, the unexpected treasures, the added color of provenance… this is something we must continue to preserve the old-fashioned way.

Some days it amazes me to once again realize that this is, at least in part, my job.

Published in: on June 24, 2013 at 11:38 AM  Leave a Comment  
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