"For too long there has been an unconscious elitist ambiance surrounding book collecting. . . You don't need a lot of money, or a college education, or extensive previous preparation, to love books and want to collect them," says Arthur Minters in the preface to "Collecting Books for Fun and Profit."
If you read either his book or Seumas Stewart's "Book Collecting: A Beginner's Guide," you will realize that the diversity of subjects and authors available to a new collector is broad enough to encompass the interests of practically everyone. There is, however, a real difference in the amount of material contained in this pair of books: Stewart's book is twice as long and easily has more than twice as much information as Minters'. When comparing the two, the subtitle "A Beginner's Guide" would have been much more appropriate for the latter.
"Collecting Books for Fun and Profit" is a relatively elementary book, high lighting the sometimes enormous increases in dollar value of certain books. It is easy reading, an hour or two, and discusses why to collect (for fun and profit); how to buy from shops, through the mail, at auctions; how to catalogue, care for and read your books (which, if followed to the letter -- "your hands must be clean and dry, or even better still, clad in white gloves" -- would certainly take most of the fun out of it); and importantly, how to sell your books when the need arises. Minters also includes a glossary of terms used in the trade and a short four-page bibliography of trade journals, reference books and other books about book collecting.
I certainly agree that the possibility of collecting in a field that in the last decade has shown a steady annual increase in values of over 16 percent is a definite lure. I suppose that if an orginal Bardie doll (1959) sells for $500, John Garner's first book,
"The Resurrection" (1966), at the same price, is not unreasonable. But then, Barbie might represent a true bit of Americana; sometines I wonder about Gardner. The point is that there is no doubt that the first printings of Poe's "Tamerlane," Melville's Moby Dick" and Crane's "Red Badge of Courage," selling in recent years at $123,000, $5,000, and $1,500 respectively, will bring their owners a much better return than a savings account and probably stay well ahead of inflation. The track record on more recent authors is not clear enough to guarantee the same results, but a well thought out collection will almost always be worth what you paid for it and usually, over time, bring a reasonable rate of return. But don't dismiss the "fun" part of Minters' title, for here is where your personal rate of return will be high, and that is almost guaranteed.
Seumas Stewart is an Englishman, and consequently his interest and area of greatest concentration i British books. The colonies are not forgotten, however, and on the whole his "beginners' guide" is a good introduction to the more important books in various fields. He covers literature, from its beginnings in printed form; illustrated books; adventure, detection and children's book; biography; travel; history; topography; fishing; farming; gardening; religion -- and other subjects. He feels that "book-collecting . . . at its best is an exhilarating pursuit, a glorious, bloodless sport." His book contains information on the most collectible books in each field, including estimated values. The values, unfortunately, are coded, which means that you must constantly flip back to the scale in the front of the book, admittedly a minor irritant.
In addition, "Book Collecting: A Beginner's Guide" contains a glossary of terms, booksellers' abbreviations and a 19-page bibliography of reference books covering the collecting fields mentioned in the text. The latter is a worthwhile listing and probably worth the price of the book to the new collector.
Stewart is knowledgeable and even has his lighter moments. The uninitiated will, however, be somewhat overwhelmed by the detail and will not get through this guide in an hour or two. But the quality of the information is high, and the book will prove to be a good reference work for the beginner's shelf.
As both writers make clear, book collecting can be pursued with a reasonably small cash outlay and can be profitable, not only in monetary terms, but also in terms of personal growth. Whether a person collects books about his place of birth, vocation or avocation, hobbies or sports, the important factor is personal interest. The list of collecting fields is almost endless.
One especially popular area is collecting the first editions (first printings) of favorite authors. The prices for several 20th-century authors are high, but there are many 19th-century writers out of favor now, and their books can be purchased relatively cheaply. There are also modern authors who have yet to be discovered. Pick a few that you like, and start a collection before they are discovered. But remember that value is based primarily on the condition of the book -- and don't throw away the dust jacket, for it may become as valuable or more valuable than the book itself. Books autographed by their authors naturally are valued more highly than those that are unsigned, and most will be helpful in getting you started. If you have books and you would like to know if they here any value, the reference section of several local libraries has runs of "American Book Prices Current" (aution prices) and "Bookman's Price Index" (a compilation of dealer catalogue prices). These prices guides contain values for most books that are deemed collectible.
If you are considering collecting as a hobbing, the books of Minters and Stewart both have their good points and are worth their cost. Book collecting is to my mind a fascinating hobby -- but I, of course, am not completely unbiased.