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Books on Books No.1

· Books on Books,Fine Book Collecting,Halifax,Book Selling,History of Printing

This is the start of a new series – a lengthy one at that. If you are, or thinking about becoming a book collector or dealer, you must work from a foundation of knowledge. From my experience, the most knowledgeable people in the book world are very focused collectors. They tend to know more about their authors and subject of interest than even the most knowledgeable dealers. Always exceptions of course.

In the book world, the term “Books about Books” identifies that area of book specialty focused on books. Walk into a fine or rare bookstore and ask “Do you have any books about books?” and they will point you to the appropriate, sacred section. This excludes the multitude of used books stores that focus on paperbacks and recent hardcovers that are sold at a fraction of the published price. You do not have to say books about bibliography, book collecting, printing, etc.. And you signal that you are a serious book person. So, what does “Books about Books” cover?

Here is my cut on this:

  • Book collecting
  • Book selling
  • Publishing and publishers
  • Private presses
  • The history of printers and printing
  • Paper and Watermarks
  • Famous “book” people
  • Book binding
  • Illustration and engraving
  • Typography
  • Prices of books
  • Famous books, such as The Book of Kells
  • Libraries
  • Bookcases
  • Bookplates
  • Bibliography – a scholar’s interest in the book as an object
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Here is a photo of one of four bookcases in our personal library. All of the books on the right half of the bookcase are books on books, covering all of the subjects listed above. And this is only about half of such books that we have in our home. The first book about books was acquired in 1974. The last was last month. In our Raven & Gryphon Fine Books business, we have a few duplicates.

I felt comfortable moving from being a book collector to also becoming a book dealer, based upon the hundreds of books that I have read on the subject, and visiting countless book shops and chatting with book sellers over the past fifty years.

This series of musings will focus on the “Books about Books” that are in our library. I’ll start on the top shelf of the bookcase shown above and work my way down.

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Books and Booksellers in Ancient and Modern Times, A lecture delivered by John Britnell, published by John Britnell Son, Toronto, 1923. Deluxe leather bound edition. Signed.

When we lived in Toronto in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a book store, Britnells, on Yonge Street just north of Bloor Street. It was primarily a new book store but they had a very small section of used books at the back. I was delighted to find this copy of John Britnell’s book in that section as well as a softcover version of the same book on one of my visits there. A great shop, long gone.

Modern Book Collecting for the Impecunious Amateur, by Herbert Faulkner West, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 1936.

This was encouraging as a young book collector; you did not have to be wealthy in order to build a fine collection of books. So true!

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Book Collecting: An Introduction to Modern Methods of Literary and Bibliographical Detection; by Robert L. Collison and Andrew H. Horn; Essential Books Inc., Fair Lawn N.J. 1957.

This was a very useful guide for a novice collector, as evidenced by the Table of Contents. I must emphasise that you will learn something new from every book you will read about books. And it does not matter whether the book was written in the 1800s, the 1900s or in 2023!

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The Book-Hunter; by John Hill Burton, edited by J. Herbert Slater; George Routledge & Sons Limited, London, second edition, circa 1920. First published circa 1865.

An early work on book collecting but so appropriately called The Book-Hunter because that is what serious collectors become. Me too. When you have 95% of the books in your collecting area, the last, elusive 5% can drive you to distraction!

The Printed Book: Its History, Illustration and Adornment, from the days of Gutenberg to the present time, by Henri Bouchot, H. Grevel and Co. Covent Garden, London, 1887.

“and Adornment” – what a nice phrase. Pick up a book, and you will see publishers’ logos, and other marks of interest on both the book and its dust jacket. On pricy, early printings of scarce volumes it is often the adornments that provide clues to printing history.

I hope that you will find these musings of interest. Going down those bookshelves and opening books for the first time in many years, brings back many good memories. Each book has contributed to my knowledge of what I do and love.

Thanks for reading.