Since my last Saturday Book Musing, we recognized World Literacy Day on September 8. I will
take this occasion to focus on the world of book collecting for those of us who are indeed literate
and are looking for outlets for passion centered both on books and on collecting.
To focus on the collecting side of things first. There are collectors out there who can be quite
fanatical about collecting stuff – well beyond the world of books. In fact, many collect items that
were never envisioned as collectible. I have a book in my personal library and have recently
acquired another copy for sale in the business. It is In Flagrante Collecto by Marilynn Gelfman Karp and it is a fun read, indeed. Who would have thought that people would collect Animal Can
Openers, Clothespins, Washboards, Figural Lawn Sprinklers, Air Sickness Bags, Pictorial Seed
Packets and Egg Beaters!
Books, on the other hand, are meant to be collected and have been since they were first
created. And, there are collectors and accumulators. I have been both and it has taken a long
time to stop accumulating and focus on collecting what I really want in my library. When we
started Raven & Gryphon Fine Books we transferred books that we have accumulated over the
decades, collections we have lost interest in, and kept the collections that still are meaningful to
us today and are continually being augmented.
If you are a collector first and foremost and have chosen books as your playing field, you have
an amazing array of options open to you. There are countless lists of the 'Best Books' in any
area such as the top 100 American novels of the twentieth century chosen by whoever, and so
on. Or you can collect books that are award winners such as the Booker Prize for Fiction in the
UK, the Newbery Prize for Childrens’ books in the United States, the Hugo Awards for science
fiction, the Giller Prize for literature in Canada.
But, if you want to build a personal library that reflects you and is meaningful for you – Collect
What You Like! My caveat to you, though, is buy wisely if you want to create a collection that
retains your investment and a library in which you can take pride and would be of value to
others. So, for example, if you love Ernest Hemingway and you put together a complete set of
his works in the latest paperback or book-of-the-month club editions do you have a meaningful
collection and library?
Early in my book collecting days, I decided that I would just buy fine copies of first editions and
for the most part that is what I did and it has worked very well for me – even as an accumulator.
But I have made many mistakes. For example, early on I bought for $1, a signed first American
edition of H. G. Wells' The Holy Terror, New York, 1939. What a find! So, I started to collect
the works of H. G. Wells. After buying some 100 books, I realized I read only a couple of his
books. Many of them are extremely socialist, I am not. I was collecting for the wrong reason. I
did not like the author or his works. A costly endeavour in both time and treasure. Collect what
If you really like the work of Edgar Allan Poe, for instance, and want to build of collection of his
first editions, you must realize that certain titles may be beyond your financial means. His first
book Tamerlane and Other Poems is exceedingly rare, only 12 copies are known to exist, and
the last known financial transaction took place for over $600,000. But there are certain editions
that would be acceptable alternatives. So, understand the magnitude of what you want to
collect. Can you feasibly complete the collection from both an availability and financial
Ironically, some collectors are excited about getting the second last item on their list and when
they get the last item – game over! These collectors sometimes take a breather, sell their 100%
collection and move on to the next challenge. Or, they love to look at the complete collection in
their bookcase, and move on to their next challenge.
What you collect and how you go about it is completely up to you. It can be a very enjoyable