Book collecting for Fun and Profit by Bill McBride (2)

Rule three: Know what you buy.

Do your homework. Yes, you will make mistakes early on. But the more knowledge you bring to the marketplace, the better equipped you are to buy wisely and well. Learn all you can about the details of the field in which you collect. Learn to recognise the common titles. Learn the differences between trade (bookstore) editions and those sold by the Book Clubs. The differences are many, but some of them are slight and easily overlooked, even by experienced dealers and collectors.

Obvious advice, this. You wouldn’t collect art if you thought Jack Vetriano was a good painter or you couldn’t tell the difference between a painting done in acrylic and one painted in oil, or couldn’t differentiate between an etching and an engraving or a lithograph and an aquatint. Unfortunately, many amateurs who think they are as experienced in art as the professional dealers are, make mistakes simply through ignorance. It’s the same with books, although book collectors do have an advantage over art collectors in that books are very rarely forged ( too expensive), which cannot be said of art works. As for learning the differences between trade editions and Book Club editions, it’s pretty easy to tell, unless you have defective eyesight. Book Club editions advertise themselves as such and no dealer worth his salt  could be misled. As for identifying first editions, the words ‘ first published in …’ are highly suggestive for modern firsts. Much older firsts are a different matter. In the old days ,like London cabbies, collectors and dealers used ‘ the knowledge’, to identify the first publication of literally tens and thousands of significant titles. Nowadays, a mobile phone with a connection to the Internet will furnish this important information on most older first editions worth collecting, which is only a tiny percentage of all the first editions in the world.

What do you like ?

‘ You can build a book collection  around many things in your life:

1) A hobby: gardening, knitting, cooking, flower arranging, handicrafts, collecting of any kind, etc.

Can gardening be classed as a ‘hobby‘? In the opinion of this Jotter, a serious gardener is someone who understands the basics of botany, which is after all, an academic subject. You don’t have to know what the professionals at Kew learn at University, but the more you know about the science behind the plants that give you pleasure and cure your illnesses , the more you will be drawn towards books on botany. As for knitting and flower arranging, good luck with assembling a significant library that covers these topics. Cooking is a different matter, and today, at least in the UK, this has become one of the hottest ( excuse the pun) collecting areas. 

2) A sport. You name it and you can collect books on it. The hardest are the less common sports like archery, croquet, cockfighting, bullfighting, cricket, lawn bowling etc…

Not much to add, except that it might be hard to acquire books on ‘cockfighting‘ earlier than the  mid nineteenth century. There are a few books on croquet, including the exceptionally rare one dated 1863 by the American novelist Thomas Mayne Reid, which is priced online at £575. By ‘ lawn bowling ‘ I suppose McBride  means bowls; as for cricket, there are probably more books on this sport in the UK than in any other country in the world, and that some of the oldest fetch thousands of pounds. But we must remember that cricket is a minority sport in the USA.

3.Travel:…Books on travel abound almost everywhere. The premier areas collected include polar regions, African and South American exploration, the Far East and Oceania, particularly before 1900, etc. Early travel guides, like Baedeker’s, are highly sought…

McBride is broadly accurate, though for some reason he has omitted the early exploration of the United States and travel diaries centring on Europe from the sixteenth century onwards. Transcripts of diaries narrating the Grand Tour have gone a bit out of fashion, mainly because so many were published from the late eighteenth century onwards. Those that have remained in demand are accounts by politicians, art connoisseurs and scientists, since they offer a range of perspectives by people with expert knowledge. Books on Oceania, if one can find them, alongside accounts of visits to Japan , China and Indonesia, are by far the most popular ( and expensive) travel books on the market, if the prices raised at auction are any indication. 

4) Literature: authors, genres ( westerns, science fiction, fantasy, detective fiction, seafaring novels, Vietnam war novels, etc), periods, styles ( hypermodern fiction, minimalist, etc), regional fiction ( the South, the Southwest, etc),lifestyles ( gay and lesbian fiction, urban life, et), authors in translation ( choose your country or language), ethnic fiction ( black, Chicano, Hispanic, etc), humor ( cartoon books, humorous poetry, humorous essayists, etc), paperbacks from the ‘40s-60s( prized for their cover art, often racy, or because they are true editions, not reprints of previously published hardback)…

McBride seems to have covered all bases until you look closer at his list and discover that he has missed out serious poetry, particularly early Modernism, which is as avidly collected here in the UK as it is in America. For Vietnam war novels in the USA read Second World War novels ( or poetry) in the UK. Many of the other fiction genres listed by McBride are of interest only to Americans, although British gay and lesbian fiction and poetry ( for example that of E. E. Bradford, who wrote passionately of the love of boys ) is extremely fashionable at the moment. A coming trend may be trans fiction. You heard it here first.

To be continued…

R. M. Healey

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