Book Collecting for Fun and Profit by Bill McBride (1997)

Part three

What do you like?

5) History:

Periods, politics, wars, monarchs, presidents, suffragists, leftwing, rightwing or in-the middle politics, abolitionists etc.

History is a huuuuuge field, and McBride doesn’t specify if the collector should stick to the history of his or her own country or focus on the history of another country or continent. Collecting in the field of politics, military history, royalty and presidents follows on from there. Collecting in this area is self-explanatory really, but a particular focus on some of the topics he lists under the banner of ‘ history ‘ ( such as monarchs, suffragists and abolitionists ) does indicate what the personal politics of the collector might be. Also, collecting, say, books on a particular monarch, such as Henry VIII or George III, would be pretty boring if only scholarly works on the monarch were collected rather than contemporary works in which the monarch was mentioned. The same applies to ‘ wars ‘ and ‘ politics’. In these two areas contemporary pamphlets, such as those which appeared during the English Civil War, or the period in which the movement for parliamentary reform gave rise to radical works for, and reactionary responses against, reform, would contribute an immediacy to the period. In the reign of George III, for instance, the collector might look out for the radical pamphlets of John Wilkes, William Cobbett, Richard Carlile, Thomas Paine and William Hone , or as a right wing response, the Anti-Jacobin squibs of George Canning and the Tory  John Bull newspaper edited by the brilliantly witty Theodore Hook. In other words, McBride’s section on history is far too vague and lacking in significant detail.

6) Science and Technology:

‘biographies of inventors, naturalists, scientists of any ilk, books about the development of space travel, communication, transportation, computers, mathematics, genetics etc.’

No amplification is needed here. Collectors will have their own areas of interest and biographies of famous scientists are always a good place to start. The late lamented Eric Korn, a marine biologist by training, but a dealer by inclination, was fascinated by Charles Darwin and his lists reflect that passion. Unfortunately, books recording the lives of scientists that were published before, say, 1800, are often too anecdotal and downright gossipy, to be of genuine use. As for books about space travel, collectors should be advised that early science fiction books can broaden the perspective in an entertaining and often amusing way. After all, a collection of works on the development of space travel which is dominated by technical manuals must inevitably be boring. Some rare mid Victorian works eked out by the speculative fiction of H. G. Wells and later writers will prevent your collection becoming too dry. Communication can mean the history of the telephone, the radio and TV, and here the opportunities for assembling an exciting collection of books might start with  copies of the first telephone directories, copies of the Radio Times from the early 1920s and the first book on television, Television: Seeing by Wireless ( 1926) by Alfred Dinsdale—a classic of its kind (see above). The latest collecting field in communications is, of course, the  development of the computer. A worthwhile one to follow, though the field has many rich collectors who have driven up prices.

The other fields under the heading ‘ science and technology ‘ will bring cultural and social history into the frame. Books on railways is a well-established collecting area, but a lesser known one is books on the development of the road. Here, John Loudon  McAdam was a pioneer. His Remarks on the present system of road-making (1816) is a must have for anyone fascinated by the development of the road in Britain. 

7) Transportation:

‘planes, trains and automobiles, subways, carriages and dirigibles, cycles (uni-,-by or tri), tunnels, bridges and causeways: if it helped get people from one place to another, there are books about it.’

This field overlaps with science and technology to some extent. Train enthusiasts in Britain will want to start with a first edition of Bradshaw (1839/40), but collectors should beware of the facsimile which looks almost identical to the first edition and may be passed of as such by unscrupulous dealers. Enthusiasts for underground railways will be most interested in maps of various subway systems, notably those of London, which, in 1863, was the first in the world. Look out for a copy of the Methuen guide to London ( 1912 ) which contains a fold out coloured map that would look good framed. The history of ‘dirigibles’ (aka balloons), which were the earliest form of flight, is one of the most popular collecting areas, encompassing as it does pamphlets and newspaper accounts of balloon flight from the late 18thcentury onwards. The history of cycling has produced a fairly large literature, but this is mainly devoted to ephemera. Collectors could eke this out with novels celebrating the golden era of cycling, which was c 1880 – 1920.    The history of tunnelling is a limited field, but it has its collectors, many of whom would pay good money for ephemera related to the first tunnel under water—the perilous undertaking by I. K. Brunel’s father, which took pedestrians under the Thames from Wapping to Rotherhithe from 1843 until it was later taken over by the Metropolitan Railway. 

To be continued…

R. M. Healey 

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