Gather & Bind:
The Fundamentals of Book Collecting

Part Five: Where Do I Find the Books?

JUST AS THERE ARE ANY NUMBER OF POSSIBILITIES FOR COLLECTING, there are a large variety of strategies for finding books for your collection. The most natural place for many of us to look for books has always been a bookstore. Nearly every city has a large number of chain bookstores that sell new books, and many of the larger metropolitan areas still support independents, especially those that cater to customers who buy genre books, such as mystery and science fiction. Over the last decade, competition from “big box” stores like Costco, and price-cutting strategies by chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, have forced many independent booksellers to close their doors. Once they have effectively eliminated local competition, the chains typically discontinue their deep discounts, resulting in a net loss to the buyer by the homogenization of the marketplace. There is also increasing pressure on brick and mortar stores from huge online outlets such as Amazon.com, which cut prices and charge little or nothing for delivery.

There are still many used and rare booksellers with open shops, although the changing economics of the marketplace are making business more difficult for them all the time. There is genuine satisfaction in visiting a “real” bookshop that includes browsing for books and finding an occasional “sleeper” that resides undiscovered on the shelf. A collector with an interest in a specific area, for example, Western Americana, will profit greatly from visiting a specialist shop. Most specialist dealers are immensely knowledgeable in their areas and can be a great resource to a buyer. Many dealers still issue regular catalogues, which have always been a mainstay for book collectors.

A collector would be wise to contact several dealers, not only those within driving distance, but those from all over the country, who are widely known in their fields. Firsts’ advertisers and board members fit into this group. A list of these will be found online at Firsts.com. The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, Inc. (ABAA) publishes a directory that includes names, addresses, telephone numbers and specialties of members.

Most large metropolitan areas support at least one book fair a year, sometimes more than one. At a fair, a book collector will find a large variety of booksellers and many desirable books in all fields on display. Some of the larger book fairs, including those sponsored by the ABAA, attract sellers from all over the world. An afternoon or evening’s browsing is likely to be a very rewarding experience, not only limited to finding books to buy, but also in making contacts and seeing treasures in all fields.

By using these resources, a collector may establish contact with reputable dealers that will last for many years. Most collectors have favorite sellers. Over time these relationships will be profitable both for the buyer and the seller. They form the basis for the enduring book trade.

Over the last decade, the Internet has emerged as a major venue for buying and selling used and rare books. The number of booksellers has escalated, as has the number of offerings of books for sale. Finding books is easier now than it ever has been. A visit to one of the vast databases, for example Abebooks.com, or an auction site like eBay.com, will yield a huge number of possibilities. However, this seemingly effortless process is not without risk. There are many people selling books on these web sites who have little book knowledge and almost no business scruples. Caveat emptor. Although I frequently search for books on the Internet, 99 percent of the time I buy them—particularly the more expensive ones—from booksellers I have come to know and trust through years of telephone conversations, catalogue and shop sales, and book fairs.

In summary, then, the best friend a book collector has is a well-established, reputable bookseller with a deep knowledge acquired over a lifetime of experience in the trade.

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