Gather & Bind:
The Fundamentals of Book Collecting

Part Four: What Should I Collect?

ONE OF THE MOST DELIGHTFUL ASPECTS of book collecting is that everybody’s personal library is an expression of his or her interests. A famous Egyptologist owns an extensive collection of books about Ancient Egypt. A physicist may have a collection of books about mathematics and science. A gourmet chef might have a cookbook collection with volumes dating back to the Eighteenth century. An investment banker may plot charts and graphs reflecting the changes over the years in first edition pricing and devise an acquisition strategy based upon them. A world famous authority on mystery books has an avowed goal of collecting every book published in the genre.

Books are the expressions of mankind’s thoughts and feelings, the record of its history, the extensions of its dreams and, perhaps most important, the record of its attempts to understand the meaning of life. There are books about everything, and book collections that encompass all of the infinite varieties of human beings’ thoughts and actions.

From the time we began publishing 15 years ago, Firsts has answered the question “What should I collect?” in the same way: “Collect what you love.”

Personal libraries have existed throughout history. When the printing press with movable type was invented, the wealthy nobility and landowners amassed libraries as a part of their estates. When offset presses extended the availability of books to a much wider readership, personal libraries became possible for people of modest means. Now there are collectors for all sorts of books, and in all kinds of combinations and permutations. There are collecting possibilities for anyone with an interest in books.

The chances are very great that if one collector has an interest in a particular area, there will be others with the same. We have found that interest is contagious; one person’s passion tends to feed the desires of others. As the publishers of Firsts, I find my own enthusiasm fired by the subjects we cover in every issue. One month I might be intrigued by books about the American Civil War, the next month I’ll be sailing with Lord Nelson. Later on I find myself reveling in my passion for opera, and then I’ll move on to the humorous stories of Damon Runyon. One thing is certain: there are collectable books to find on each of these subjects and collectors seeking them.

One of the oddities I have discovered about book collecting is that if I collect books that interest me personally, they seem to appreciate in value much more rapidly than if I try to collect along any established lines. While this is not always the case, the numbers do tend to support this hypothesis. For example, early on I purchased a copy of a novel I read when I was a teenager. A popular best-seller that garnered no respect from literary scholars, the book was considered “uncollectable” for many years. I found a nice first edition copy for $10. Last month, its picture was on the cover of Firsts; today it would easily bring 50 times the purchase price. On the other hand, at about the same time I bought a copy of the hottest “hypermodern” novel for $100. I read it and did not care much for it. The book’s price peaked at $300, began to weaken, and now I might be able to sell it for $50—if I could find a buyer.

All money matters aside, if you collect the books you love, they are then part of your life and your everyday existence. They might become rare collectables, but even if they don’t, they have a continuing aesthetic value that runs deeper than any economic consideration.

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