Friday, 16 May 2008

Enjoy Your Book Collection


On discovering I'm a keen writer, many friends and family mention how they still enjoy the look, feel and portability of traditional paper and hardbacks.

In my city, huge commerical "temples" of literature where new books can be bought, are evidence of a fondness for traditional paper-made volumes. (Although personally, I still enjoy buying secondhand from market stalls or charity shops. Big bookstores, however, are better for sourcing must-have "out of print" or more specialised titles).

A keen collector since boyhood, I now have around 200 titles, ranging from victorian hardbound volumes, 70s paperbacks and newer series, such as the Harry Potter paperbacks.

I've written this article to share my knowledge of finding, maintaining and enjoying paperbacks and hardbacks. There is a definite way to add value to one's collection, although rare manuscripts and early handmade books are a specialised field needing careful research. Even academic study.
As such, this article focuses on general collecting.

Writer's Guide - Purchasing Secondhand Books:

1. Bear in mind value is added to books in good condition.

This, in fact, enhances one's enjoyment of a collection. If a book has a broken spine, suffers from foxing (discolouration of pages) or has tears and creases, although all these damages can be repaired. (A fairly specialised process requiring book-binding skills). It's worth noting; buying secondhand books without these common defects adds instant value to your collection.

So, a brief inspection of cover, page and spine condition is a task worth undertaking. I've also been known to ask if more than one copy of a book is available, if the one on sale seems too damaged.

2. It's worth having a clear idea of what you wish to collect.

For example, I am very keen on victorian bibles, victorian poetry books, 70s paperbacks and series of books by particular authors. Maintaining an eagle-eyed vigil when in secondhand and charity shops, or at book fairs, for one's preferred titles is very rewarding. Because booksellers are often not going to be as passionate as you when it comes to particular titles or authors. Therefore, many a bargain and rare find can be found on bookhunts.

3. Best Practise For Book Storage.

I am sure you have been in a bookstore, or at a friend's house, where you've come across a mysterious pile of books stacked on top of each other, left in attics, hallways and outhouses. So, the first suggestion (which may sound entirely obvious) is invest in correctly-sized shelving. Your book collection will thank you for it!

Firstly, shelving allows you to see all the titles you have available, plus makes them readily accessable to be enjoyed. (Even shown-off when friends or family visit). Books stacked on top of each other can lead to broken spines. Standing books vertically on a shelf ensures this does not occur. Books also benefit from being housed in an airy room (at room temperature); while keeping them out of direct sunlight reduces colour fading.

Consigning your books to any kind of damp, dirty cold environment, incorrectly stacked, will devalue them almost completely. Mildew, foxing and spine breakages will occur. If there is a rare first edition amongst them by a highly-favoured collectable author or poet, an opportunity to make thousands of pounds will be lost.

4. Understanding What You Have.

The fairly refined worlds of antiquarian book-collecting and bibliography, although fascinating ones, are certainly ones which most of us will not know well. Research is everything in these fields, plus understanding particular markets, such as medieval literature, religious literature and early handwritten manuscripts. There are various entertaining stories of determined bookcollectors searching their whole lives, just to trace one particularly valuable must-have title.

For most of us, we'll be more interested in first editions we might own and which paperbacks and hardbacks are collectable.

Identifying First Editions.


A first edition is defined as the first "print-run", or "printing" of a released title. Second printings can also be defined as first editions, if no significant alterations to typeset and cover were made. Most serious collectors, however, are interested in what are called 1st/1st's (first edition, first printing). Generally, hardback 1st/1st's are more valuable in monetary terms, than their paperback counterparts.


Some first editions, or limited editions, will be named as such on the copyright page usually located at the front of books. Other important details (for collectors) are also located here, such as printing run, owner copyright, credits, copyright permissions, cataloguing details and ISBN number.

Writer's note: The internet can be a boon to establishing true dates of first editions by consulting an author's bibliography.

If the copyright page does not state which edition the book is, the publisher uses a variety of methods on the same page which are useful to collectors. These are:

Publisher Printing Number - Examples:

1 3 5 7 10 8 6 4 (A first edition due to 1 being the first number indicated)
2 5 7 9 11 3 2 1 (A second edition due to 2 being the first number indicated)

Or, a reverse number system is sometimes preferred. Example:

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 (A first edition due to 1 being the terminating number)

Instead of "First Edition", some publishers indicate "First Impression" or "First Printing".

Some publishers indicate "First Edition" then the year of printing, if no subsequent printing dates are indicated, you have a first edition.

Some publishers indicate "No further printings" or use the abbreviation NAP (No additional printings).

There are rare exceptions where none of the above information is stated, except date of publication. In these cases, true first edition dates have to be established by checking the author's bibliography online, or at one's local library.

Do You Have Collectable Books?

This tends to be a subjective question, since different books and authors appeal to different collectors. Although, most experts and avid book-collectors will agree, collecting what you enjoy is the best approach, as literary collections become more valuable over time (as book and comic series go out of print).

Internet searches can establish trends and prices being paid for First Editions of sought-after titles. And, like most collectables, condition is a major factor that determines worth.

A good example of how the modern, fiction collectors market works can be demonstated with the Harry Potter Series:

"Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire" first editions are not particularly valuable (because so many were printed). Whereas a first edition "Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone" was a print-run of only 500. A signed true first edition of this book in hardback is worth over £10,000 to a collector.

Source: Southeby's Auction House (2002).

Generally, short print-run first editions signed by authors are rare, so command the highest prices.