How to Collect Old Rare Books

Three Methods:Know What to Look ForAcquire the BooksStore and Care for Your Collection

Just about any bibliophile can explain the appeal of collecting old, rare books. From the wealth of information to the musty smell of browned, ink-covered pages, there is a lot to love. If you are thinking about starting your own rare book collection, you should first determine what exactly you are looking for and make yourself aware of how to look and store your book collection properly.

Method 1
Know What to Look For

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    Narrow your interests. So you know you want to collect old, rare books. That’s a good place to start, but with as many books as there are, it’s also a rather broad category. Consider narrowing your collection by interest. Ask yourself if you want to collect fiction, non-fiction, or both. Determine if there are any subjects that pique your curiosity more than others or if there are any notable writers whom you would like to center your collection around. You do not need to limit your entire collection to these specific interests, but knowing your top priorities can help guide your efforts.
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    Know your restrictions. Many a bibliophile would love nothing more than to have an entire library’s worth of old, rare books. Unfortunately, this dream is very rarely turned into reality, due to the restrictions everyone must suffer through.
    • Have a realistic understanding of your budget. Antique book collections can be quite pricey to build. You may find that you have enough money to slowly buy original prints of your favorite author’s works, but not much else.
    • Pay attention to how much space you have. Even if you have the money to spend, it will not do you much good if you do not have the space to store your books. If you only have one bookshelf in your home dedicated to old books and have no other available space for more, you should probably limit yourself to one bookshelf’s worth.
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    Familiarize yourself with terminology.[1] Before you go out collecting, you need to have a general idea of what booksellers and other book collectors are talking about. There are many terms used to describe the overall state of a book, but some of the most important include those that describe the book’s condition, edition, binding, and inscription.
    • Book condition is rated as very fine, fine, very good, good, and poor/fair, with "very fine" at the top and "poor/fair" at the bottom.
    • The most valuable editions are first and limited editions, but first thus, second, and later editions can also be worthwhile.
    • Book bindings include the traditional hard cover, mass market paperback, and trade paperback covers. Wrappers refer to any type of soft paperback binding, and library binding a more durable type of binding that libraries sometimes re-bind books in.
    • Signed books can be signed to different people. Dedication copies are signed to the person the book is dedicated to and are very rare. Inscribed books are signed to a specific person, association copies are signed to a well-known person, and gift inscriptions are signed by someone other than the author.
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    Research prices.[2] Knowing what you can expect to pay for a particular book will ease the shock of a high price later on, but more importantly, it will prevent you from getting scammed by a bookseller trying to sell a book for more than it is worth. There are numerous book price or book value guides available, and most can be found through local lending libraries.

Method 2
Acquire the Books

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    Search online. With the dawning of the digital age, collectors of every type now have access to more sellers. You can comb through listings on Internet auction sites or look at websites specifically dedicated to selling old books, but a simple Internet search will usually be able to put you in touch with someone who either has what you are looking for or knows where to find it. Before committing to a purchase, however, make sure that the seller is a reputable person who is accountable to someone, such as the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America.
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    Find an antique bookstore nearby. Look through a telephone book or through online directories. An antique bookstore can be somewhat rare, but these stores specialize in finding old, rare books and rely on building long-term relationships with the collectors who are most interested in buying such books.
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    Frequent all the used bookstores in your area. Even an ordinary used bookstore may occasionally have a rare book on hand. If the bookseller knows what he is doing, though, he will likely keep these more valuable books behind glass or behind the counter, so you might be better off asking the store owner directly rather than combing through the stacks yourself.
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    Contact libraries. Libraries often have book sales, and old books are occasionally among the books being sold. It is more common for a privately owned library to sell off a valuable book than a public lending library, but you can check out book sales from both types.
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    Get in touch with other book collectors. Joining a book collector’s club is a good way to do this, but you can also make allies with other book collector’s through online message boards, blogs, and other similar communities.
    • A book collecting ally can keep an eye out for books for your collection. While searching for a particular book for her own collection, your fellow bibliophile may run across the perfect book for yours. By agreeing to help each other out, you can both increase your chances of finding everything you desire.
    • Other book collectors might be willing to make a trade. Most collectors have books that they value more than others. If your fellow bibliophile has a book in her collection that she had moderate feelings about in spite of the fact that it is the perfect one for your collection, she may be willing to trade if there is a book she greatly covets among your collection.
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    Notify your loved ones. While it is unlikely that casual acquaintances will drop big money to support your rare book addition, close relatives, long-time friends, and serious lovers may be willing to indulge you once or twice. Make your love of old, rare books known amongst those who are closest to you, and tell them a few titles you would appreciate snagging.

Method 3
Store and Care for Your Collection

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    Monitor the temperature and humidity of your storage location. The ideal temperature for older books is between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 18 degrees Celsius), and the best humidity is around 50 to 60 percent. Too little moisture causes a book to become brittle, but too much moisture leads to mold.
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    Keep the books away from strong light. Ultraviolet light fades the inks and dyes used in many books, especially in older works, and a rare antique book exposed to sunlight will show considerable discoloration within a few short days.
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    Handle the books with care. Remove a fragile book from the bookshelf by tilting it backwards and easing it out of place from the front or top sides of the book. Do not remove the book from the top of its spine, since this is the most fragile part of any book. You should also ease the book open rather than forcing it, since force will likely cause stiff pages to come unbound.
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    Store most books on shelves. Keeping the books in a vertical position not only saves space but ensures that each book does not have to support the weight of any other book. Additionally, even old, rare books can be stored on bookshelves and actually do well when stored this way as long as the humidity, temperature, and light conditions of the room are managed well.
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    Store heavy books on their sides. The weight of large, heavy books put pressure on the spine, causing pages to slowly pull away. You should avoid stacking too many of these books on top of one another, though, since stacking more than two or three heavy books puts too much pressure on the bottom book.
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    Pack the books securely, but leave a little wiggle room. The books should be packed securely enough to prevent them from tumbling over. Leaving a small gap in between books allows for greater air circulation, though, and also prevents unnecessary friction or stress from squeezing a book when removing it from the shelf.

Things You’ll Need

  • Book price guide
  • Bookshelves

Article Info

Categories: Books