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Thoughts on Book Collecting
It's not a matter of difficulty or expense, but your interest


My last column, in discussing limited editions, questioned the notion of manufactured collectability. Is it really possible to manufacture a book (or doll, or plate, or whatever) in such a way that it is certain to be collectible? It depends on how you define the term. Is there a difference between a normal copy of a book that achieves a level of collectability over time, and a special copy of a book that is manufactured in such a way that it can properly be called collectible from the start?

My point was that there is a difference between an ordinary copy of a book that subsequently achieves a level of collectability, and a object that goes on to become collectable and a fancy object that is meant to be collectable from the start. In the latter case much of the desirability has to be built up through marketing efforts, artificial scarcity, etc. Value built on these things won't last as long as value that has built up over time.

People collect books for a variety of reasons. Some want the information in the books and are more interested in having a well stocked library on the subject they are interested in. Others want only first editions and valuable books, and don't collect in a particular subject.

Book collectors serve the valuable function of gathering, protecting, and preserving books that would otherwise mold away and be lost. Many of the great research libraries in the world are based upon a core of books gathered by collectors. Our own Library of Congress began when Thomas Jefferson sold his personal library of several thousand books to the government to establish it.

Some people collect books because they feel that books are a good investment. Certainly some books are. You can find comparisons between the stock market and certain blue chip books which show the books outperforming the market.

"What kind of books should I collect?" You should collect what interests you. In the old days a collector would build up a library of books on a subject that interested them. This approach didn't result in a narrow focus by any means because there would be many other directions suggested by the books one acquired. The current trend among collectors is to gather the "high spots." In other words, instead of requiring a copy of each of Hemingway's books all the high spot collector would want are his most famous and most valuable. A high spot collector is sees each book as a special object and is less concerned with how the individual book augments the library as a whole.

There are generally two ways of going about most things-the quick way with a lot of flash and the slow way that puts more emphasis on the whole.

"Do I need a lot of money to collect books?" No, depending on which approach you take. If you want to have a good solid collection of cookbooks, you will find some that are expensive and some that are cheap. In every field of collecting interest there are certain books that are expensive. There are also going to be many books that are not expensive.

You should buy the best copy of a particular book that you can afford. Don't pass on copy of an uncommon book because you think you will find a better copy later. If there is one regret almost all collectors have it is of the book that they saw once and didn't buy because they thought they would find a better copy later.

Some of the best collections of books have been built by people who probably never thought of themselves as collectors. Placing the emphasis on the collectability of a book sometimes puts the cart before the horse.

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