Collecting Rare Books

It used to be that books were precious objects which would quickly outgrow their shelf space. These days however, even buying a paperback is considered old fashioned, and the popularity of e-book readers has put pay to the problems of making space for books in the home. However, even though the digital book scores ten out of ten for convenience, physically owning a beautiful book is a different experience, and is becoming increasingly valued as we rush into the digital age.
So for those who appreciate and enjoy the beauty of books as physical objects, or even just view it as an investment, building a collection of quality antiquarian books can be a fulfilling and satisfying hobby. So here’s a quick guide on how to collect and enjoy rare and out of print books.
A book collection can be focused around a single theme, or you can simply collect any book you find interesting. If you do want to focus on a particular subject, broadly speaking, themes you can build a collection around consist of:

  • Art, Architecture and Design
  • History
  • Religion & Philosophy
  • Children’s (Juvenilia)
  • Science, Medicine and Natural History
  • Music
  • Sports
  • Travel & Exploration

What to Look For
A rare book is a book that is considered special in some way, and doesn’t necessarily mean that it is either old or hard to get hold of. Books are considered rare if they are important, influential, especially beautifully produced, or scarce. There are also many other factors that can make a book rare, such as print run, quality and condition of the book, and the genre. To give an example, the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack is one of the longest running sports handbooks in the world. The Wisden books were beautifully produced, and are now considered period pieces depicting another era, containing valuable quality writing on the subject of cricket. For this reason alone, early editions in good condition are hard to find, and are so now considered highly collectable and extremely valuable.
Sourcing Books
The great thing about collecting books is that they can be found almost anywhere! An unusual book can be discovered rummaging around second-hand book shops, charity shops, car boot sales, or bric-a-brac shops. However, you can also visit book fairs, or use online book sellers specialising in collectable or out of print books. If you have a specialism, there are also specialist online rare book sellers. So for example, if you had an interest in military history books, a specialist bookseller in the subject is likely to have a good selection of books on this theme.
Storing Collectable Books
You will obviously need space to devote to your collection, but generally speaking, books need only a cool dry room that is not damp or has direct sunlight. A collection can soon build up into a valuable asset, so whether you are storing the Wisden Almanac, or the original Origin of Species, you will need to make sure they are safe from harm!

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Rob Rudd is a keen writer and appreciates the works of others. He can often be found perusing the book shelves of the local second hand book shops.