smbwpcbk.jpg (10206 bytes) For the Collector



For the Collector

New & Signed

Edgar 1st

Edgar Best



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Your Question

I would like to start a collection of  books for the future generations of my family and I think this book could be a cool start. Any advice??



Yes – with the qualification that book collecting is very personal and therefore likely more subjective than coins or stamps, and my advice is based on my own experience, preferences and taste. So here goes, first with personal advice, followed by more general info/background:


1. Collect what you like.  There are books that get wildly popular and expensive, but if you don’t like them for themselves it’s kind of cold and you may not enjoy seeing them on your shelves.  For me, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code would be a case in point.


2. Decide how you are personally going to value what you collect. If your idea is to pass along books with the highest possible monetary value to your family, you will probably have a very different collection than if you want a collection that embodies your tastes and values – a kind of literary self-portrait, if you will.  And if the focus is on future generations, you may want books to be signed and personally inscribed to you, even though this may reduce the resale value of the books. My answer to this dilemma is to get two books – one inscribed to me and one with a non-personal signature and inscription. I read the one signed to me and keep the other one as pristine as I can. This is easy and not very expensive with new books, but it does take up more room.


3. Books are not a reliable financial investment. Prices for collectible books generally go up over time, in some cases drastically 20 to 30 times original retail price in 5 years – but that is the exception rather than the rule. If you want to maximize financial returns, buy bonds. But if you love books there’s nothing more fun than collecting them. Also, prices do go down as well as up. This is important to remember, particularly if you are ambivalent about a particular title or writer but are struck by the flurry of rising prices or hype about a book. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement.


4. Think about what you like and why. It will help you be more discerning and articulate, and I find it’s fascinating as an exercise in self-knowledge.


5. If your collection is to be a portrait of your life and times, think about children’s books as well. Do you have favorites that you reread? And/or want future generations to enjoy? Children’s books are very collectible, especially if they embody the zeitgeist of an era. That’s one reason I collect Harry Potter books (the American editions, missed the boat on the UK earliest ones) – I have truly enjoyed them and several of my nieces love them too.  And rumor has it that J. K. Rowling is working on a mystery!


6. Take a look at the books you already have. If you buy hardcovers, chances are you have a bunch of first editions. If you want them signed, look for author signings and take yours along to have signed. The protocol is that you need to buy the new book too, and you shouldn’t show up with a shopping bag full of older books without first checking with the bookseller in question. Often they will be fine with additional books, but will ask that you buy more than one of the new book or some equivalent that makes business sense for them – which is only fair as bookselling is a very tough business. Sometimes they will say no: the author may not be willing or the publisher may want to limit numbers or the bookseller may have time constraints. And be ready to wait at the end of the line.


7. I would be happy to recommend titles, reference materials, personal favorites and new writers I think will appreciate in value. What I do with some of the people who ask me for recommendations is suggest paperbacks first – if you end up wanting a signed first edition, I can sell you a copy or help you find one.


Similarities to Stamp and Coin Collecting

1. Focus your interest – pick a genre, author, time period – or invent your own category. I tend to focus on first books by new writers in the mystery/crime fiction world. I also try to get these books signed and dated, as close to the publication date as possible. In order to further limit the potential scope of my addiction, I also try to collect writers who are alive and that I can meet in person.  This doesn’t always work as I adore Ross MacDonald but he died before I got to meet him. People I know collect award winners, such as the Mystery Writers of America (MWA - is their website) Edgar Award winners. Major categories are Best First Novel by an American Author and Best Novel. The Edgar Awards began in 1946.


Others collect the Haycraft-Queen cornerstone books. The initial list was published in 1942 by Howard Haycraft in his book Murder for Pleasure and quickly became a definitive list for readers and collectors, so much so that even today rare book dealers and collectors still refer to a title as a Haycraft Queen Cornerstone. The list was revised and extended subsequently by Ellery Queen up to 1952 [from Classic Crime Fiction]. The complete list starts in 1748, with Voltaire’s Zadig and includes Poe’s Tales of Mystery & Imagination, Dickens’s Bleak House and Drood, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Arthur Conan Doyle (everything Sherlockian!), Bram Stoker’s Dracula  and goes on to Dorothy Sayers, Dashiell Hammett and Cornell Woolrich – as well as many lesser-known writers.


Still others collect by publisher. A popular and pricey group is the Collins Crime Club, published in the UK from 1930 up through 1994. Most collectors of CCC books hunt for the ones from 1930 thru the 1940s.


2. Scarcity and condition are key factors and it’s smart to get the earliest copy/version you can in the best condition available. Later books (by an author) can be filled in but the earliest ones will usually be the rarest and appreciate the most over time – i.e., get more expensive faster and remain so.


3. Storage and insurance – store your books away from direct sunlight, fluorescent light, and extremes of heat and humidity, and any potential exposure to water (leaky roof, under a bathroom, anywhere near a water heater or steam pipe). Take inventory once a year and a picture of your bookshelves for insurance purposes. Homeowners insurance should cover the contents of your home; check and make sure.


Books – Modern First Editions

1. First Editions – there are more granular definitions, but for most professional dealers this refers to the first print run of the initial publication of the book. When a book comes out in both the US and the UK, whichever came out first is called the true first edition. You can go crazy with books first published in other languages, but I only know English so I’ll stick to that here.  The first print run of a first book by an author is usually the smallest, the scarcest and most pursued by collectors. Most publishers today have a scheme to identify which copies are first edition/first printings as well as later printings (if a book sells beyond all expectations, the publisher will manufacture additional print runs soon after the initial one).  Many times an author will become famous with a second, third or later book – which prompts a frenzy for the earlier titles.


2. Condition, condition, condition: You want a copy that is as close to what came off the press from the publisher as possible. Dustwrappers are extremely important. Any additional ephemera – specialty bookmarks, publishers’ marketing material, postcards etc. are a plus and can be a significant factor in desirability among collectors. Condition description categories range from Fine to Very Good to Good to Fair (most to least desirable) and apply to both the book and dustwrapper. Some dealers add intermediate categories, but there is always a degree of subjectivity involved so it is wise to know who you are dealing with and understand their terminology. Trust is important.


3. Signatures – the fact that an author actually held the book in his/her hands and personally signed it is of major importance to book collectors. Anything that further makes the copy unique, such as a line from the book, a date (close to the date of publication is better than years after), location or sketch by the author can enhance the future value of a particular volume. Bookplates, laid in rather than fixed to the book, are preferable to no signature, but a direct signature to the book itself is most highly valued.


4. Inscriptions: While many collectors prefer that a book is not inscribed to a particular person, exceptions include what are called association copies. This is when an author personalizes a book to another author, his editor, a famous friend or someone who influenced the writing of the book. An example might be a book inscribed from Dashiell Hammett to Lillian Hellman.  Some rare book dealers also believe that more of an author's handwriting is better, whatever the words are, and that personal inscriptions add to the value of a book.  For me, it depends...


Hope this helps you get started!


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