On Book Collecting – Part One

Over the past few years I’ve become much more knowledgeable on book collecting then I ever thought I would. As I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of collecting books, I’ve picked up a few tricks and secrets I thought I’d pass along. Please use them for good and not evil.

Tip # 1 – Choose what you love. My particular passion is signed first edition spy novels and since starting I’ve collected over 300. Some are quite valuable but whatever you do, don’t start collecting anything with the thought of eventually making money. It’s rare that you will get something that will increase in price that greatly to make it worth it if you aren’t passionate about the topic in the first place.

Tip # 2 – I’d also suggest to pick a relatively narrow topic at first. Maybe it’s 60’s paperbacks, first editions of an author’s work, limited editions, every different printing for a particular novel or something completely different, it doesn’t matter. However if you start with something limited in scope, you can start to learn how to find your books and what’s worth getting. Over time you’ll probably end up overreaching that topic anyway so it’s good to limit at the start.

Tip # 3 – Be prepared to get the wrong thing, especially at first and for bigger authors. As you start it’s a learning process so be prepared to find out that beautiful first edition you bought is actually a reprint or the book you took a flier on because it said “Inscribed” just has a note from someone’s granny written in it. I certainly made my own mistakes but youll be amazed at how you can eventually easily separate the wheat from the chaff.

Tip # 4 – Once you start, keep a list and keep it updated. When you start, you may think there is no way you won’t remember what you have, but I guarantee that at some point you’ll be in a bookstore or online, looking at a title and wondering, “Do I have that one?” Better to know for sure.

Tip # 5 – Once you’ve decided on a topic, there are various technical things to look for that will help determine value and how much is worth paying for a particular item. See the below list for a place to start –

  • Condition – This is the most important. If buying property is all about location, location, location, than book collecting is condition, condition, condition. The ideal is a copy of a book that looks like it just slid off of the assembly line. (For some reason I imagine books being made like cars.) That being said, rarity also plays a factor. If your beat up copy is one of ten in the world, it will be priced accordingly.
  • Dust Jacket or DJ – the cover on a hard back book and also the place where a book takes the most abuse. Any dings, rips, creases, fading to the colors all affect the value of the book. Another indignity book covers would face in the past is booksellers cutting off the price on the corner of a DJ out of the idea that you’ll be mad if they charge more than the cover price. In case you ever see it, it’s called “price-clipped,” and be aware occasionally shady characters will attempt to pass off a book club edition as the retail version by cutting off “BCE” which is right where the price would be.
  • Boards – On hard covers these are the thick cardboard ends of a book. Ideally they have sharp edges that haven’t been “bumped.”
  • Spine – The part of the book that holds the whole darn thing together. Again the preference of an uncracked spine, i.e. One that feels like it’s never been read or opened.
  • Marriage – No this doesn’t refer to your spouse trying to get you to throw out all those moldy old books you’ve been hanging onto for years. This is when someone takes the dust jacket of one book and swaps it with another of the same edition. It is typically done when you have two copies of a book but one is has a beat up DJ and one has a beat up book. I don’t have a problem with this as long as they are both the same edition/printing but others feel differently.
  • Foxing – Discoloration to the edges of the pages of a book. Tends to make your books look like they have the measles.
  • Signed – A book signed by the author.
  • Inscribed – Typically a book not only signed, but signed to someone. Be sure it’s the author and not some random person though.
  • Association Copy – These are typically books that were given to someone “famous,” like another author or celebrity. Many times they are inscribed by the author to that person.
  • Tipped in page – This refers to an individual page of the book that was signed separately from the rest of the book and inserted into the print run as they put the book together. They are becoming more prevalent and are typically easily noticed as they are just a blank page with a signature on it. For me they are slightly less desirable since it means the author didn’t really lay hands on the book.
  • 1st edition AND 1st printing – This is important. A first edition is not necessarily the first one printed. For that, you need to double check the copyright page. There’s typically a spot where it says first edition. Good, first hurdle cleared. Now you need check the line of numbers to be sure it’s a “full” 1 through 10. There also might be wording that states which printing it is. Not every publisher is the same and the older the book the dicer it gets. I recommend this page as an additional resource to help understand different printings as it’s important. Typically collectors look to the first edition from the author’s country of origin as the “true” first, even if the book came out earlier in a different country.
  • THUS – This is typically preceded by “First edition THUS”. Beware, it is not a true first edition, just the first edition of a reprint. They can still be collectible but tend to not be as valuable.
  • Book Club editions or BCE – This can sometimes look very similar to a true first edition but are not worth nearly as much. Typical tells are – cheaper paper, flimsier dust jacket, no price on the DJ, a smaller book than your typical hardcover. That being said, depending on the book, even these editions can sometimes be sought after. In general though, I would avoid them.
  • Limited/Special/Fine/Numbered Printings – These typically have a limited number of copies created that are either special bindings, sometimes with a slipcover, or each book is given a number and they are typically signed.

Tip # 7 – Once you buy a book, keep it in good condition! Use plastic dust wrappers. They keep your dust jackets crisp, undamaged and help prevent the colors from fading. I’ve had good luck buying them from VJ Books. Another tip is to do your best to keep them in a location that is not too cold or too hot and doesn’t have fluctuating temperatures. 

Ok, now you know how to get started and what to look for. Where do you find these books at? Here’s part two where I provide some tips on where and how you can purchase your books.

Further reading –

Firsts, a book collecting magazine has a nice on “how to” on collecting books that goes into even further detail on collecting books.

Quill & Brush, a bookseller, also wrote one of the definitive books on book collecting. Find it here.

2 thoughts on “On Book Collecting – Part One

  1. Pingback: 14: Jeff reveals his tips on collecting Spy Books - Spybrary - Spy Podcast

  2. Pingback: On book collecting – Part Two – Spy Write

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