Book collecting is the collecting of books, including seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining whatever books are of interest to a given individual collector. The love of books is bibliophilia, and someone who loves to read, admire, and collect books is a bibliophile. Bibliophilia is sometimes called bibliomania, but should not be confused with the obsessive-compulsive disorder by that name, which involves the excessive accumulation and hoarding of books. The term bookman, which once meant a studious or scholarly man, now means one who writes, edits, publishes, or sells books.
True book collecting is distinct from casual book ownership and the accumulation of books for reading. It can probably be said to have begun with the collections of illuminated manuscripts, both commissioned and second-hand, by the elites of Burgundy and France in particular, which became common in the 15th century. Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy appears to have had the largest private collection of his day, with about six hundred volumes. With the advent of printing with movable type books became considerably cheaper, and book collecting received a particular impetus in England and elsewhere during the Reformation when many monastic libraries were broken up, and their contents often destroyed. There was an English antiquarian reaction to Henry VIII's dissolution of the Monasteries. The commissioners of Edward VI plundered and stripped university, college, and monastic libraries, so to save books from being destroyed, those who could began to collect them.
Book collecting can be easy and inexpensive: there are millions of new and used books, and thousands of bookstores, including online booksellers like Abebooks, Alibris, and Amazon. Only the wealthiest book collectors pursue the great rarities: the Gutenberg Bible, and Shakespeare's First Folio, for example, are both famous and extremely valuable. Collectors of average means may collect works by a favorite author, first editions of modern authors, or books on a given subject. Book prices generally depend on the demand for a given book, the number of copies available, and their condition.
Genres, themes, and interests
There are millions of books, so collectors necessarily specialize in one or more genres or sub-genres of literature. A reader of fiction, who enjoys Westerns, might decide to collect first editions of Zane Grey's novels. A lover of modern English poetry might collect the works of Dylan Thomas. A Californian who prefers non-fiction might look for books about the history of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Individual interests may include:
Related collecting interests include collecting autographs, and ephemera.
Book prices generally depend on the demand for a given book, the number of copies available for purchase, and the condition of a given copy. As with other collectibles, prices rise and fall with the popularity of a given author, title, or subject.
eBay, and online booksellers like Abebooks, Alibris, and Amazon, have profoundly affected the prices of new and used books, generally reducing them. Commercial and private sellers list unused copies of many books that are still in print at their list prices for as little as one cent.
Because of the huge number of books for sale, there is no single comprehensive price guide for collectible books. The prices of the copies listed for sale at the online bookseller sites provide some indication of their current market values.
As with other collectibles, the value of a book ultimately depends on its physical condition. Years of handling, moving, and storage take their toll on the dust jacket, cover, pages, and binding. Books are subject to damage from sunlight, moisture, and insects. Acid from the papermaking process can cause the pages to develop brown spots, called foxing; gradually turn brown, called tanning; and ultimately crumble.
Common defects include general wear; jacket/cover edge wear, scratches, and tears; the previous owner's written name, bookplate, or label; soil and stains; dogeared pages; underlining, highlighting, and marginalia; water damage; torn hinges, endpapers and pages; and pages, illustrations, or whole signatures free of the binding, or missing entirely.
A book in good condition should be a rectangular solid when at rest, whether upright or on its back, with the covers at right angles to the spine. If a book is out of square, usually from resting crooked on a shelf, or leans to the right or left when on its back, it is cocked, or shelf-cocked. If the covers bend in or flare out, usually from rapid humidity changes, a book is bowed (bent like a drawn bow).
New books are readily available from bookstores and online. Many bookstores specialize in out-of-print, used, antiquarian, rare and collectible books. Online booksellers, including Abebooks, Alibris, and Amazon, encourage other stores and individuals to sell books through their websites, and charge a commission.
Antique and collectible stores may have a few books for sale. Major auction houses sell quality collectible books, and local auction houses may sell books by the carton. Thrift shops and second-hand stores commonly have book sections. Other sources include estate, yard, garage, or rummage sales; and charity fund-raisers.
Book-collecting is essentially a modern pastime. A glance through what must be regarded as the medieval textbook on the love of books, the Philobiblon, shows that it deals almost exclusively with the delights of literature. Sebastian Brant's attack on the book-fool, written a century and a half later, demonstrates nothing more than that the possession of books is a poor substitute for learning. Even when the invention of printing had reduced the cost of books by some 80 percent, book-collectors did not immediately appear.
Early book-owners were not necessarily collectors. Jan Grolier (1479 - 1565), who caused many books to be bound for himself and his friends, seems to have done so partly to encourage the best printers of his day, and partly to provide his friends with the most recent fruits of Renaissance scholarship. In England Archbishop Cranmer, the Lords Arundel and Lumley, and Henry, Prince of Wales1 (1594 - 1612), and in France the famous historian Jacques Auguste de Thou (1553 - 1617), brought together the best books of their day, and put them into handsome leather jackets, for use and study, not as collectibles. Others have been dubbed collectors because they owned a shelf-full of volumes stamped with their arms.
Lord Crawford had vast collections of English, Scottish, and Irish proclamations and papal bulls, whose collecting may be interpreted as an attempt to promote historical research.[neutrality disputed] Louis Lucien Bonaparte's collection, consisting of books in or about various languages, may also be considered an attempt to compile and promote research.[neutrality disputed] Today, collecting of this kind is carried out by libraries, universities, and institutions.
As Henry died at the age of 18, he can scarcely be described as a collector of significance. However, his father, King James VI and I, bought the library of Lord Lumley for him. See the description of an item from that library that is held by the Library of St John's College, Cambridge.
The history of book collecting in China dates back over two millenia. The first important effort to collect books in China was made during the early Han Dynasty by the government, as many important books were burned during the Qin Dynasty. From then on, book collecting began to flourish in China, particularly after the invention of block printing during the early Tang Dynasty, with both imperial and private collections blooming throughout the country. However, the systematic study of book collecting began only during the Qing Dynasty.
For more modern accounts, see the series of books on book-collectors, book-collecting and "bibliomania" by Nicholas A. Basbanes:
Follow husband and wife team Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone as they search for rare and collectible volumes, and explore real mysteries in the rare-book world, in:
For book collecting in China, see: