*Senior Reference Librarian, State Library of S.A.
(Reprinted from Biblionews and Australian Notes & Queries, December, 1981, (Vol. 6 Nos 3, 4), p. 37.)
FORTY YEARS ago the word “book-collector” projected a simple image in the minds of literate Austalians: a picture of the gentle scholar, with silver hair and spectacles, snug in his lamp-lit study with a glass of port and a priceless mediaeval manuscript. Real bookcollectors, in Australia, were rarities known only to the book trade and to a few specialist librarians.
But book-collecting today is not simple. Book-collectors can be doctors or lawyers, bakers, people who compete at book auctions with antiquarian booksellers and buyers from state and national libraries. They pay large sums for the journals of our explorers, for first editions of our poets, for shabby little paper-covered books about early Australian wine-making. Such books are not lovely, as the best manuscript books and incunabula are, but they share one thing with ancient books of Europe: they are survivors, irreplaceable remnants of events and of the book-producing craftsmanship that recorded these events. Their value is something that cannot be reckoned in money alone.
Book-collecting, like all other specialist pursuits, has very many traps. Most of these can be avoided after years of handling books, talking to knowledgeable people, and reading books on book-collecting. Experience will teach that even the novice can be safe if he deals with a capable and honest bookseller, but the novice, if he prefers to collect unaidcd, needs to be wary.
This article attempts to indicate some of the problems and to givc practical advice to the beginning book-collector who buys mostly in Australia and who is concerned mainly with collecting early Australian books.
The compulsion to collect exists in children and bower-bird many otherwise sane adults. People who lack the acquisitive instinct simply wonder why others agonize over decisions, strain their resources and grow prematurely grey just to acquire a few old books. People collect books for many reasons. Books are the records of civilization of man’s achievements, his hopes and his disappointments. Books record every scientific discovery from Darwin’s evolutionary thinking to Einstein’s space-time tangles; they record geographical discoveries; in books are all our imaginative literature, from Beowulf to Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding, all the Utopias, the dreams, and the poetic beauty man has created as furniture for his world.
And of course people also collect books for pleasure and enjoyment, to increase their knowledge, for the pride of possession, the excitement of the chase, the appreciation and love of things beautiful, old and rare, the desire to complete a collection, or, sometimes, merely as investments.
“There are many people who read and accumulate books, but who can in no way be considered collectors because their book buying is without direction. Yet, there comes a time when, for one reason or another, some of these people find themselves buying a copy of a book they already own. It may be a finer edition than the one on their shelves, a first edition of one of their favourite books, or a book that is special in some other way. They may never have considered themselves a collector of books, but once this purchase has been made, they have started on the road to becoming a collector.” Jean Peters makes this distinction between the book-buyer and the book-collector in her preface to Book Collecting, a Modern Guide. Her examples help to show that it is not necessary to have the financial resources of an American mining magnate to be a book-collector.
Although desire for a special book may send him forth, the exploring collector needs as basic equipment a knowledge of books. For books are the product of an evolutionary process that began before the Christian era and which, even in these days of mass-production, is still proceeding. To the person who understands the making of books, everything about them, the details of format, design, binding, paper, typography and illustration, can be inexhaustively fascinating. And the knowledge is practical and necessary: some of the most enthralling true detective stories deal with the unmasking of forgeries, fakes and “restorations” of rare books. To do this, the detective must know a great deal about paper, printing and the putting-together of books.
The craft of book making is far too great to be contained in this article. But an acquaintance with it is necessary and at the end of the essay there is a list of some useful titles on the history and production of books.
Jean Peters defines a book-collector as a purposive buyer, and there are as many different definitions of book-collecting and book-collectors as there have been people writing on the subject. John Carter in his scholarly and eloquent Taste and technique in book collecting, talks of a book-collector as one “who has a reverence for, and a desire to possess, the original or some other specifically admirable, curious or interesting edition of a book he loves or respects or one which has a special place among his intellectual interests”.
All very admirable. without reverence and respect, and the desire to guard against harm, no-one should collect books. But Carter continues, with typical panache: “lndeed the Greeks might have been justified in invoking Eros to describe the feeling which animates the true book-collector; that kind of love which demands the physical possession of its object, which consumes the collector with passionate longings, chills him with fear of his rivals, tortures him with envy”.
There is a certain elitist attitude to book-collecting which seems to be compounded partly of the desire to guard and cherish and partly from the lust to possess. Some decades ago Bernard Quaritch, a leading English antiquarian bookseller, wrote: “The reader is a destroyer of books; he is undeserving of the title of book-collector, a title which connotes the idea of book-preserver. In order to preserve them, one must not read them. The man who reads his “books does not expect to amass many, and is therefore devoid of that fine ambition which stimulates the bibliophile who knows that if he collects a sufficient number of rare and choice books, he is, provided he does not injure them by use, winning for himself a loftier distinction than knightage or even baronage could give”.
Essentially, a book-collector is a person who buys to a plan. Even people who think that their past book-buying has been casual and haphazard will probably find, on looking through their shelves, that some subjects, or some writers, are better represented than others. And these preferences are often the germ of collecting. You may find yourself actively seeking out books on butterflies or Australian verse for children, looking for editions of the Bible, or collecting books on cacti. Whatever direction this acquisition may take it is certain to reflect some of your true personal interests.
Because people tend to collect according to their interests and pleasures, it is unreasonable to suggest that they should collect this and not that, within the limits of their bank balances. It is fair to say that building up a collection requires a definition of the limits of one’s subject and a determination to keep within those limits. Without this discipline the directions of collecting become fuzzy – and unnecessarily expensive.
Sometimes, of course, the beginner may find it difficult to see any pattern in the books he owns. A friend of mine has a large room lined with everything from children’s picture books to works on zoology and comparative religion. Among them there is a variety of books published in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: Beccaria Bonesana’s An essay on Crimes and Punishments (the 1788 edition), the first edition (1793) of Marfyn’s The Language of Botany, a 1798 edition of Swift’ s Tale of a Tub, and Hannah More’s Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, published in two volumes in 1799. Such a miscellany seems particularly puzzling because its neighbours are a shelf of children’s books-Gulliver’s Travels (in nine different publishers’ editions for children), six of Coral Island, several Robinson Crusoe’s and Swiss Family Robinsons.
From these books slips protrude, marking the places of illustrations, and if you open them you’ll find the reason. ln all standard children’s books there are incidents that are invariably used by every illustrator-Crusoe discovering the footprints on the beach; the cornfield scene in Brobdingnag-and the variety of approaches of different artists makes a fascinating study, for anyone interested in book illustration.
The older books indicate that my friend’s interests are not restricted to particular subjects. He is interested, it seems, in illustration, and probably certainly, in fact-in book design and book production. He likes the feel of old bindings; he enjoys the hand-made papers of the eighteenth-century books; he knows enough about typography to compare the types in eighteenth century books with those used in the nineteenth and twentieth; he can appreciate comparisons between the books of the past and those of today.
Once a serious collector has defined the subjects in which he wishes to collect he will want to know the basic and most important books which he should acquire in each field. He will want to know how difficult they are to obtain and how much, roughly, he should pay for them. He may want to know when a first or some subsequent edition was published and how to tell whether a copy is complete or not, and what to look for in the ideal copy.
The answers to most of these questions can be found in reference books and bibliographies. Bibliographies, for the present purpose, are lists of books usually accompanied by some physical description of each book. They can be general, such as the British Library’s General Catalogue of Printed Books, or the U.S.A. Library of Congress’ s National Union Catalog, which list most books ever published in the U.K. and U.S.A. These multi-volume titles are held in major libraries, and are often used to identify books and to deter-mine editions. There is no equivalent set of volumes to help in identifying Australian books, although some of our books do appear in both works. For Austali4 the standard reference works are the Mitchell Library’s Dictionary Catalog of Printed Books, which reproduces the card catalogue of the world’s greatest Australiana collection; Sir John Ferguson’s invaluable Bibliography of Australia 1784-1900 in seven volumes, recently reprinted by the National Library of Australia; and for more recent works the Australian National Bibliography.
Then there are many specialized bibliographies on an enormous variety of subjects. It is difficult to pick out just a few titles from the masses available, but as examples there are Marcie Muir’s Bibliography of Australian Children’s Books; H M Whittell’s The Literature of Australian Birds; R V Tooley’s English Books with Coloured Plates, 1790 to 1860; The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature ; E M Miller’ s Australia Literature from its Beginnings to 1935;Ian F Mclaren’s C J Dennis, a Comprehensive Bibliography;and T H Darlow’s and H.F. Moule’s Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture. Some sort of key has been published to the literature of many subjects.
Not all bibliographies are equally reliable, and some are out of date: bibliographers are after all human. For instance, Sir John Ferguson in his Bibliography of Australia does not list certain categories of books in his volumes covering the years 1851 to 1900, but the novice book-collector (and even bookseller) sometimes pronounces that an Australian novel published in 1875 is “not in Ferguson” when literature is one of the fields excluded by Ferguson from 1851 onwards. Similarly, although less frequently, books which Ferguson has not described do appear in booksellers’ catalogues.
Fashion often determines what subjects are collected. Twenty years ago, there were very few serious collectors of children’s books, since few people had any knowledge of or interest in the subject. In the mid-1950s it was possible to pick up a very good copy of the first issue of the first edition of Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding for 12 guineas ($25); in 1978 a copy was sold at auction in Melbourne for $250 and another containing two pages of autograph notes for the book as well as an original publisher’s proof of one illustration, was sold in Sydney for $640. Certainly, almost any work written or illustrated by Norman Lindsay commands a lot of money today. But the fashion for collecting Australian children’s books in general followed closely the publication in 1970 of the first volume of Marcie Muir’s Bibliography of Australian Children’s Books, after the publication of which at least one bookseller was prompted to issue a catalogue of Australian children’s books “not in Muir”.
Perhaps many people today are turning to book-collecting as an investment. Like other forms of speculation, it is possible with book-buying to fall flat on one’s financial face. Probably the only certain way to make a profit in book-collecting is to buy a book when its value is not recognized by a dealer or when it is under-rated by the public. The collector needs to know why some books increase in value over the years and why others do not. For instance, first editions of books by Ion Idriess are generally worth very little, while those of Hugh McCrae are in much greater demand and bring correspondingly higher prices.
An indication of the rise in price of some Australian books can be gained from the following examples, of books either sold at auction or offered for sale through booksellers. Joseph Lycett’s Views in Australia (1824): £14.10.0 (1922); £46 (1930); £60 (1935); £670 (1965); $3400 (1968); $6000 (1975); $8400 (1979). Charles Sturt’s Narratiye of an Expedition into Central Australia (c 1849): £2.10.0 (1922); £4 ( 1934); £65 ( 1965); $150 (1966); $280 (1970); $500 (1975);$2000 (1979).These prices reflect the condition and completeness of individual copies, and also the occasional inconsistency of auction prices. Nevertheless, once a price is set for a very good copy of an important book, history has shown that the price is unlikely to fall.
There are published tools available to help the collector determine the value of books, but the whole question of valuing books is a very tricky one for the beginner. The bibliographic tools can be misleading because one must learn to use them, and because so many factors affect the price of a book–condition, and demand at the time of sale being two of the most important. If you ask the opinion of a bookseller his answer may depend on whether he is buying or selling the book. It should be remembered that the bookseller who is offering for sale for $50 the book he bought for $35 has to make a profit in the same way as any other business person.
Perhaps the best-known guide to the value of a book is the English Book Auction Records, published since 1901. It, and the American Bookman’s Price Index, should be interpreted with care, since prices for U.K. and American books in Australia have generally but not always been below those overseas. Also, many of the books listed in Book Auction Records, for instance, are finely bound or have belonged to someone famous, and are thus able to command higher prices than ordinary copies. The current Australian equivalent is Australian Book Auction Records, published every two years by the Sydney antiquarian bookseller, Margaret Woodhouse, which lists books, relating to Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea the Pacific Islands and the Antarctic, which have been sold at auction in Australia since 1969. The short-runn ing Australian and Pacific Book Prices Current, listing books of interest offered in antiquarian booksellers catalogues, appeared only in 1973-4. Both of these tools should ideally be used in conjunction with the auction or booksellers’ catalogues to which they refer.
The question now arises: what makes a book rare or valuable? A rare book has been defined as “one I want badly and cannot find, or one that is important, desirable and hard to get”. Age is not necessarily a criterion of importance – the belief, often held, that if a book is more than 50 years old it must be valuable, is wrong. Two of the most frequently reprinted books in the English language are the Bible and the works of William Shakespeare. While there are a few quite rare and valuable editions of the Bible, most old copies are worth very little: large and impressive-looking family Bibles have almost no market value, although it is often difficult to convince their owners of this. Similarly, most editions of Shakespeare, and the collected works of the Victorian poets, printed as they were in large editions, sometimes with elaborate looking bindings of velvet or decorated cloth, have virtually no commercial value.
A book is likely to be valuable when demand exceeds supply. one of the scarcest and most sought-after works of Australian land exploration is a small book of only 126 pages, issued in Sydney in 1849 in an unpretentious binding. A copy of this, William Carron’s Narrative of an Expedition undertaken under the direction of the late Mr Assistant Surveyor E.B. Kennedy for the exploration of the country lying between Rockingham Bay and Cape York, was sold at auction in Melbourne this year for $4200.
The scarcity of a book is determined by many things. These include the number of copies printed (something very hard to find out unless it is stated in the book); the demand, particularly by connoisseurs, for limited editions; the book’s subsequent repute, which determines its chances of preservation. The position of a book in its author’s literary career can be critical: Patrick White’s first book, The Ploughman (verse),and his first novel, Happy Valley, became desirable collectors’ items only after his reputation was established by his later novels. Some books are difficult to obtain in any but “used” condition; for instance, most copies of the English nineteenth-century three decker novels which come on the market are battered ex-library copies simply because they were issued in that form mainly for the subscription library market; copies in fine condition are consequently scarce. Scarcity may be due to the extent of a book’s original distribution, or to traditional or supposed rarity caused by such things as withdrawal from publication, censorship, or accident. It can even be created by a reputable person making a false statement: a bookseller’s catalogue description of a book as “very rare” may bring to light other previously unknown copies of the book.
Books may be described by booksellers by “scarce”, “very scarce”, “rare”, “very rare”, “exceedingly rare”, or even “unrecorded and apparently unique”. All these terms can be misleading unless the collector has some experience, access to booksellers’ and auction catalogues and similar records, and the ability to use and interpret them. In general collectors should be wary of descriptions that ascribe rarity to a book and, if possible, seek expert advice.
Before venturing into the costly business of purchasing rare books the collector needs to understand how books are made. To avoid disappointment and financial loss he needs to know at least something about the mysteries of composition, imposition, gathering and binding. Using this knowledge, he can collate a book and check that all its parts and illustrations are present. Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors and Gaskell’s A New Introduction to Bibliography can help to equip him for the task.
The value of some books may be affected by their possession or lack of original binding, and it is sometimes difficult to determine whether or not a book has been rebound. Until the end of the eighteenth century books were usually issued from the printers either in loose sheets or in temporary bindings of paper-backed boards. The purchaser had his books bound, as is usual in France even today, in the style he fancied and could afford. The use of cloth for edition-binding by the publisher dates from the 1820s. It follows that if you are offered a sixteenth century book in buckram you are not getting an original binding.
When a book is rebound its pages usually have to be re-trimmed; if this has been done often, severely, or carelessly, the carefully designed proportions of the page margins will disappear, and occasionally portions of the text are cut away. The trimming process leaves the book with firm, smooth edges, with pages easy to tum and relatively dust-proof. You may see modem books with rough, uncut or deckle edges, but these are an affectation comparable to a pseudo-Tudor bungalow. They may be acceptable when they result naturally from the use of hand-made papers in expensive limited editions, and they do have, as Carter says, “a sort of antiquarian charm”. They do also trap dust.
The binding term “uncut” should not be confused with the booksellers’ “unopened”, which means that the leaves of the book have not been severed from each other.
The condition of a book is carefully if tersely described in all reputable catalogues because condition has a considerable effect on value. To the serious collector, “fine condition” means that the book is close to the condition in which it was first seen by printer, publisher and author. The novice, if he lacks knowledge of book making, will have difficulty in deciding whether a book approaches this ideal condition.
The contents of a book also help to determine its value. The fact that a book contains first descriptions of events such as Cook’s sighting of Australia or William Light’s justification for his location of Adelaide, or that it contains holograph notes by an author such as Judith Wright obviously affects value. But sometimes an otherwise commonplace text will, in a certain edition, be supplemented by vigorous and compelling illustrations. It then becomes far more valuable than the earlier edition, particularly if the illustrator is one whose work is prized by collectors.
Apart from a book’s design, other physical factors can produce increased value: the presence of an illustration removed from later editions, a variant form of title-page, a printer’s colophon included or omitted from an edition. Apart from these, annotations and glosses which would be blemishes if made by John Nobody add value if written by someone whose fame is established. A copy of James Busby’s A Treatise on the Culture of the Vine and the art of wine making (Sydney, 1825) extensively annotated by Sir William Macarthur would be priceless to a collector of books on Australian wine-if it existed!
To many people value and “first edition” are inseparable, and a considerable number of words have been written on this “first edition fetish”. A first edition is the first appearance of a written work in book form, that is, between its own covers and not, for instance, in the parts of a magazine. But even this definition admits complexities. There may have been a limited edition, and then a first ordinary edition, both of which appeared in the same year. Henry Lawson’s In the Days when the World was Wide, for instance, was published in a large-paper edition limited to 50 copies, and in an ordinary edition in octavo size in 1896. The dedicated collector would prefer the limited edition, but the “commercial” edition could arguably be called a first edition. Again, some books appear simultaneously in English and American editions, or in hardback and paperback; both may be called first editions.
It is necessary to be able to distinguish between “edition” and “impression”. An edition, says Carter, comprises all copies of a book printed at any time or times from one setting up of type without substantial change. An impression comprises the whole number of copies of that edition printed at one time, that is, without the type or plates being removed from the printing press.
Before 1800, with most books these two terms meant the same thing because the printer usually distributed the type as soon as possible. If more copies were needed, he re-set the book very often with minor alterations. In this way a new edition was created and with it differences that matter much to collectors of valuable books. with the mechanization of printing the tendency was for the type or plates to be kept “standing” in case reprints were wanted. Such reprints are called impressions, and it is possible to have a tenth—-or a fiftieth–impression of the first edition, issued anything from six months (in the case of an unexpected best-seller) to many years after the first issue of the first edition. All these impressions will be the same, but to the devoted collector only the first impression is the true first edition. As 50 separate hardbound impressions have been printed of Australia’s best-selling book, The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke, by C.J. Dennis, such a collector would need to start a long way back.
The problems created by issues, states and cancels can be daunting to the novice. Again, he should consult Carter and Gaskell, and, if possible, seek the advice of an antiquarian bookseller.
There are four ways of acquiring books: by purchase, gift, exchange, or theft (also known as borrowing). Here we can consider only the first, and that in relation to old books alone.
The collector of such costly items as books printed in the fifteenth century, or on nineteenth century Australian exploration is very likely to lose money unless he seeks expert advice. The best advice he can get readily is by talking to an experienced and reputable antiquarian bookseller, who is not quite the same as a secondhand bookseller. He should know his books, he should be able to tell you what books to look for, and to assist you to find these at a reasonable price.
In Australia, there are several booksellers who are members of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (London) and most of them are also members of the recently formed Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers. Some of these are James Dally in Adelaide; Peter Arnold, Kay Craddock, Kenneth Hince, and Gaston Renard in Melbourne; and Messrs Berkelouw, Tim and Anne McCormick, and Margaret Woodhouse in Sydney. Buying from one of these booksellers guarantees accuracy of the book described.
Most of the leading antiquarian booksellers issue catalogues, and are willing to place collectors’ names on their mailing lists. Some booksellers charge for this service, but will usually deduct the list fee from purchases made. Other booksellers will remove names from their mailing lists if no purchases are made over a long time. After all, some of the more elaborate and informative catalogues cost a considerable amount to produce. It is essential to act quickly when ordering items by catalogue: a telephone call or telegram is advisable. The major libraries can supply the names and addresses of antiquarian booksellers in Australia and overseas . Some dealers do their selling by mail rather than from a shop, and will welcome personal visitors either not at all or by appointment only.
When buying from an antiquarian bookseller it is not advisable to try to beat him down in price. A collector should be prepared to pay a fair price and not try to be a bargain hunter: on the next occasion the bookseller may offer a long-sought-after book to someone else.
Antiquarian booksellers’ catalogues vary considerably in the amount of descriptive detail given. One bookseller may list his books giving author, short title, date of publication and price only. Another bookseller may give, in addition a physical description of the item, including binding, number of pages and illustrations, detailed notes on the book’s condition, a reference to it in a standard bibliography such as Sir John Ferguson’s Bibliography of Australia and notes on any other interesting aspects. Catalogues such as these make fascinating reading in themselves: those issued by Jim Dally, Kenneth Hince, and Gaston Renard in Austalia, Bernard Quaritch, Maggs Brothers, Alan Thomas and Francis Edwards in the U.K., and H.P. Kraus in New York are some examples.
The new collector is unwise to attempt to buy costly items at auction. run book auctions, only item numbers are announced, it is not difficult to bid accidentally for the wrong item. Many collectors prefer to commission an antiquarian bookseller to bid for them, even if they attend the sale themselves. This agency has the advantage that the purchaser is not revealed at the auction. The commission usually charged is about 10% of the purchase price, money well spent considering that the agent will inspect the lot as well as bid for it and if successful, take delivery of it on behalf of his client.
Most agents do not charge for unsuccessful bids.
Recent years have seen some noteworthy sales of Australiana, beginning with the sale in Melbourne in July 1965 of the F.G Coles collection. The catalogue, itself now a collector’s item, was meticulously prepared by Gaston Renard, and served as a model for later auction catalogues in Australia. Other important auction sales of Australiana include the H H Button collection, soldby Theodore Bruce & Co Pty Ltd inAdelaide in September 1966;the Dame Mabel Brookes collection, cataloguedby Kenneth Hince and sold in Melbourne in December 1968; the Charles R J Glover library, sold in Melbourne by Theodore Bruce & Co Pty Ltd in December 1970; the Dr Clifford Craig collectiorl sold in Launceston in October 1975 by Christie, Manson and Woods; and the Eric Bonython library, sold in Melbourne in March 1979 by Kenneth Hince (Book Auctions) in association with Theodore Bruce & co Pty Ltd. The catalogues and price lists for these sales should be acquired by Australiana collectors. Auction sales, either entirely or mainly of books, are conducted regularly in Melbourne by Christie, Manson and Woods and by Kenneth Hince (Book Auctions) in association with Theodore Bruce & Co Pty Ltd, and it is possible to subscribe to these catalogues. Details of prices paid at these and other book auctions held inAustralia are given in Australian Book Auction Records.
Charity bookshops, church fetes, second-hand and junk shops, while unlikely to produce a first edition of a First Fleet journal should not be scorned or ignored. Although most items sold in this way have been carefully vetted beforehand, it is occasionally possible to pick up a treasure in a most unlikely place.
Nowadays only the serious book-collector with expert knowledge is likely to make valuable finds. But it does happen. Some years ago, a collector was browsing amongst the cracked china and well-thumbed Reader’s Digests in the shop of a second-hand dealer in a small country town south of Adelaide. He almost passed over a shabby-looking volume by Charles Dickens, various editions of whose books turn up in most book-shops, but intuition and habit made him look more closely at the book. The excitement he felt when he saw that it was a copy of the rare pirated edition, published in Launceston in 1839, of The Pickwick Papers, can only be imagined by those of us who have had the fortune to discover a rarity at a nominal price. Of course, he paid the couple of shillings asked for the book, which is now in the State Library of South Australia. Although the pirated Pickwick is now well known among collectors, mainly because a book has been written about it (The Van Diemen’s Land edition of The Pickwick Papers by Clifford Craig), it was not a familiar item at the time, and had very likely been passed over in the shop by less well-informed collectors.
The dedicated book-collector will have the patience to sort through piles of tatty books. He will examine the book whose title has worn off its spine, or whose cover is missing. He may find a book he is searching for, but he probably will not. But he will always find the search exciting.
Whether or not to buy a copy in poor condition of a long-sought-after book is not always an easy decision to make. One must ask oneself if it is worth waiting for a better copy, which may never turn up. Most book collectors would accept a copy in inferior condition in such circumstances: should a better copy become available the poorer copy can be sold. But there are some collectors who will not buy a book unless it is in fine condition.
Whenever a serious collector gets his book home, be it new or old, he will collate it to see that it is complete and undamaged, or that it has no faults other than those described in the bookseller’s catalogue. Occasionally, a modern book may have some pages misbound, or it may have a blank page- that has inadvertently not been printed- or some other fault. Some of today’s typographical aberrations may become tomorrow’s rarities, but most book-collectors would willingly exchange such a book for a perfect copy, particularly if the book is one of a limited edition. With books bought from a reputable antiquarian bookseller’s catalogue, faults are described. But reputable booksellers will usually accept the return of a book if it has been inaccurately described. There is no right of return for books which are “sold with all faults”.
The other task to be performed once the new purchase is received is to record details of it: author, title, and date of publication, and where, when and for how much the book was obtained. These are the basic details, which can be supplemented with notes on the binding, illustrations, number of pages, condition and so on. This task may seem tedious at the time, but it is of great use as a record and also for insurance. It can be very satisfying looking back on the details of purchases made ten years earlier. And it is surprising how quickly these details are forgotten if they are not written down immediately. A loose-leaf folder can be used, but plain cards measuring 12.5by 7.5 cm are more satisfactory for reference purposes. Card records can be carried around and should help to prevent duplication of items when new purchases are contemplated. cataloguing only in list form is not recommended, since it does not permit additions to be made in alphabetical order.
Another useful record is a “wants” or “desiderata” list. If properly maintained this can give brief details of wanted books, including previous sale records, and can be particularly useful when antiquarian booksellers’ catalogues arrive.
Of course, the responsible book-collector will handle his books with care. He will never leave them open, face down, or fold over comers of pages to mark his place. He will support both sides of a book firmly when he is holding it, and he will turn over pages at the top or bottom right-hand corner and not, after licking his fingers, by the middle.
The best way of storing your collected books is on wooden shelves. These are best made of timber about two centimetres thick, made up into units a metre wide, or in bigger units with vertical supports between shelves at metre intervals. Shelves should be 20 cm wide with a bottom shelf 25 cm wide. Allow 27 cm between shelves, except at the bottom, where a space of 36 cm will enable you to shelve those great quarto volumes that do turn up.
Glass-fronted book-cases are attractive, expensive, but practical when you have vey valuable books that must be kept from dust, smoke and other nuisances. when purchasing, see that these have adjustable wooden shelves.
In addition to all this, the ideal private library should have close to the shelves a table big enough to allow your largest books to be consulted when fully opened.
As far as subject arrangement allows, try to keep books of a similar size together. It is unwise to shelve very tall books next to very small ones, since the small books are likely to get lost or damaged and the bigger books need support from others of the same size. Shelves should be packed loosely enough for a book to be removed without damaging the spine, or back of the book, but not so loosely that the rest of the books will fall over if one is taken out, Bookends, available from library suppliers, will be necessary if shelves are not full. Books should never be stored with the fore-edge, or edge opposite the spine, down, because the unsupported weight of the pages will damage the binding. Very large books should be stored flat, as long as they do not hang over the shelf edge; other books should be stored upright. Pamphlets are best stored in envelopes or boxes, and not individually next to books.
If books have to be moved out of sequence because of their large size, index cards can be used to locate them. Private press books, for instance, may be shelved by author, with in addition to an index card under the author’s name, cards for the name of the press, the printer, and the illustrator. Works of one author may be arranged on the shelves either alphabetically by title, or chronologically by the date of first publication. A book on several subjects can be shelved only in one place: an efficient indexing system allows an approach to all of its subjects.
Many books have been written on the ideal storage conditions for books. Most private homes will not have ideal conditions, but can probably be made adequate. A constant temperature, preferably 20C or less, is desirable: deterioration of paper accelerates as the temperature rises. Fairly dry conditions and adequate ventilation are important with a relative humidity of about 50% being ideal: if the relative humidity is above 70% the danger of mould growth and foxing (brownish spots) increases-if below 40%, paper tends to become brittle. Books should not be exposed to direct sunlight or to excessive ultra-violet light. Smoke is harmful to books-bookshelves on either side of an open fireplace may look attractive but they are not practical. Other enemies of books include dust, silverfish, bookworms, mice and, most of all, careless handling.
Lending of books is not to be encouraged; if it must take place a written record of it should be kept.
Some book-collectors place great importance on bindings, and spend large sums of money having books sumptuously rebound. Other collectors are anxious to have books as near as possible to the state in which they were issued. Generally, a book is more desirable in its original state, but this depends to some extent on the condition of the binding: a book bound in dirty, worn, unlettered paper boards would probably benefit by being rebound. Repairs should never be done with sticky tape, nor should books be held together by rubber bands-both contain ingredients harmful to paper. Torn pages can sometimes be mended using a flour and water paste-not mucilage-and very thin typing paper. Leather bindings will benefit from a light dressing of a mixture of lanolin and neats foot oil or of a commercial saddle soap; they will also benefit from the natural oils of human skin, when they are carefully handled. It is advisable for the amateur to seek expert advice before he attempts repairs on valuable books.
Some book-owners delight in writing their name in indelible ink on the title-page of a book. This barbaric practice is only exceeded by those people who believe that evil will come to them if someone sees their name on a book they are selling, and so they cut out the offending piece of paper. Both practices lower the price the book will fetch. If a collector believes that he must leave his mark on a book this can best be done by a small neat bookplate, attached with a flour and water paste on the front pasted-down endpaper.
A bookplate can be important: it indicates ownership, describes at least part of a book’s provenance, may add to the collector’s enjoyment by its own design or by telling him that the book once belonged to someone of note or notoriety. It gives the book a more personal value.
Because book-collectors are hopeful souls they too often fail to think of the future of their collection before senility or some Holdenized hoodlum denies them all chance of disposing thoughtfully of their accumulated treasure. Book collections should be passed down to family members, only if these are known to value books and willing to care for them. If not, testamentary instructions can provide that the books go to an antiquarian bookseller for sale, or that the books be offered to a library to select items necessary for its collections. The Commonwealth Government’s Taxation lncentives for the Arts scheme offers considerable tax deductions to private collectors making worthwhile donations to approved public institutions. Major libraries have leaflets about the scheme.
Australia has had in its short history a number of famous book-collectors, men such as Sir John Ferguson, David Scott Mitchell, and Sir Josiah Symon, whose collections have enriched our major libraries. There is an enormous gap between the State Library of South Australia’s Symon Library-rich in Shakespeariana and in books ranging from Thomas Bewick’s General History of Quadrupeds (1790) to the Doves Press edition of Wordsworth’s Poems and George Barrington’s An Account of a Voyage to New South Wales (1803) and the novice collector who has a dozen or so cherished books, high hopes, good intentions, and a general lack of guidance from Australian writers and publishers.
It is true that Charles Barrett, Rodney Davidson and George Mackaness, among others, have written about aspects of collecting Australiana but their books deal with particular comers of the field. To use them successfully the new collector needs books that will provide general and elementary knowledge of book-collecting and of Australian books. The world of book-collecting in England has produced such literate and readable writers as Percy Muir, and John Carter, whose ABC for Book Collectors is an essential work for its informative and often entertaining definitions of bibliographical jargon such as Yapp edges, hollow back, foxing and dentelle. Helpful as these and many other books are, they do not give in a systematic fashion the basic information which is essential for the novice book-collector in Australia today.
Every book-collector, whether he spends $100 a year or $100,000 must be aware of his books for what they are. For books are the stones of which our civilization is formed, the foundations from which it rises above the sands of time.
But they are frail stones, easily eroded by the hostilities of time and chance. The collectors who own them are the custodians of the very structure of humanity.
Some Books to Help the Book Collector
On the history making and care of books
ALDIS, H G The printed book. Cambridge, 1951.
BINNS, N E An introduction to historical bibliography. London, 1962.
BLAND, D A history of book illustration. London, 1969.
GASKELL, P A new introduction to bibliography. Oxford 1972.
JENNETT, S The making of books. London, 1973.
LYDENBERG H M and ARCHER, J The care and repair of books, New York, 1960.
SIMON, O An introduction to typography. London, 1963.
On book-collecting in general
BOOTH, R The Country Life book of book collecting. London, 1976.
CARTER, J ABC for book collectors, London, 1972.
CARTER, J Taste and technique in book collecting. London, 1970.
MUIR, P Book-collecting as a hobby, in a series of letters to everyman. London, 1945.
PETERS, J ed. Book collecting, a modern guide. New York, 1977.
STEWART, S Book collecting, a beginner’s guide. New ed. London, 1979.
THOMAS, A Great books and book collectors. London, 1975.
WINTERICH, J T and RANDALL,D A
A primer of book collecting. London,1966.
On book-collecting in Australia
BARRETT, C ed Across the years: the lure of early Australian books. Melbourne, 1948.
DAVIDSON, R A book collector’s notes on items relating to the discovery of Australia, the first settlement and the early coastal exploration of the Continent. Melbourne, 1970.
MACKANESS, G The Art of Book-collecting in Australia. Sydney, 1956.
MACKANESS, G Bibliomania. Sydney, 1965.