There's a richness to antique books that transcends their status as one of the world’s most beloved collectibles. Books document the evolution of our need to make sense of the world around us. This urge can be seen in the first Gutenberg bible of 1455; the ‘First Folio’ of plays by William Shakespeare, published in 1623; John James Audubon’s monumental “Birds of America,” which was printed between 1827 and 1838; and even the pocket-size Beat-poetry paperbacks, published by City Lights bookstore in the 1950s and ’60s. Each, in its own way, reveals the priorities and passions of the culture.
Whatever the genre—be it biographies or cookbooks, children’s books or classic works of science fiction—and regardless of the title, most collectors focus on first editions. First editions are coveted because their print runs tend to be small. They're also considered to be the closest a reader can get to the author’s original intent for his or her work. Thus, first editions are particularly desirable if a book has been changed for the second printing.
Especially collectible are first editions of books that went on to win literary awards. The landmark children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” earned author and illustrator Maurice Sendak a Caldecott Medal in 1964, so its first-edition cover from 1963 does not feature the famous Caldecott seal.
Another, more recent, famous first edition is the 1997 version of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” which was published by Bloomsbury in the U.K. in a print run of 1,000. The book went on to sell millions of copies for Scholastic in 1998, when it was re-titled for the U.S. market as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” No wonder copies of the Bloomsbury first edition routinely sell in the five figures.
Some people collect books for their aesthetic value. For these collectors, antique and vintage leather-bound books and sets are particular favorites. Some are covered in calf skin, which book binders found easy to dye. Others were made of Levant leather, which is goat skin and sometimes called Moroccan leather.
Examples of leather-bound books include individual works or collections by 19th century authors, from naturalist Charles Darwin, whose “On the Origins of Species” was first published in 1859 before being re-titled as “The Origins of Species” in 1872, to novelist Charles Dickens, whose monthly and weekly serialized stories were bound into classics such as “The Adventures of Oliver Twist” and “A Tale of Two Cities.”
American 20th-century novels such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” (1925), John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” (1939), and J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” ...
Prized science-fiction books from the past 150 years include Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” which was first published in France in 1870 before being translated into English in 1872. H.G. Wells gave us “The War of the Worlds” in 1898 and “When the Sleeper Wakes” a year later. Collectible modern science-fiction authors range from Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke to Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, and Philip K. Dick, whose 1968 “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” was the basis for the 1982 sci-fi-film classic, “Blade Runner.”
In all cases, a book that has been signed by its author is more sought-after than one that has not, although books with inscriptions (eg: ‘To my dear friend, so-and-so’) are usually not as collectible as ones with just a signature. Biographies and memoirs are a favorite of former politicians and retired generals, who have been known to use the bully pulpit of a book to tell their version of history. Such books can often be found with the author’s signature on the title page.
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Art MovementsHyperallergic, May 29th
The absence of page-holders to secure the antique books at the press conference is somewhat concerning (in the video beginning at the 49-second mark). London's National Portrait Gallery unveiled Sean Henry's sculpture of World Wide Web inventor Tim ...Read more
Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - A 17-foot timelineILAB, May 29th
Some time ago I started cataloguing recently-acquired material in preparation for the London International Antiquarian Book Fair. I'm not sure how this will fit on the stand, but… This large, folding chromolithograph (it's over 6.5m long) is Adams...Read more
A trove for booklovers: Noted collector's books to fill tables at symphony saleThe New Orleans Advocate, May 28th
This year, keep a sharp eye out for some very special books, collected and cherished by longtime Symphony Book Fair volunteer, Tulane University professor and antiquarian book dealer, Joseph Cohen. Cohen, who died last year at 88, was one of New ...Read more
Jewish Vegetarians Rejoice: The Resurrection of a Rare Yiddish CookbookNew York Observer, May 28th
The cover featuring elegantly illustrated vegetables including carrots, cukes and beets, which had been discovered at an antiquarian bookstore in the Welsh antiquarian book town of Hay-on-Wye and donated to YIVO in 2008, popped out at the women...Read more
Stolen art returns home to RomeBBC News, May 26th
The United States has returned stolen Italian antiquities, including artworks and antique books - recovered in the US - to Italy. Italy has spent the last decade campaigning to retrieve art and cultural artefacts its government says were looted or stolen...Read more
Hold History in Your Hands at the 58th London International Antiquarian Book FairFine Books & Collections Magazine, May 22nd
From May 28th to 30th the halls of Olympia will once again present an unparalleled array of literary material at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair. Now in its 58th year, this major three-day event is one of the largest and most prestigious ...Read more
Tokyo, World Antiquarian Book Plaza, 23 April – A report by ILAB Pop Up Book ...ILAB, April 30th
One of the most fascinating things about Japan is the harmonious blend of old and new. If you spend enough time there, seeing a thousand-year-old temple set among sky scrapers or watching as elegant ladies dressed in kimono rush past teens sporting the ...Read more
Antiquarian Book Fair Offers Victorian Children's Peep ShowsNew York Times, April 2nd
Victorian children peered into mass-produced accordion boxes of paper prints called peep shows, which gave the illusion of depth and motion. The layers of scenes, pierced with viewing holes, represented parks, gardens, battlefields, theaters and ...Read more