Why Collect Rare Books?
The past speaks to us through the words of great writers.
It’s an experience that becomes even more profound when you hold an early edition and touch pages that were once turned by readers who traveled by horse and carriage, wrote with quills or danced the Charleston in speakeasies.
In books, we are guided by Dickens through the teeming streets of Victorian London. We see the Roman Empire crumble in Gibbon’s masterwork. We watch Jay Gatsby’s tragic struggle to win his elusive piece of the American dream. We feel our blood stir as Thomas Paine incites citizens to arms in Common Sense. And we witness extraordinary courage as Galileo explains the solar system and defies the Inquisition.
If you’ve read a thousand books, you’ve lived a thousand lives. But rare book collectors will tell you that nothing quite equals the experience of owning a piece of history.
Collections of rare books are as unique as the individuals who build them. With the precision of a mirror, they reflect your tastes, interests and inspirations. If you ever wonder what motivates a veteran books collector, the answer goes far beyond the excitement that accompanies the first thrill of discovery. Collectors understand the overwhelming odds against the survival of so many first editions. They know that owning a rare book can be a humbling experience, as well as an exhilarating one.
Only 1250 copies of Darwin’s landmark On the Origin of Species were printed, and all were sold on the first day; the publisher had vastly underestimated the demand. Walt Whitman was hard-pressed to find financing for the first edition of his extraordinary Leaves of Grass, which consisted of only 795 copies, part of it typeset by the poet himself. It is believed that the first printing of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights numbered as few as 250 copies, and today it is counted among the great rarities of English literature. And although it is not exactly known how many copies of Shakespeare’s immortal First Folio were printed, there could not have been many, as surviving copies number only in the hundreds.
There’s a story to every great first edition – the creative effort that propelled it into being, the practical logistics that brought it to print, the popular reaction that resulted in fame or years of obscurity. A rare book collector understands all the trials and errors, struggles and successes that brought the book into being. The pleasure of rare book collecting is not only in considering each book for its impact on the world and its impact on our lives, but also in appreciating, in that rare, extraordinary first edition, all the random chances that allowed it to survive.