Early attempt at a history of the feline species (1903).

Rare Books 101

Guilty Pleasures in Book Collecting

  • Nov 8, 2013

Most book collectors begin without much knowledge of the others. The person who collects bibles stands right next to the person who collects Witchcraft and no dark vortex forms between the two. We booksellers often just stand there bursting with silent, fascinating knowledge about our customers. Like the gods, however, we can only interfere when necessary. Your secrets remain safe with us.

We respect the fact that book collectors are solitary hunters, occasionally passing one another in the jungle, but keeping to their own territory. But wouldn’t you like to know what some of your fellow collectors are up to? What they collect?

This is your opportunity for a rare look at other people’s book obsessions. No judgments!

Early attempt at a history of the feline species (1903).
Early attempt at a history of the feline species (1903).

Admit it, it’s adorable. And it doesn’t shed. Many collectors choose subjects very limited in scope. We applaud the focus! These collectors make our jobs challenging and fun. We like it when someone approaches us and says that they are, for instance, collecting books on a subject like this:

Book of Pigeons (1765).
Book of Pigeons (1765).

Researching unique subject areas makes us smarter booksellers. Besides, it can be a lot of fun (despite how you might feel about pigeons…I’m all for them, for the record).  After all, it doesn’t always have to be on the level of Audubon if that isn’t your thing. And your thing is what book collecting is all about. Every book collector gets something different out of collecting and a good collection will mirror the passions of the collector. Deeper examination is not necessary:

Plate from an anoymously written 1816 satire on the then trendy “science” of Phrenology.
Plate from an anonymously written 1816 satire on the then trendy “science” of Phrenology.

Collectors on the subject of pseudo-sciences like Phrenology and Alchemy will probably never run out of unique and interesting books to collect. Book collecting should be engaging and fun. It should remind you of what it was like in childhood, when collecting items that interested you was very personal.

How to Roller Skate book (1903).
Book on how to roller skate (1903).

And remember…no judgments. Whatever your thing is.

Angel Webster

Angel is a bookseller at the Madison Avenue gallery. She remembers receiving a Bachelor’s Degree from Rutgers University a long time ago and her Master of Fine Arts from Brooklyn College almost as long ago, but finds working with rare books more educational. She reads, writes, and gardens in Jersey City and she is always looking forward to a new favorite book. Recent favorites include Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations.

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One Response to “Guilty Pleasures in Book Collecting”

  • Rudolf Zaras says:

    I used to be a book monger. I collected hundreds of books. I would scour flea markets, thrift stores, anywhere and any place I could find a used book. Granted I never found rare volumes, or owned any. I just loved to read. But I would sometimes find that unusual book that would make it all worthwhile. Something similar to the Prenology or pigeon book that you are referring to. In the end I got tired of hauling around boxes and boxes of books. I just kept the choice ones and am very discreet in my picking.