5 Tips for the Beginner Book Collector

So many books, so little time. Getting into book collecting can be a very deep dive if you don’t establish a few basic guidelines, says Monika Schiavo, Director of Waverly Rare Books in Falls Church, Virginia.

“The beginning collector can become overwhelmed and frustrated if they cast too wide a net,” Schiavo said. “It’s best to have a focus in mind before you start building a collection.”

Schiavo offers these tips to the beginning bibliophile:


14 Easton Press Titles, Gilt decorated full leather. Est $100-$150. Image courtesy of Waverly Rare Books/Quinn’s Auctions

1. Pick a specific area that interests you, then try to learn all about it.

Maybe your interest lies in English romantic literature, mysteries, author-signed children’s books, or just illustrated versions of books. Whatever it is, establish a thematic narrative before you start collecting.

2. Think outside the box.

Quirky is good – maybe try to collect what others haven’t embraced yet. You probably can’t afford a beautiful first edition of one of the best American books, but what about collecting the first Star Wars novels, autographed books, misprints, or books by women authors who use pseudonyms? By the same token, don’t be so esoteric in your collecting that you’re the only person who understands it.

Bonus Tip: A collecting category that is still in its infancy is LGBT literature.

3. Buy the best edition you can, then trade up.

It’s difficult to winnow as you go along. Release the less-desirable ones back into the book river and hold on to or acquire the more valuable, rare and unusual books.

4. Work with experts.

Consult with reputable dealers, librarians and auction houses. Join rare book societies and visit book exhibitions. Don’t pass up the vast storehouse of knowledge available to you in archived online-auction catalogs.

5. Keep your books safe and clean.

Books are prone to many types of damage, from moisture to insects to do-it-yourself repairs that do more damage than they do good. Try to keep your books stored in a cool, dry, climate-controlled room without direct exposure to sunlight. Be vigilant about how you open them, and never place newspaper clippings or pressed flowers inside them. When in doubt about how to store and protect your books, ask a professional. Most will gladly share their knowledge.

Monika_Schiavo_ImageMonika Schiavo, Director of Waverly Rare Books, a division of Quinn’s Auction Galleries, received her Bachelor of Arts degree from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., a Certificate in Appraisal Studies from New York University, and a Master of Arts degree from the Smithsonian’s History of Decorative Arts program. Schiavo provides free onsite evaluations and auction estimates for both buyers and consignors.