Tag Archive for: book collecting

Broaden Your Horizons in This Book Auction

Art, architecture, design and history come together in this week’s comprehensive book auction. The curated collection of books visually and textually spans various artistic periods, historic endeavors, iconic memoirs and cultural wonders. No matter your interest, you will uncover an invaluable story to broaden your horizons. Take a look at a few highlights from this curated sale.

One of the oldest and most valuable books in the auction is a hardbound volume of papers by 17th-century British philosopher John Locke relating to money, interest and trade. The book is the first collected edition of Locke’s most important economic papers, which was published in 1696. It is estimated at $8,000-$10,000.

‘Several Papers Relating to Money, Interest and Trade … ’ by John Locke. First Collected Edition of Locke’s most important economic papers. London: Printed for A. and J. Churchill, at the Black-Swan in Pater-Noster-Row, 1696. Estimate: $8,000-$10,000. Jasper52 image


Another Renaissance man of the 17th century was Sir Andrew Balfour, whose first edition Letters Written [sic] to a Friend… Containing Excellent Directions and Advices for Travelling thro’ France and Italy is highly prized. Published posthumously in 1700 by the author’s son from his father’s original manuscript letters, the book has firsthand advice on what to see and do in England, France and Italy, with special attention to buying natural history books. The first edition, first state volume offered in this auction is estimated at $1,000-$1,2000.

‘Letters Writen [sic] to a Friend … Containing Excellent Directions and Advices for Travelling thro’ France and Italy … ’ by Sir Andrew Balfour, first edition, first state, Edinburgh, MDCC [1700]. Estimate: $1,000-$1,200. Jasper52 image

Sportsmen can relive the time of the great French Hunts of the early 20th century in Baron Karl Reille’s famous book La Vénerie Française Contemporaine. This profusely illustrated book, with its text drawings and music scores, numerous full-page color plates, is filled with anecdotes and, often amusing, comments. This important work presents all the hunts existing in France at the time, with each hunt illustrated by the author. It has a $4,000-$4,500 estimate.

‘La Vénerie Française Contemporaine’ by Baron Karl Reille, 1914: Adolph de Goupy, Paris. Famous early 20th century book about hunting in France, profusely illustrated. Estimate: $4,000-$4,500. Jasper52 image


Also from France is a first edition of The Decisive Moment: Photography by Henri Cartier Bresson, published in English by Simon and Schuster in 1952. The book, which features a cover illustration by Henri Matisse, contains 126 photographs by the pioneer of street photography. With losses to the surface of the book’s spine, it is estimated at $300-$400.

‘The Decisive Moment: Photography by Henri Cartier Bresson,’ first edition, 1952: Simon and Schuster & Verve Publication. Estimate: $300-$400. Jasper52 image


The most recent book in the sale is a first edition of Carlos Diniz’s Views of Venice II, which was published in 2000. The volume is illustrated with 10 full-page color reproductions of his paintings of Venice, and one large foldout plate, which is also in color. Carlos Diniz (1928-2001) is recognized as one of the most important practitioners of architectural illustration in the 20th century. He is known for his work with many Pritzker, Gold Medal and pioneering architects of the 20th century.

‘Views of Venice II,’ by Carlos Diniz, first edition, 2000, Santa Barbara, Calif., illustrated with 10 full-page color reproductions of Diniz’s paintings of Venice, and one large foldout plate also in color. Estimate: $200-$300. Jasper52 image


Moving to America, a scarce special edition of The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie And Rocky-mountain Life by Francis Parkman is prized for its Frederick Remington illustrations. The remarkably clean example in the auction features the beautiful blue, red, black and gilt decorative design on cover cloth and gilt design on spine. It carries a $500-$600 estimate.

The Oregon Trail, Sketches Of Prairie And Rocky-mountain Life’ by Francis Parkman, first editon of the Frederick Remington-illustrated special edition. Little, Brown and Co. Estimate: $500-$600. Jasper52 image

Children’s Books: Investing in Nostalgia

Do you remember the books you loved as a child? It’s a solid bet that at least a couple of your childhood favorites are also the favorites of collectors, and with good reason. We can all relate to the experience of having books read to us at bedtime, and later, taking pride in learning how to read those books ourselves.

Baum, L. Frank, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, first edition, first state of the text and first state of the plates, octavo, Geo. M. Hill Co., Chicago and New York, 1900. Green morocco slipcase. Auctioned Dec. 16, 2009 for $53,100. LiveAuctioneers / Profiles in History image

We spoke with two experts in the field of collectible books: Helen Younger, founder of Aleph-Bet Books, Inc., and Catherine Payling, MBE, director of Waverly Rare Books, a subsidiary of Quinn’s Auction Galleries, to get their take on the children’s book market. In speaking with them, we learned that juvenile literature is a solid niche within the greater realm of book collecting and has been so for quite some time.

As Payling observed, the market “has been relatively stable during and after recent economic upheavals and broader changes in patterns of collecting.”

Echoing those sentiments, Younger, who has been in the collectible book business since 1977, pointed to the availability and affordability of children’s books as reasons for the continued interest among collectors.

“In the world of collectible books, children’s books, in general, are not among the most expensive – they can be a little more attainable.”

In building a collection of children’s books, keep these points in mind: edition and rarity; condition, desirability, and the potential impact of changing trends.

Lot of three titles signed by Maurice Sendak, illustrated, and authored by Ruth Krauss, “Somebody Else’s Nut Tree And Other Tales From Children,” “A Hole Is to Dig: A First Book of Definitions,” and “Lullabies And Night Songs,” published in 1971, 1952, and 1965, respectively. Sold for $250 at auction June 1, 2017 through Waverly Books. Waverly Books image

For example, Payling said, “If there should be a dust jacket but one isn’t present, then a book without one is [considered] comprised. Is the book signed by the author or the illustrator? Is there interesting provenance?” All are important factors with respect to desirability.

Addressing condition, Younger outlined the standards many reputable dealers use in assessing books:

  • Good: Shows wear, tears, soiling, and perhaps the dust jacket is missing
  • Very Good: The book is in nice condition, although it may show age to some extent. It is clean and presents nicely.
  • Fine: Although it may not look as it did when brand new, it has no defects, it is clean, and nothing is missing.
  • Mint: The book is flawless.

Not only is understanding differences in condition helpful when considering the purchase of a book, it is often the key factor in determining price when selling a book.

For example, as Younger pointed out, Aleph-Bet might list a copy of Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat with a high price tag, but that might be because it’s a first edition, first printing, in mint condition.

Wells, Carolyn, illustrations by Jessie Wilcox Smith, “Seven Ages of Childhood,” first edition, NY: Moffat Yard 1909, tan gilt cloth, round pictorial paste-on, 56 pages. Cloth slightly darkened on edges from inoffensive cover stain, occasional foxing, VG. $400 through Aleph-Bet Books. Aleph-Bet Books image

As with most collecting interests, experience and time are the best teachers, according to Payling and Younger. Learning how publishers denoted first editions is an important practice, Younger added.

“It truly takes time to learn the aspects of children’s books, and to complicate things further, publishers were not consistent with how they denoted first editions,” she explains. “Some may say ‘first edition,’ some may have a number code or a combination, and some may have the date of publication on the title page and the copyright page, while some may not.”

Payling, who recently purchased a copy of Miskoo the Lucky by Mary Fairclough – one of her favorite books from childhood – recommends the following measures to gain valuable knowledge about children’s books:

  • Acquire some good-quality reference books on your specific area of collecting interest, whether it is by country, century, author and so on, and use them to help make buying decisions.
  • Learn to identify variations in condition.
  • Learn about current market prices from online resources, especially recent auction results, whose price database is free of charge.
  • Check out auction houses and their auction catalogs.

Also, attending book fairs and visiting the shops and sites of businesses specializing in rare and collectible books are all methods for amassing knowledge that will prove helpful in efforts to acquire children’s books, Younger advised.

Beginners may find it advisable to define the focus of their collection.

“Blue-chip authors, such as L. Frank Baum, Dr. Seuss, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, Maurice Sendak, and Roald Dahl are always sought after,” said Payling. “People are often motivated by childhood memories, so we see buyers looking for children’s titles popular when they were young.” Illustrated books are also highly desirable.

Younger points to children’s books published in the mid-20th century as being the current “sweet spot” in collecting. However, some lesser-known interests are gaining attention.

Milne, A.A., “Winnie the Pooh (And) The House at Pooh Corner,” Russian first edition, NY: Dutton 1967, cloth, 221 pages. Top edge rubbed, otherwise VG+ in frayed dust wrapper with a few mends on verso. $125 through Aleph-Bet Books. Aleph-Bet Books image

“Right now, we’re seeing the popularity of Russian children’s books growing,” she said. Early 20th-century Russian children’s books are distinguished by their consistently high quality of printing, illustration, and presentation. Plus, they reflect the characteristics of an evolving society.

Before the Russian Revolution of 1917, many of the books displayed lush treatment and robust illustration – a “frills and fantasy” presentation – said Younger, who formerly worked as a librarian and fosters a life-long appreciation for books. After the Revolution, children’s books, much like Russian society of that period, were stark, direct, and more focused on being utilitarian.

Another aspect of collecting to bear in mind is changing trends, Payling said. For example, values of Harry Potter books are not as high today as they were at the peak of Potter-mania.

Collecting children’s books can be rewarding, but like any type of book collecting, it requires a time investment. It pays to learn as much as possible, study market activity, and over and above all, to allow one’s own sense of nostalgia to serve as the primary guide to purchases.

About the experts:

Catherine Payling, MBE, M.A. Oxford University, was born and raised in the United Kingdom. She spent 10 years working in prestigious executive roles in London, and 15 years in Rome, Italy, where she served as curator/director of the Keats House Museum. Catherine has resided in the United States since 2011. She was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and is married to Duncan Wu, the Raymond Wagner Professor of Literary Studies at Georgetown. Catherine has a personal collection of books, and she and her husband are lifelong collectors of fine and decorative art.

Helen Younger co-owns Aleph-Bet Books in Pound Ridge, New York, together with her husband, Marc. Her love of books began when she was a child and continued to grow as she traveled through Europe following her high school graduation. She became a professional librarian and, in the mid-1970s, established a book-selling business upon the suggestion of her mother-in-law, who organized estate sales. Helen has been a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America since 1982.

Children’s Books to Prime Your Summer Reading List

School’s out for the summer, and it’s time to stock up on vacation reading for the kids. This weekend, we’re presenting an auction of collectible children’s classics. Here are 6 highlights that are sure to tug those nostalgic heart strings and bring your children joy.

Food for thought is a first edition of the Peanuts Lunch Bag Cook Book, which has been signed by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. Published in 1970, the book is in near fine condition in a dust jacket graded very good. It is estimated at $160-$200.

‘Peanuts Lunch Bag Cook Book,’ first edition, 1970, signed by Charles Schulz. Estimate: $160-$200. Jasper52 image


Children can have fun learning the alphabet the old-fashioned way by absorbing the words and illustrations of The Teddy Bear ABC, which was published by H.M. Caldwell.

‘The Teddy Bear ABC,’ by Laura Rinkle Johnson, illustrated by Margaret Landers Sanford, published by H.M. Caldwell, Boston. Estimate: $325-$390. Jasper52 image


The Book of Fairy Tales illustrated by Henry M. Brock carries a $375-$450 estimate. Brock was a British illustrator and landscape painter of the late 19th and early 20th century. Most of Brock’s illustrations were for classic Victorian and Edwardian fiction.

‘Book of Fairy Tales,’ illustrated by Henry M. Brock, published by Frederick Warne, London & New York. Estimate: $375-$450. Jasper52 image


Pike County Ballads is an 1871 book by John Hay. The collection of post-Civil War poems is one of the first works to introduce vernacular styles of writing. Originally published in 1871, a second edition was published in 1890 and this third edition in 1912 by the Houghton Mifflin Co., which contains 35 illustrations by American artist N.C. Wyeth.

‘Pike County Ballads,’ by John Hay and illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, published by Houghton Mifflin, Boston. Estimate: $170-$200. Jasper52 image


Another classic book of verse is The Bells and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe with illustrations by Edmund Dulac. Laid into the book is a portrait of Dulac at work in his studio.

‘Bells and Other Poems’ by Edgar Allan Poe, illustrated by Edmund Dulac, published by Hodder and Stoughton, London. Estimate: $2,000-$2,400. Jasper52 image


Finally, there’s a well-read copy of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s classic A Child’s Garden of Verses, published by R.H. Russell of New York.

‘Child’s Garden of Verses’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, published by R.H. Russell, New York. Estimate: $1,100-$1,320. Jasper52 image


There’s a treasure in this collection for you. Take a look at the full catalog and find a new addition for you bookshelf.

Natural History Books: Exploring Nature From Your Armchair

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.” – Vincent Van Gogh

One does not need to venture far to experience the wonders of nature. They’re as close as a single step outdoors, a glance out a window, or, the nearest bookshelf.

For centuries, natural history books have provided views and explanations of various elements of nature. These books combine remarkable illustrations with thorough details of complex scientific organisms within ornithology, horticulture, botany, and etymology, among other disciplines.

To gain an expert perspective about natural history books and the current collecting market we turned to Bruce MacMakin, Senior Vice President at PBA Galleries in San Francisco.

“A Picture Book of Beasts, British and Foreign: Or, An Introduction to Natural History,” William Darton, 1822, London. Sold for $4,300 in February 2015 through PBA Galleries. PBA Galleries image.

How is the market today for collecting natural history books? How does it compare with the market a few years ago?

The market for collectible natural history books is much the same as the market for books in general. That is to say, that while prices have basically recovered from the recession that began in the fall of 2008, the long-term effects of the Internet on the marketing and availability of books and the information contained in them has had a continued and profound influence on the values of old books. What was once scarce and hard to find in the thousands of bookstores scattered across the country and around the globe, is now available at the click of a mouse. This has depressed the value of more-common books.

At the same time, the ease with which rare books can be searched for and acquired has broadened the collecting base, and made the geographic location of collectors no longer a barrier to participation. A collector or scholar in the middle of Iowa can acquire books as easily as one in New York City. This growth in the number of collectors, coupled with the lack of intrigue in acquiring the more-common works, has driven up the prices of the more rare and significant material, as buyers vie for the few gems at the top.

“A History of the Birds of New Zealand,” Sir Walter Lawry Buller, circa 1887, London. Limited issue, one of 1,000 sets. (Est. $5,000-$7,000 in a June 3, 2017 auction). Image by Arader Galleries.

Is there a genre of natural history book that is most sought after, or is the appeal equal among various topics (botany, ornithology, marine biology, travels of naturalists, etc.)?

Every collector has reasons for collecting what they do, and for every topic there are star items that bring premium prices. This can be based on the importance of a work, its scarcity, condition or beauty. Many natural history books have striking illustrations, including hand-colored engraved plates, color printed mezzotints that were seminal in the development of printing techniques, or simple line cuts that still presented important records of the subjects. But overall, botanical works seem to have held value and interest to a greater degree than others.


Are natural history books more available than in years past? What do you think may be contributing to this?

There are, in general, more books available for ready purchase than ever before, due to the global marketplace provided by the Internet, so this is true of natural history books, as well. But it still takes effort to locate the works of highest quality and importance, and in today’s transparent world, where a significant book is less likely to sneak onto a shelf in a bookstore with its true value unrevealed, one will likely have to pay a healthy price.

“Voyage to the South-Sea and Along the Coasts of Chili and Peru in the Years 1712, 1713, 1714, Particularly Describing the Genius and Constitution of the Inhabitants, as well as Indians and Spaniards: Their Customs and Manners, their Natural History, Mines, Commodities, Traffick with Europe &c.,” by Amedee Francois Frezier, Jonah Bowyer, 1717, London. Sold for $1,230 in April 2016 through PBA Galleries. PBA Galleries image.

In addition to condition, what factors weigh in to the value of natural history books?

One should start with the importance of a book in establishing our knowledge of how the natural world works. A prime example would be the works of Charles Darwin – in particular, On the Origin of Species, the appearance of which in 1859 sent shock waves through not only the scientific community, but through society in general. It is an example of a book whose value continues to grow, and premium copies regularly set price records.

Another reason for natural history books to have value is the illustrations. Beginning with simple woodcuts in the 15th century, illustrations kept pace with, and in many cases engendered, advances in printing, engraving and coloring. Not only are the subjects of the illustrations important, whether botanical, ornithological, or geologic, but the techniques used are very significant as well.

“The English Moths and Butterflies,” Benjamin Wilkes, Georg Dionysius, Ehret and Jacob van Huysum, 19th century, London. (Est. $12,000-$16,000 in a June 3, 2017 auction). Image by Arader Galleries.

What are two essential tips you would offer someone interested in collecting natural history books?

As with any collecting field, concentrate on what interests you. That will make it a pleasant task to acquire the knowledge necessary to form a meaningful collection. Do not collect for value, but for significance (value will follow). And when faced with the choice of purchasing a lesser copy at a bargain price, or a premium copy at a high price, choose the premium copy. Then when you look at the book on your shelf, you will be proud of the acquisition, whereas the lesser book would cause you to regret the money spent. And from a practical point of view, in today’s market, the premium book will become more valuable, while the cheap book will only become cheaper.

Bruce MacMakin is senior vice president of PBA Galleries in San Francisco. The son of a printer, MacMakin began his career in the book-auction trade at California Book Auction Galleries in 1978, fresh out of college. It was an unplanned diversion that has lasted 38 years and counting. In 1992, he became a founding member of Pacific Book Auction Galleries, now PBA Galleries. His areas of expertise range from early incunabula and rare manuscripts to hyper-modern fiction and The Wizard of Oz.

How Youth Literature Became Big Business

The Many Pens Behind Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Other Youth Fiction Heroes

Juvenile literature is big business. Of the top 10 most successful authors of all time – both in terms of books sold and total revenue generated – three wrote for young audiences. Those titans of youth fiction include Britain’s Enid Blyton, illustrator/cartoonist-turned-writer Dr. Seuss, and, of course, Harry Potter mastermind J.K. Rowling, whose book sales surpass all but those of William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie and a few other long-established authors, including Barbara Cartland, Danielle Steele and Harold Robbins.

Today, the names of successful writers of youth-oriented literature – Stephenie Meyer, Veronica Roth, etc. – are virtual “brands” of their own and known the world over. But there was a time when book publishers owned the authors’ invented names and used salaried, in-house ghostwriters to pen the riveting tales of young but confident characters like Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and the earliest protagonists of the late-19th/early 20th-century adolescent-fiction genre: the Rover Boys. The writers were interchangeable, but the tone of each series remained remarkably consistent throughout.

1903 photo portrait of Edward Stratemeyer from the Stratemeyer Syndicate records, Manuscripts and Archives Division. Public domain image

The first book packager to aim its books at children rather than adults was the Stratemeyer Syndicate, founded by New Jersey publisher Edward Stratemeyer. A national survey conducted in 1922 revealed that, by far, most books read at leisure by American children were titles produced by Stratemeyer.

What made Stratemeyer’s books different was their focus on entertainment, as opposed to moral instruction. Children could tap into their imaginations and mentally immerse themselves into the adventures of sci-fi savant Tom Swift or boarding school sleuths the Dana Girls, or for the very young, the Bobbsey Twins.



Scan of the cover of the original 1910 book Tom Swift and His Motorcycle, 1910, from a series ghostwritten by numerous Stratemeyer Syndicate in-house writers using the pen name Victor Appleton. Public domain image

No fewer than 15 ghostwriters produced the hugely successful Nancy Drew books under the pen name “Carolyn Keene,” although Mildred Wirt (later Mildred Wirt Benson) is credited as having been the principal writer. The writers initially were paid $125 for each book and were required by their contract to relinquish all rights to their work and to maintain confidentiality. That’s a far cry from, say, J.K. Rowling’s lucrative deals, which have led to her astounding net worth of an estimated $750 million.

15 Nancy Drew titles actually used in the filming of the opening sequence of the movie ‘Nancy Drew: Mystery in the Hollywood Hills.’ Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and PBA Galleries

The Stratemeyer series of books about teenage detective Nancy Drew began in 1930 with The Secret of the Old Clock. It was followed with a new book release every year for the next 26 years. A joint publishing venture between Stratemeyer and Grosset & Dunlap added 21 more titles from 1959 through 1979, followed by the last 22 books of the series, which were issued as a Stratemeyer/Simon & Schuster collaboration, from 1979 through 1985.

‘The Secret of the Old Clock,’ Nancy Drew mystery originally published in 1930. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Gray’s Auctioneers

A cultural icon, Nancy Drew is cited as a formative influence by a number of successful women, from Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former First Lady Laura Bush. Feminist literary critics have analyzed the character’s enduring appeal, arguing variously that Nancy Drew is a mythic hero, an expression of wish fulfillment, or an embodiment of contradictory ideas about femininity.

‘The Secret of the Golden Pavilion,’ Nancy Drew mystery originally published in 1959. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and PBA Galleries

Where Nancy Drew appealed mostly to girls, amateur detectives Frank and Joe Hardy – the Hardy Boys – attracted a mostly male readership. Like the Nancy Drew books, which all carried the Carolyn Keene byline, the Hardy Boys titles were created by a number of different ghostwriters who used the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon. Nineteen of the first 25 Hardy Boys books were the work of Canadian journalist Leslie McFarlane. The series enjoyed a long original-print run lasting from 1927 through 2005. Worldwide, more than 70 million copies of Hardy Boys books have been sold, and the first title of the series, The Tower Treasure, still sells over 100,000 copies per year worldwide.

‘The Disappearing Floor,’ first edition Hardy Boys mystery published in 1940. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers archive and Heritage Auctions

Both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys have reappeared in other forms of entertainment, including feature films, TV shows, board games, and video games. But to collectors, the most imaginative way to experience their teen heroes’ adventures is still through a book from the original series, especially with the colorful dust jacket still intact.

Collecting Modern Editions – An Expert Guide on Doing It Right

Embarking on an adventure in collecting something new and unfamiliar can be very exciting, but it can also be a bit overwhelming.

Case in point: turning a fascination for books into a passion for collecting them. The beauty of collecting books is that there’s a niche in the marketplace for just about everyone. The increase in modern edition books showing up in auctions – and in some cases fetching tidy sums – speaks to an opportunity that many are seizing as first-time collectors.

To gain a bit of perspective about the modern book market and gain a few tips for bibliophiles at any level of experience, we turned to Rebecca Rego Barry, author of Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places, and editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine.

What do you feel are some of the most intriguing aspects of collecting modern editions?

For collectors of modern firsts, there is probably an element of capturing the history one has lived through, or celebrating some part of that history. All collectors are trying to tell a story with their collections, and for collectors of modern firsts, that story is often very personal.

Also, for those who collect firsts—modern or not—part of the draw is to see and experience the book exactly as the author did.

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming, Jonathan Cape 1953, First Edition, Author’s Presentation copy, inscribed on front endpaper, marks the first appearance of the character James Bond, sold for $52,344 at Sotheby’s July 12, 2016 auction.

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming, Jonathan Cape 1953, First Edition, Author’s Presentation copy, inscribed on front endpaper, marks the first appearance of the character James Bond, sold for $52,344 at Sotheby’s July 12, 2016 auction.

How should the beginning collector proceed if they want to focus on modern editions but have a limited budget?

Slowly! Beginning collectors can and will make mistakes, so it’s best to take it slowly as you find your focus and educate yourself about book-collecting basics. I would advise new collectors to attend a few books fairs if they can, get the ‘lay of the land,’ so to speak, and talk to booksellers who specialize in the areas that pique your interest. Affordability doesn’t have to be an issue, unless you’re aiming for a collection of high spots (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Updike, etc.). If you secretly cherish some quirky or offbeat topic or author, that can be the perfect start for a unique and inexpensive collection.

Why do you think modern editions, like the Harry Potter series, are so attractive to collectors?

I think people are driven to collect books that are meaningful to them, so if the first book that truly appealed to you as a reader was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997, maybe that’s the book that will launch your collection of modern firsts, or the works of J.K. Rowling, or every different edition of HP, or high points of children’s literature – who knows?!

Collectible modern firsts are typically in very good (or better) condition, so they also tend to look aesthetically pleasing on a shelf, as opposed to, say, flaking, sheepskin-bound medical books from the mid-nineteenth century. For some, that may be a consideration.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury 1997, First Edition, First Issue (With an error found on page 53 — duplicate listing for ‘1 wand’ in the list of Hogwarts school supplies), sold for $55,628 at a Nov. 9, 2016 auction at Bonhams. The final price was more than double the high estimate.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling, Bloomsbury 1997, First Edition, First Issue (With an error found on page 53 — duplicate listing for ‘1 wand’ in the list of Hogwarts school supplies), sold for $55,628 at a Nov. 9, 2016 auction at Bonhams. The final price was more than double the high estimate.

What are four things every collector should keep in mind when collecting modern editions?

  1. Can three of them be ‘condition?’ All joking aside, condition is perhaps the most important consideration in modern first editions.
  2. Because modern books are produced in quantity, they are rarely ‘rare,’ so their monetary value is often based on condition, both of the book and, sometimes even more importantly, the dust jacket.
  3. But to back up a little, first you’ll need to determine whether the book actually is a first edition, and that can be tricky, which is why there are guides to help, like McBride’s Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions. If you’re working with a bookseller you know and trust, you won’t have to puzzle it out yourself.
  4. While some may like their books pristine and untouched, collectible modern books are occasionally signed or inscribed—so authenticity is obviously an issue, but so is the quality of the inscription. The ‘best’ or most interesting inscribed modern firsts can tell a story about the author and the person he/she inscribed it to: e.g., a friend, a lover, someone involved in the book’s production, a fellow author.
PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II, Robert J. Donovan, McGraw-Hill Book Company, inscribed and signed by JFK and all 10 surviving PT 109 crew members, sold for $13,750 at a Dec. 3, 2016 auction conducted by Heritage Auctions.

PT 109: John F. Kennedy in World War II, Robert J. Donovan, McGraw-Hill Book Company, inscribed and signed by JFK and all 10 surviving PT 109 crew members, sold for $13,750 at a Dec. 3, 2016 auction conducted by Heritage Auctions.

What are some of the lesser-known places one can find rare modern issues?

I think church and library book sales are still viable book-hunting venues. Just in the past few years, I’ve found a couple of ‘sleepers’ in this way, one at a church jumble sale in Syracuse, New York, and one at a university library book sale, also in New York. My very best find happened at a church book sale in Massachusetts back in 1999. That was a first edition of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, in its jacket, no less.

Several people I interviewed for my book mentioned Goodwill and other charity shops as great places to find modern and ‘hypermodern’ firsts.

What is one of the best quotes you’ve ever come across regarding books?

Well, that one’s easy for me. The quote from Larry McMurtry’s novel, Cadillac Jack, which was the guiding light for my book – ‘Anything can be anywhere.’ And this is borne out almost on a weekly basis when some unknown or ‘missing’ manuscript, book, or piece of art is ‘found.’ It appeals to the treasure hunter in all of us.

Rebecca Rego BarryRebecca Rego Barry is the author of Rare Books Uncovered: True Stories of Fantastic Finds in Unlikely Places (2015) and the editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine. She also writes about books, history and auctions for The AwlSlate, and JSTOR Daily, and her chapter on the Warner sisters will appear in the forthcoming anthology From Page to Place: American Literary Tourism and the Afterlives of Authors (2017).


Getting Hooked on Rare Books: 3 Experts Share Their Stories

From the time you learn to read as a child, you are invited to explore new cultures and discover new worlds through books. This nostalgic root of reading is core to why antiquarian and rare books are eternally popular, even despite the rise of e-readers and the Internet. But how does one make the leap from book lover to rare book obsessor? We reached out to three rare book experts and asked them to answer our burning question: What was the first book that got you hooked on rare books and collecting?

Angel Webster, Specialist in the New Rare Books

By Source, Fair use

By Source, Fair use

I read Moby Dick in High School and then wrote an essay on it to help me get into a good college. I got an A and I moved on. And on and on. I couldn’t wait to leave my small town. The next thing I knew I was 40 and there it was one day in front of me…a First Edition of Moby Dick. The book that I used to get me into college. It was squat, battered and faded. It looked like a tired, useless, old, used book. Moby Dick — where all Americans are represented as afloat, isolated on the waters, in danger, working, struggling, suffering — but as one tireless unit. And it was complete, that love I had for it, how it, like me, had struggled to exist and be seen and read, against all odds.

The first book in my collection was “The Old Huntsman and Other Poems” by Siegfried Sassoon. Second American Printing, 1920. I discovered it in a corner section of books in a used furniture store. Books from that era are hard to spot but if you squint your eyes and look for bland, buckram spines, you sometimes get lucky.

Erik DuRon, Rare Book Expert

By Glenn Cravath - http://www.fullyarticulated.com/page30/page36/page35/page24/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49572764

By Glenn Cravath – http://www.fullyarticulated.com/page30/page36/page35/page24/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49572764

The first book I bought for myself, when I was 8, was an Ace paperback reprint of the novelization of the original King Kong film from the 1930s. I found it in a spinning rack at an old drugstore in Greenwich Village, the kind of place with a mosaic tile floor and glass jars on wooden shelves behind the counter. The dusty, slightly medicinal smell of the place is forever associated in my mind with books. I still have that paperback.

Jennifer Robertson, Book and Paper Conservator

Via @bookandpaperconservation on Instagram

Via @bookandpaperconservation on Instagram

I don’t know if there was one particular book I could trace to, but when I started a part-time job at a used book store that also dealt in antiquarian books, my world was changed.

At the time, I came from a fine art background, so I started working with prints, maps and ephemera. But they got me cataloguing some of the rare books as well, and the tactility of the materials – leather, cords, parchment, gold tooling, etc. – really captured my attention.

Working at that bookstore led me to a career in conservation, where I now specialize in the conservation and restoration of fine art on paper, archival materials and rare books. I work privately and treat items for a variety of museums, libraries and archives, as well as private collectors. So, I own very few rare books myself, but I feel that every time that passes through my studio is a little bit mine, for a short time.

One of my biggest thrills was when, during an internship position, I worked on a page from the Gutenberg Bible. Not many people in the world can say they’ve handled a piece of history like that!

What got you hooked on book collecting? Do you have a distinct memory of the first book you collected? Share your stories with us on Twitter @ByJasper52 – We can’t wait to hear and retweet our favorites.

What Makes a Book Rare?

As a commodity books are abundant. They’ve been written on countless subjects, in every field of endeavor. Even as bookshops disappear, the Internet seems to make virtually any title readily available, and most can be had for a few dollars. In this day and age one might reasonably wonder, what makes a book rare?

The historian and bibliophile Paul Angle, quoted in John Carter’s indispensable reference ABC for Book Collectors, cites three sensible criteria for rarity: “important, desirable and hard to get.” Like Angle, I tend to think of rarity as a compound phenomenon, a series of discrete but related attributes that, when all present in one book, bestows a special quality, greater than the sum of its parts.


The first question one might ask about a book pertains to its relevance. Is it recognized? Has it stood out in some way, in its own field if not the wider culture?

There exist many books on arcane or abstruse subjects. Some of them may exist only in small numbers, but because they never rise to a level of general interest they are not sought after. Though scarce, they are not given the opportunity to be considered “rare.” More importantly, one should ask, is this book specifically of interest to me? It seems obvious, but collectors have been known to spend time and money in pursuit of books they think they ought to have rather than those they want to have.


This speaks to Angle’s first two conditions: importance and desirability. Next, one should consider a book’s bibliographic profile. Is it a first edition, i.e., from the earliest batch of copies to come off the printing press? And is it a first printing of the first edition?

Book collecting rests pretty solidly on the notion that the earlier the edition, the closer we come to the writer’s own world — to the standards of material production of the time, and the way in which first readers experienced the work. Failing a book’s being a first edition, one might ask if it’s an otherwise significant edition. Changes made within a text can be historically interesting in their own right. Charles Darwin kept making modifications to On the Origin of Species (1859), with each of the six editions published in his lifetime bearing his changes. A completist would want all six.

Book collecting rests pretty solidly on the notion that the earlier the edition, the closer we come to the writer’s own world


Another consideration is condition. Is the book complete, and without significant flaws? If it’s an older book, is it in the original binding? If not, is the replacement binding early and/or skillfully done?

Contemporary taste gives preference to authenticity, to a book being as close to its original state as possible. Interestingly, this wasn’t always so. In the 18th and 19th centuries many earlier books were rebound in sumptuous but period-inappropriate styles. This can make original or very early bindings harder to find. With regards to a modern book, is the original dust jacket present, and what is its condition? Dust jackets are crucial in the collecting of modern first editions, because they are the most fragile and ephemeral part of a book’s production. As such they can account for upwards of ninety percent of a book’s value.

Contemporary taste gives preference to authenticity, to a book being as close to its original state as possible.


Scarcity is the final factor, what we think of as rarity in the most limited sense. How many copies of a given book were printed in the first place, and how many of those have survived? Further, how many are likely to be available at any given time?

Over the years universities and libraries have acquired many of the most desirable books. The folio and quarto editions of Shakespeare (that is, the earliest examples of the Bard’s works to have been printed), or Edgar Allan Poe’s notoriously rare first collection of poems Tamerlane (1827), or the first book printed in colonial America, the Bay Psalm Book (1640), of which only 11 known copies survive — such books seldom come to market.

Of course, scarcity is also a function of the first three factors: the most important and desirable books, in their earliest editions and in the best possible condition, are naturally sought after by the greatest number of collectors, and so they become ever harder to find. This may be discouraging to some, but I find that it presents beginning or adventurous collectors an opportunity.

The most important and desirable books, in their earliest editions and in the best possible condition, are naturally sought after by the greatest number of collectors, and so they become ever harder to find.

With so much generally available, there’s plenty of room outside of collecting orthodoxy for a fresh take. Collectors ultimately get to decide what’s of interest to them and, adhering to some sensible guidelines, which will be the rare books of the future.

Erik Duron copyErik DuRon has nearly 20 years of experience buying and selling rare books in all fields, first at Bauman Rare Books in New York City, and then independently. He has built collections for diverse clients, and collaborates with and consults for collectors, booksellers and auction houses. He lives in Brooklyn and can be reached at erikduron@msn.com.

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.