Book collecting is the collecting of books, including seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining whatever books are of interest to a given individual collector. The love of books is bibliophilia, and someone who loves to read, admire, and collect books is a bibliophile. Bibliophilia is sometimes called bibliomania but should not be confused with the obsessive-compulsive disorder by that name, which involves the excessive accumulation and hoarding of books. The term bookman, which once meant a studious or scholarly man, now means one who writes, edits, publishes, or sells books. A book dealer is one whose profession is the buying and reselling of rare or used books. A book scout is someone who scours an area’s thrift stores, garage sales, used bookstores, classified ads for underpriced collectible books. A book rat (colloquial) is a person who works in many, if not all, of the used bookstores in a particular area. This particular type of book person is becoming as rare or scarce as the shops in which he or she once worked. This type of book person is almost invariably, and certainly inevitably, also a bibliophile. The scout, on the other hand, often is not.
True book collecting is distinct from casual book ownership and the accumulation of books for reading. It can probably be said to have begun with the collections of illuminated manuscripts, both commissioned and second-hand, by the elites of Burgundy and France in particular, which became common in the 15th century. Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy appears to have had the largest private collection of his day, with about six hundred volumes. With the advent of printing with movable type books became considerably cheaper, and book collecting received a particular impetus in England and elsewhere during the Reformation when many monastic libraries were broken up, and their contents often destroyed. There was an English antiquarian reaction to Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Monasteries. The commissioners of Edward VI plundered and stripped university, college, and monastic libraries, so to save books from being destroyed, those who could began to collect them.
Book collecting can be easy and inexpensive: there are millions of new and used books, and thousands of bookstores, including online booksellers like Abebooks, Alibris, Amazon, and Biblio.com. Only the wealthiest book collectors pursue the great rarities: the Gutenberg Bible and Shakespeare’s First Folio are, for example, both famous and extremely valuable. Collectors of average means may collect works by a favorite author, first editions of modern authors, or books on a given subject. Book prices generally depend on the demand for a given book, the number of copies available, and their condition.
Book prices generally depend on the demand for a given book, the number of copies available for purchase, and the condition of a given copy. As with other collectibles, prices rise and fall with the popularity of a given author, title, or subject.
Because of the huge number of books for sale, there is no single comprehensive price guide for collectible books. The prices of the copies listed for sale at the online bookseller sites provide some indication of their current market values.
As with other collectibles, the value of a book ultimately depends on its physical condition. Years of handling, moving, and storage take their toll on the dust jacket, cover, pages, and binding. Books are subject to damage from sunlight, moisture, and insects. Acid from the papermaking process can cause the pages to develop brown spots, called foxing; gradually turn brown, called tanning; and ultimately crumble.
Common defects include general wear; jacket/cover edge wear, scratches, and tears; the previous owner’s written name, bookplate, or label; soil and stains; dogeared pages; underlining, highlighting, and marginalia; water damage; torn hinges, endpapers and pages; and pages, illustrations, or whole signatures free of the binding, or missing entirely.
A book in good condition should be a rectangular solid when at rest, whether upright or on its back, with the covers at right angles to the spine. If a book is out of square, usually from resting crooked on a shelf, or leans to the right or left when on its back, it is cocked, or shelf-cocked. If the covers bend in or flare out, usually from rapid humidity changes, a book is bowed (bent like a drawn bow). Thick hardbound books also tend to have their pages sag downward in the middle even if they are sitting level on a shelf.