Why Collect Rare Books

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a book lover, in possession of an enquiring mind, must be in want of a collection’ (to paraphrase Jane Austen).

For the non-collector among us (are there really people who don’t collect books?), the idea that collectors spend their hours fawning over dust jackets, variant bindings, issue points and even deckled edges is such an alien one that people often ask why - usually with a look etched across their faces that suggests we might be mad. The same look takes on an all-together more bewildered guise for our non-collector friends when they find out the value of a first edition by an author such as Jane Austen ...

As these are questions that we hear, as booksellers and collectors, on a regular basis, in our working lives, at countless dinner parties, after-work drinks and school reunions (the latter a particularly fertile breeding ground), we thought it might be a good idea to jot down a few thoughts on why exactly people collect rare books.

For some it’s their hobby and others their art form. Some say it’s their obsession, with the writer and collector Nicholas A. Basbanes once calling it ‘a gentle form of madness’! Some put their faith in books, whilst others invest in them, speculators you might call those collectors.  Yet more people squirrel away their fortunes ready for the day when they find the great treasure they’ve been hunting for, sometimes for decades.

However, if you were to boil it down, many a collector might say simply, what an unbridled joy it is to own the first edition of their favourite book, be that by Fleming, Piranesi or Livingstone. For them, there is nothing else quite like it. While contemporary readers will often queue outside a bookshop overnight with a flask of cold coffee and a ham sandwich so that they can be the first to own the new literary sensation, collectors of rare antiquarian books and first editions will also stop at nothing (well perhaps murder) to get our hands on the earliest copy of the books we love, be that manuscripts, uncorrected proofs, or signed limited editions. Bibliophiles are bibliophiles at the end of the day, and we are all collecting something.

Now that we’ve shone a light on why we collect rare books, why not let our specialists advise you on starting your own collection, based on your individual tastes and of course finances.