When it comes to antique books, those starting out as book collectors may be surprised to find that for books to be considered antique, they need to be at least 100 years old. And older.
This is due to the change in the way books are published. In the 19th century, many copies were being produced compared to centuries before when the process was much more labour intensive.
Glossary of Terms
Before we make a start, it is helpful to know what the different terms used in book collecting are referring to. Let’s take a brief look:
Personal Library - those books we read, e.g. cookbooks, reference books, children’s books etc
Collection - Collecting a specific type of book, either for its quality or subject matter or by author
As New (AN) - An unused, unread and perfect copy of a book
Fine - Much the same as ‘As New’ except the book has been opened and/or carefully read
Very good - A nice copy that is showing signs of use
Good - A book that is in good condition can show signs of significant wear to the dust jacket, boards or text. It should have all pages and an intact cover.
Fair - Noticeable wear with the possibility of non-essential pages being missing or damaged. All other pages, including any illustrations, should be present.
Poor - The book shows significant wear, damage or flaws but is still readable.
Reading Copy - Used for reading only, a book in this condition makes it undesirable to collectors.
Vintage - Used to describe books that are more than 50 years old but less than 100 - think collectables and comics.
Antiquarian - Books relating to or dealing in antiques or rare books.
Making a Start
As with any collection, the most important thing to remember is to collect what you love or have an interest in otherwise it will not bring any joy and excitement to you, which is what collecting is all about!
Try to pick a specific area. Starting with a broad subject can be very overwhelming but narrowing it down to a specific area makes it easier to search for books as there will be less competition. A good example of this would be choosing gardening and narrowing that down to a specific theme such as a plant or tree species.
What to Look For
Whilst it is always useful to consult a rare book dealer for their expertise when it comes to grading the condition of a book, there are things to look out for that can be of great assistance to those not in the know.
Is the book binding tight and firm?
Is there any damage to the binding? Has it been ripped or stained in any way?
Are any of the pages loose, missing or damaged?
Is there any evidence of water damage?
If the book is illustrated, are all of the illustrations present and intact?
If the book originally came with a dust jacket, is it still there?
The condition of a dust jacket is just as important as the book itself. First appearing in the 1830s, a dust jacket, also referred to as “DJ” was originally designed to protect books from dust and dirt before they reached the bookseller. They were plain, worthless and discarded once the books were on display. Often they would be plain white or brown but as time went on, publishers decided to add the author’s name and book title. Towards the end of the 1800s, illustrated dust jackets began to make an appearance but they were often still discarded. In the decades that followed they became more of a marketing and promotional tool, allowing readers to easily identify a book and its author.
Most Expensive Books Sold
From religious texts to children’s classics, it is truly amazing how much some of the world’s most famous books have sold for. Here are five we have picked out for you:
1. The most expensive book ever sold is Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Codex Leicester”, also known as “Codex Hammer”. Hand written in Italian in 1510, it is a 72 page manuscript that includes Da Vinci’s thoughts, theories and observations of the world and is supported with drawings and diagrams. In 1994, the book was sold to Bill Gates for a staggering $30.8 million.
2. Harry Potter, loved by children and adults alike. A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has become a must have for collectors. In 1997 just 500 hardback copies were printed with 300 of those being sent to schools and libraries. In March 2020, 1 sold for £118,812 at Bonhams
3. In 2017 The Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith was purchased by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for $35 million.
4. A first edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales sold in 1998. Printed in 1477 by William Caxton, the book sold for $7.57 million.
5. The St Cuthbert Gospel is a pocket gospel book originally buried with Saint Cuthbert (d. 687) and removed from his coffin in 1104. It was purchased by the British Library in 2012 for $14.34 million.
There are plenty of places to search for books and a good place to start is The Warehouse Bookshop. Browse through the large selection of books at leisure. From rare and antiquarian and fiction, non-fiction and children’s classics, the bookshop is brimming with pre-loved books of all genres.
Find The Warehouse Bookshop at the back of The Warehouse Antiques and Collectables in Setchey, Nr. King’s Lynn.