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According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary and others, the proper name for a book collector is a bibliophile. Dictionary.com defines a bibliophile as follows:

Bibliophile

noun

  1. a person who loves or collects books, especially as examples of fine or unusual printing, binding, or the like.

Bibliophilia, more commonly described as book collecting, is different from everyday libraries that many people have in their homes, which are often filled with favorite novels and reference books that various family members have collected over their lifetimes. Book collecting focuses on specific types of books, often across a specific genre, subject, historical period or particular authors.

Rare book collecting kicks it up yet another notch, with collectors hunting for the rarest tomes; particularly those that are scarce and in fine condition. For some, it’s a hobby pursued for the pure joy of collecting and preserving valuable books, while for others, it’s an investment opportunity.

Sometimes, it can be both.

Types of Book Collecting

Serious bibliophiles keep a relatively narrow focus, either across their entire collection or by compiling a series of separate collections. Some of the more popular collector themes or categories include:

  • Topic-Based Collecting

There is no real limit to this category, although most collectors choose specific aspects of a subject as more general topics, such as an entire literary age or the history of world exploration, would be too broad to form a complete collection. Topic-based collecting typically ranges from literary genres to fields of study, historical events and regional themes.

  • Author-Based Collecting

Like the name suggests, this type of collection is centered on acquiring the works of a particular author. The challenge here of course – particularly with prominent novelists – is achieving a complete collection.

  • Collections By Book Style, Design or Edition

Another book collecting tactic is to assemble collections by book type. This might be based on the physical construction, such as miniature books, particular book design, materials or binding, or it could be a specific type of publishing such as first editions, special or limited editions. 

  • List Based Collections

Rather than choosing specific genres or authors, another approach is to collect books that appear on publishing industry lists. These might be winners or nominees from awards lists like the Nobel Prize in Literature or the Pulitzer Prize, or publisher lists from fine or small presses, which typically have smaller print runs than large publishers.

Locating Books

While most truly rare books are sold through auction houses, there are booksellers that specialize in antique and out-of-print books as well. These include stores and online outlets like biblio.com, abebooks.com and alibris.com. Other places where rare gems sometimes surface are estate sales, secondhand book stores and even garage sales. Not everyone is aware of the value of the books they own, so it always pays to look.

Determining Value

There are a number of factors that come into play when it comes to determining the value of a book. First, there is demand, which is governed by the total number of copies in circulation along with the current number available on the market. Then there are considerations such as edition and condition. First or special editions are generally more valuable than later editions, although condition can often play an even larger role in the value of a book. Books are classified by a wide range of conditions from fine to poor.

The inclusion of a dust jacket can also be a big factor, particularly for older books. With so few found still intact – and in mint condition – a dust jacket can significantly increase the value of a book.

Books signed by the author can also increase the value of a book, especially if the author was stingy with signatures. Again, the laws of supply and demand govern the value of a specific book.

Book Collection Storage

There are some dos and don’ts when it comes to preserving a book collection, which becomes even more important when those books are very rare and valuable. The main things you want to avoid are exposure to sun and humidity, as both of these can damage books. Of course, for very rare tomes, some may choose to preserve them in secure cases, both for better preservation and security