How to become a book collector

So, you have decided to become a book collector. Congratulations!

There are few things as engrossing, as educational or as pleasurable as a fine book collection. And unlike some other types of collecting (rare coins, historical artifacts, oil paintings), book collecting is open to those with modest incomes as well as the very wealthy.

It is true that a first printing of William Faulkner's The Marble Faun or Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree will cost thousands of dollars but there are many collectible authors and collectible subjects where adding a book to your collection can cost less than dinner at a decent restaurant.

Read through the guidance below and you too can become a successful, proud owner of your very own book collection.

Where to buy and what to look for

So, if you have decided to become a book collector, I expect that you have decided on the subject or author for your collection. You may well have some books for this collection on your shelves already. Now you want to add to your collection and like many book buyers today you are buying your books online.

This can pose some problems. You know that with books their CONDITION matters. It matters a lot. When we buy our books in a bookstore, in an antiquarian bookshop, we can pick up the book, sniff it to make sure there is no odor, look at the condition of the binding, check for any marks or stains, etc. But you can not do those things online. Even if a bookseller includes an image with their listing, that image tells you nothing about the interior pages. Booksellers include 'descriptions of condition' in their listings but for those new to book collecting, things like 'AN', 'G+' or 'EP' can be confusing. When buying online you need to understand this bookseller 'shorthand' - a shorthand that was invented when booksellers listed books in weekly magazines and paid by the line for their ads. To keep costs down, they invented a 'bookseller shorthand.' And although we no longer 'pay by the word' to list books, those abbreviations are still used by most booksellers.

So, here is your 'cheat sheet' for making sense of the abbreviations and words used to describe books sold online. Read the list carefully or print it out and memorize it. You need to know these terms when buying for your collection if and when you are buying a book that you can not hold in your hands to inspect.

Remember that condition is to books as location is to real estate property. As a collector you always want to buy the best condition that you can afford. Most modern books were issued with dust jackets/dust wrappers (detachable paper covers around the book itself). Booksellers always list the condition of the dust jacket after the condition of the book. For example, AN/VG tells you that the book itself is in AS NEW condition and the dust jacket is VERY GOOD. Usually you will find books are in better condition than their dust jackets - although there are rare instances when readers will remove a dust jacket when they read a book so as to keep the jacket in perfect condition. Then you might see VG/AN in a description. And any time you find a book listed in less than AN/AN condition, always feel free to contact the seller about the books defects if they are not listed in the description. As a collector you want to buy your books in the best condition you can afford. You need to be informed about any flaws or wear before you order. Most booksellers are more than happy to answer your inquiries about condition because they recognize the limits of the written word and they want to avoid having books returned because a buyer assumed a book was in better condition than their description warranted.

That's it. Enjoy building your collection. And remember the 3 keys to a great book collection: Condition, Condition, Condition.

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