Collecting Rare Books and Manuscripts--April-May 1992
                   Daniel Traister, instructor
     University of Pennsylvania, College of General Studies,
                        Special Programs

You can send Traister an e-mail message at his address by clicking here.

Return to Daniel Traister's Home Page. OUTLINE GROUND RULES FOR THIS COURSE: I talk. You interrupt. If you don't interrupt, I keep on talking. Don't let it rain all over you. Open your mouth. The only stupid question is the one you don't ask. (Remember: this course has no grades. Speaking up can't hurt.) First Class 1. What are rare books? a little show and tell significance of text author illustrator binding place, date, & kind of printing (e.g., incunables; Wyoming incunables; early lithography) or other (e.g., family connections; historic associations) provenance--autographs, manuscript annotations or comments absolute rarity (always true of manuscripts; rarely of printed book not published in limited editions) price (is Shakespeare's First Folio a rare book or an expensive one?) date and age (not an absolute criterion of "rarity"; e.g., press books) physical fragility (the object requires special care to survive) manuscripts (ipso facto unique, whatever their age or nature; cover a vast range of possible dates, forms, and fields) "anything I say it is": i.e., whatever fits a collector's interests and collecting patterns 2. Why collect rare books and manuscripts? why collect anything (stamps; Coca-Cola bottles; Old Masters)?--the pack-rat impulse; "necessity" sentimental attachment to the past and its artifactual survivals (nostalgia); documenting the past (scholarship) interest in an author, topic, genre, printer, place, or artist fun (intellectual self-improvement; or, "I like to read") profit (collecting for investment; or, "I've given up reading") vanity (or, "I am the kind of person who collects books") and, relatedly, immortality (or, "I want to become J. P. Morgan") 3. Do rare books and manuscripts require special care? Yes. Keep them away from: direct sunlight water excessive humidity excessive dryness high temperatures pollution food insects your children your pets places to avoid (basements / attics / kitchens / bathrooms) housing and caring for your collection (can I read them?; supplies) the perils of do-it-yourself conservation finding a conservator when you move your books organizing, record-keeping, and cataloguing Second Class 4. Tour of Special Collections Department at Penn The purposes of this visit are: a) to indicate something of the various resources available in Philadelphia libraries; b) to see some of the different objects--manuscripts older and modern; printed books (ditto); illustrated books; medical and scientific works; prints; children's books--that have been collected and remain historically significant; c) to suggest goals towards which serious collectors can aspire (and it is better to have high goals); and d) to see some nice things. Third Class 5. Starting up see AN INTRODUCTORY READING LIST (distributed with this outline) read first, buy later choosing a subject (do you choose it or does it choose you?) what do you already have / what do you already read or like? specialization vs. generalization (do you collect or accumulate?) gaining expertise: handle your own books--and as many others as possible (you may even want to read some of them) read bibliographies, biographies, histories, critical studies, bibliographical aids, dealer and sale catalogues (see READING LIST)--(prepare for the day when you are the expert) seeking advice from other collectors, bookdealers, librarians, friends, scholars, your spouse or other relatives concerned for your mental and financial well-being setting realistic spending priorities / realistic housing capabil- ities (what can you really expect to do?) 6. The marketplace sources: new bookstores used bookstores antiquarian bookstores (it's a mail-order business--but use the telephone; meet the locals; and READ DEALERS' AND SALE CATALOGUES) specialists (fields; format [i.e., books / manuscripts]) can you rely on antiquarian booksellers: to charge a fair price (and not to cheat you)? PRICE: what is "a fair price"? to give you good advice (and not sell you their dogs)? to let you know first about items in "your" field? to look for materials for your collection? to refer you to other dealers? to describe their wares accurately in catalogues? and to sell "unsophisticated" materials? can you cultivate good relationships with booksellers? should you work only with specialist booksellers? can you buy on credit? can you negotiate price? book fairs (flea markets, AAUW, international antiquarian) auction houses how do you buy at auction (directly, through an agent, by phone)? finding things (attics; family letters, diaries, photographs, war records; playbills; exhibition catalogues; etc.)-- what's in your house right now? others (e.g., antique stores, furniture stores, street vendors; the town dump) 7. How fussy are you going to be ("collector's condition")? the importance of condition--and when condition is unimportant what a dealer can do to "original condition": rebinding / cleaning and washing / gluing / dust-wrappers / made-up volumes or sets / repairs / coloring 8. Appraising, trading, selling why appraise? when? do-it-yourself or hired experts? using price records (BAR, ABPC, BPI, dealers' catalogues) finding appraisers insurance (or, why you're glad you made a catalogue) trading up selling books or collections: friends / dealers / auction houses sell outright? on consignment? is your collection worth keeping intact? to whom? if you intend it to go to an institution, points to keep in mind; what sort of relation with that library should you seek? Fourth Class 9. Using local library resources what do local libraries have that collectors want (apart from their collections)? what do local libraries have that collectors can get? do librarians bite? (Sometimes. Be prepared to bite back.) why might you want to find out? 10. Organizations ("support groups") Q: is there anyone who cares about your collecting as much as you do? A: No. Q: does that mean that no one cares? A: No. clubs (yes, even "fan clubs") library friends' groups (at least some of them care about books) learned societies (e.g., Bibliographical Society of America; Bibli- ographical Society, London; Manuscript Society; American Printing History Association; Printing Historical Society; American Historical Print Collectors Society; subject or area scholarly groups) (at least some of them care about books) 11. Questions & (maybe) answers ("Is what you have told us true?" "Sometimes.") The basic lesson: There is no single "right" way to set about collecting. All collectors must find their own methods. Even generally approved approaches may not work for you all the time or even most of the time, yet an approach that most collectors would regard as wildly idiosyncratic, or just plain idiotic, may prove just dandy. ------------------------------------------------------------------- ------------------------------------------------------------------- An Introductory Reading List 1) General guides: No one has written a truly "Compleat Guide" to book collecting. Of several books that illuminate the vocabulary (or jargon) and the methods of book collecting, I recommend most highly the three listed immediately below--despite their mildly antiquarian air--as useful for anyone starting out as a collector: Book Collecting: A Modern Guide, ed. Jean Peters (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1977). Brings together in one place several useful introductory es- says on various topics: what it's all about, various methods of acquiring books, collecting manuscripts, fakes and forger- ies, caring for books, organizing collections, appraising them, and the literature of book collecting. See also Col- lectible Books: Some New Paths, below. John Carter, ABC for Book Collectors, 5th ed. (London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1974) Carter's ABC is a dictionary. Don't let that seem offputting. It is both readable and useful. You would be well advised to read it until you have memorized it. I was so advised when I first started out in this business and have never regretted the time I spent with this book. NOTE: The 1974 edition is available in the United States (New York: Alfred A. Knopf). More difficult to find here is the 6th and 7th editions, revised by Nicolas Barker [London and New York: Granada, 1980]. But Oak Knoll Books, 414 Delaware Street, New Castle, DE 19720; ph 302 328 7232 carries it. Nor- mally I do not recommend a single source; there is, however, no better store in this country for materials on books in all of their aspects than this one. (I get no commission for saying so. Alas.) Still and all, look locally before trying Oak Knoll; local dealers are likely to be more important to you than distant ones (*unless* you are specializing in books about books, of course). Carter's ABC has become a "collectible" book in its own right; you will pay a premium for a first edition. Unless you decide to become a Carter collector, however, he rightly tells you himself that his is a book that gets better with each passing edition; the latest edition is the one you need (even if a first edition later on becomes the one you want.) John Carter, Taste and Technique in Book Collecting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948; reprinted with an epilogue, Pin- ner, Middlesex: Private Libraries Association, 1970; an American edition was published without the epilogue [New York: R. R. Bowker]). An excellent essay on book collecting, this book has never (in my opinion) been surpassed for what it suggests of the reasons why otherwise reasonably sane people might want to do this sort of thing. The following books provide additional background: Geoffrey Ashall Glaister, Glaister's Glossary of the Book, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979). Another dictionary, more encyclopedic in style than Carter's ABC. John Feather, A Dictionary of Book History (New York: Oxford Uni- versity Press, 1986). Another dictionary. G. L. Brook, Books and Book-Collecting (London: Andre Deutsch, and Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1980). A humane treatment of the subject. Robert A. Wilson, Modern Book Collecting (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980). Best for its treatment of the collecting of modern literature. Collectible Books: Some New Paths, ed. Jean Peters (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1979). "Son of" Book Collecting: A Modern Guide (see above). These essays suggest new fields for collectors (e.g., film books, American fiction since 1960, paperbacks, trade bindings, photographic book illustrations, imprints). This anthology is self-consciously in the tradition of New Paths in Book Collecting, edited by John Carter (1934), a book that was highly influential in pointing out what were then "new paths" for collectors. It remains a bit early to try to gauge the impact of this version; but it includes essays that are very smart and should have been influential. Manuscripts: The First Twenty Years, ed. Priscilla S. Taylor (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984). Essays on tech- niques of manuscript collecting, suggestions of areas in which to collect, and descriptions of collectors and collections, in a volume sponsored by The Manuscript Society. Alan G. Thomas, Great Books and Book Collectors (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1975). Grandiose combination of text and pic- tures (many of them of the "eat your heart out" variety). A. N. L. Munby, Essays and Papers (London: Scolar, 1978). Munby dealt with book collecting in almost everything he wrote. Since he wrote very well indeed, he is worth reading even though he never treated book collecting "systematically." This collection of his essays is the place to begin. His other publications are listed at the end of the book; people who take to him will want to continue with his five- volume Phillipps Studies (also available in a two-volume reprint and an abridgement), his Connoisseurs and Medieval Miniatures (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), and The Cult of the Autograph Letter in England (London: Athlone, 1962). In the same category of "essential background--readable, wonderful, continually exciting, and always informative--is Edwin Wolf 2nd, Rosenbach: A Biography (Cleveland: World, 1960). These books are fun. If you don't find them so, get another hobby. NOTE: Books mentioned are only a sample of the many on this topic. 2) History of books: A few introductory books on this subject are: Douglas C. McMurtrie, The Book: The Story of Printing and Book making, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1943). Now largely out of date; deals with both manuscripts and printed books. Norma Levarie, The Art and History of Books (New York: James H. Heineman, 1968). Beautifully illustrated (black-and-white) survey of landmarks of book production, both manuscript and printed. A paperback reprint is available. Christopher de Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts (Oxford: Phaidon, and Boston: David R. Godine, 1986; a second edition was published in 199[ ]). Deals with Western books before the invention of printing from movable type. Informed; well- illustrated; readable. S. H. Steinberg, Five Hundred Years of Printing, 3rd ed. (Har- mondsworth and Baltimore: Penguin, 1974). Now out of print, Steinberg is simple, straightforward, a teensy bit dull, but worth borrowing from a library to read anyway. Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972; reprinted with correc- tions 1974). Technical but often useful introduction to the history of printing technology. Has an exceptionally good list of supplementary readings at the end. Read the corrected (1974) printing. Many people do not find this book fun to read (I do, I con- fess); but as you get increasingly serious, this is the sort of stuff you will increasingly want to know--and Gaskell lays it out with economy and some grace . . . and pretty complete- ly, all things considered, in a book of this length. It is a successor to the Oxford (1927) Introduction to Bibliography by Ronald B. McKerrow, which itself remains worth consultation. Joseph Blumenthal, Art of the Printed Book 1455-1955 (New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, and Boston: David R. Godine, 1973; reprinted in paperback by Godine). Illustrated history of landmarks of printing in the West. The history of American book production is studied by: Joseph Blumenthal, The Printed Book in America (Boston: David R. Godine, 1977). Illustrated survey of typographic landmarks of American printing history. In both this book and the one listed directly above, Blumenthal's enthusiasm is contagious. Many specialized studies of various periods of American printing and publishing history have appeared over the years. Examples are: Lawrence C. Wroth, The Colonial Printer, 2nd ed. (Portland, Maine: Southworth-Anthoensen, 1938; reprinted Charlottesville, Va.: University Press of Virginia, 1964, paperback). For pre-Revo- lutionary America. Lewis A. Coser, Charles Kadushin, and Walter W. Powell, Books: The Culture and Commerce of Publishing (New York: Basic Books, 1982). Modern American publishing. Paperback available. Book history is now a "hot topic" for scholars; some of the books now available in the field will interest collectors. Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962; many paperback reprint editions), is the book that the general public knows (or used to know) best. Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977, 2 vols.; reprinted in a one-volume paperback and available in a one-volume illustrated abridgement called The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe), is also important. Eisenstein's prose is extremely dense, her scholarship overly reliant on an undigested mix of good and bad secondary sources. Nonetheless, she is im- portant as a "breakthrough" scholar who drew widespread attention to the importance of this field of study. More careful work is accessible by, e.g., Rudolf Hirsch, Robert Darnton, Roger Chartier (much of the latter now in English translation). See also Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, The Coming of the Book (many paper- back versions in English). This book is the single most important synthetic work in the field. Scholars in this field pay most of their attention to the U.S., England, France, Germany, and Russia. 3) Special topics: The private press: Roderick C. Cave, The Private Press, 2nd ed. (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1983). Histories and bibliographies of many individ- ual private presses have been published over the years. In- formation about many presses is found in The New York Public Library's Catalogue of Special and Private Presses in the Rare Book Division, 2 vols. (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1978). Bookbinding: Edith Diehl, Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique (New York: Rinehart, 1946, 2 vols.; reprinted in one volume in paperback by Dover [New York, 1980]). The History of Bookbinding 525-1950 A.D. (Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery, 1957); and Paul Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 (New York: Pierpont Morgan Library and Oxford University Press, 1979), are two exhibition catalogues providing many illustrations of historical bookbindings. Children's books: F. J. Harvey Darton, Children's Books in England, 3rd ed., rev. Brian Alderson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982). Typography: Daniel Berkeley Updike, Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1938, 2 vols.; reprinted in two paperback vols. by Dover [New York, 1980]). Alexander Lawson, Printing Types: An Introduction (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971) is a much briefer introduction (and less his- torical) than Updike's. Illustration: John Harthan, The History of the Illustrated Book: The Western Tradition (London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 1981). Maps: R. A. Skelton, Maps: A Historical Survey of Their Study and Col lecting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972; re- printed in paperback, 1975). Once again, the books mentioned are only a tiny selection from the many available on each topic. 4) Bookseller directories: The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America annually lists its member dealers. The list is available from the ABAA (50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020); send a number 10 (long) envelope, stamped, with your request. Other booksellers are listed in the yellow pages or in such guides as The Collector's Guide to Antiquarian Bookstores (New York: Macmillan, 1984), the Directory of Specialized American Bookdealers, 1987-1988 (New York: Moretus Press, 1988), or--for England and Europe--in the various special- ized Sheppard's directories or the International Directory of Antiquarian Booksellers (9th edition, 1990/91 is the most recent; it's published by the International League of Antiquarian Booksel- lers). 5) Periodicals aimed at collectors include AB Bookman's Weekly Antiquarian Book Monthly Review The Book Collector Imprint (American Historical Print Collectors Society) Manuscripts (The Manuscript Society). Some bibliographical journals also include articles of interest to collectors, although their contents may also be highly specialized: notable among these journals are The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America The Library (the journal of The Bibliographical Society, London) Printing History (the journal of the American Printing History Association). 6) Reference books for information on books or manuscripts are worth learning to use. The Guide to Reference Books, 10th ed., ed. Eugene P. Sheehy (Chicago: American Library Association, 1986), lists bibliographical and reference books in many fields. The National Union Catalogue: Pre-1956 Imprints is a 500+-volume set locating and giving some information about books published before 1956 in U.S. and Canadian libraries. Many author and subject bibliographies exist. If this is a subject you want to pursue, we can spend considerable time on it. Reading biographical, historical, and critical studies in your collecting field will also prove helpful. 7) Other resources The Rare Book School at the University of Virginia is one of sever- al locations where formal instruction in aspects of rare book and manuscript librarianship, connoisseurship, collecting, and the history of books and printing are offered.