For new collectors, the idea of “books on books” may seem like a strange one. However, within this genre of books lies one specific category known as bibliographies, which are an incredible resource for collectors of virtually all levels and interests. Using a bibliography to direct your collecting efforts is an excellent way to eliminate guesswork and find new direction. They are your guidebook to the author/subject on which you focus your collecting energies and monies.
What Is a Bibliography?
Most of us think of bibliographies as the source lists at the end of research papers and journal articles. in the world of rare books, “bibliography” still refers to a list of books and other works, but with a slightly different focus. A bibliography is a compilation of all the printed works that fall into a given category. It may be annotated, which means that it includes more than simply publication information for each item listed. Bibliographies are available in almost every concentration.
- Genre: The Bibliography of American Literature (BAL) is the definitive source on the subject. Other genre bibliographies, such as The Fourth Estate (newspapers) and British Literary Magazines: The Modern Age, 1914-1984 are even more narrowly focused.
- Location: Robert Bent’s The London Catalogue of Books includes all titles published in that city from 1814 to 1839. California’s Pictorial Letter Sheets 1849-1969 focuses on both genre and location.
- Author: A Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle and A Bibliography of the Writings of Henry James are both excellent references for collectors of these authors.
- Collector: The libraries of famous collectors often merit their own study. Bibliotecha Steevensiana, for example, details the incredible collection of legendary bibliophile George Steevens.
Know Your Books
One of the greatest challenges for novice book collectors–and sometimes even professional antiquarian book dealers–is accurately identifying the book in front of us. It can be difficult to differentiate among different editions of books, for example. The bibliography can eliminate that uncertainty. These research tools often list relevant points of issue, that is, small details about a book than can help you tell the difference between the first edition and subsequent editions, or between different printings of the same edition; in the era of letterpress printing, for instance, the printer would often make changes to the typeset (sometimes mid-run) to correct errors. A collector would need to know these, in order to correctly spot true first editions and avoid potentially costly mistakes.
Discover New Direction
Typically collectors focus on the “high points” in their specialty or genre. Dickens collectors, for example, generally begin with the Inimitable’s most famous works like Pickwick Papers, Bleak House, and Great Expectations. This propensity for collecting high points has two important results. First, it means that most collections lack much depth. Second, prices for these high point works are driven up, often out of the reach of amateur collectors. The bibliography, then, offers a means of discovering lesser known works that add interest and completeness to a collection. It can also point collectors toward fascinating items that are more accessible from a cost standpoint. Ultimately the bibliography can act as a collector’s “checklist.”
As you move forward with building your own collection, find out which relevant bibliographies are considered most useful. Add these to your personal library as soon as you can! They’ll prove a sound investment as you delve deeper into the world of rare and antiquarian books. Finally, Tavistock Books offers an annual workshop on Reference Book use [the next being this coming August 24th]. Should you desire further information on this workshop, please contact Margueritte Peterson at msp [@] tavbooks.com