The majority of rare book collectors do not purchase any random rare book considered valuable, but collect within one or more specific category. Most rare book collectors prefer to develop collections based on their interests and their knowledge of a particular subject rather than as a blind dispassionate investment in something of which they are uniformed. Makes sense right?
While some collectors have wider interests than others, most rare books are purchased for personal reasons and directly relate to events or experiences in the collector’s life or they may be purchased by organizations, which maintain collections.
How do people describe the scope and interest of their collection? Well, the categories of rare books differ from current publications, because the publishing industry has changed immensely over the years since the invention of the printing press, the Internet, globalization, the ballpoint pen. Truly, the world has changed how writing is produced and sold and preserved and that fact may even be an aesthetic element considered by a collector.
All rare book collections do not consist of ancient and unobtainable relics from the past craft from fragile paper and kept for years in a jar in a European pantry.
Often collectors pursue very modern titles and modern works may rank among the most desirable of rare books due to the demand. The operable word in rare book collecting is “rare” and not the age of the publication. Consider J.K. Rowling’s first edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone-not that old, but quite valuable.
Collectors both public and private are prone to self-defining the category of their collection and developing that collection based on their own or their organization’s predetermined aesthetic. For that reason, it’s important to understand a collector’s objective when defining the category of books they collect.
Here are some common emphases of rare book collections:
Americana – Exactly what it sounds like… American Literature written between the Revolutionary War and Civil War. Focuses on work with historical significance to the United States.
American Literature – Fiction written by famous American authors.
African American Writers – Books written by African Americans, which are significant to Black History in America.
Art, Architecture and Design – Artists’ books – also known as livres d’artiste. Books published about a specific artists’ work, often signed, or at least featuring handsome illustrations of the artist’s body of work.
Children’s Books – Books written for children of varying ages. Many collectors are interested in books they read as a child. Little Golden Books are one example.
Classical Authors – Reprinted in the 15th-18th centuries, often containing commentaries and translations.
French Revolution – Whether they are pamphlets, monographs, periodicals, and posters, publications from the late 18th until the end of the French Revolutionary War.
History of Books – Books that hold relevance to the publishing industry and the written word and how it has changed over time.
History of Science – Works that feature significant developments in Science.
Ideas – Works of philosophical importance on the subject of politics, ethics, or society. This category overlaps with many others.
Medieval manuscripts- Books created between the years the 11th and 16h century.
Literature – Works of fiction, often those of specific authors or styles, genres, or movements.
Music – Musical scores of famous composers.
Photography – Similar to art, architecture, and design books. Books featuring the work of famous photographers.
Religion – Publications that document change in the any one of world’s religions.
Collections often focus on one specific religion.
Renaissance books – Books written between the 16th- and early 17th-century especially those from continental Europe.
Science, Medicine and Natural History – Works significant to the fields of mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology, botany, astronomy, as well as other scientific disciplines.
Theater – Publications of plays and scripts and everything related to the theatre even beyond Shakespeare.
Sport and Leisure – Publications that document historical achievement in athletics.
A sport or a specific athlete may be the focus for a collection.
Papyrus – Fragments of papyrus from the 3rd century BC to the 4th century BCE.
Travel and Exploration – Travel journals and other books important to exploration.
Collections often focus on the publications of one individual, team, nation, or
Interest in different categories wax and wane depending on collector enthusiasm.
However, the oldest and rarest manuscripts are always regarded as having high value even if a buyer willing to pay cannot be found.
Newer categories of rare book collections over the past century such as comic books and graphic novels are less defined and developed as collections that have been existence for centuries, but even if someone turns up their nose at any form of publication as comprising a serious publication, which happens all too often, the material, it’s historical significance, the collectors, and dedication they show to maintain and preserve the media for futures generations is not going to disintegrate overnight.