Well read

An­tique books tell quite the story – and the next chap­ter could be the most ex­cit­ing yet

EDP Norfolk - - ANTIQUES - bon­hams.com; chiswick­auc­tions.co.uk WORDS: Emily Di­a­mond

As some­one who loves the writ­ten word, when I dis­cover an in­ter­est for a new sub­ject I have to read ev­ery piece of lit­er­a­ture on the topic that I can get my hands on. I have al­ways en­joyed vis­it­ing tiny rare and an­tique book­shops; the kind with lots of lit­tle rooms, dark wooden shelves, pokey wind­ing stairs and floor­boards that creak. The whole place is al­ways heavy with that un­mis­tak­able ‘old book scent’, evok­ing mem­o­ries of my uni­ver­sity li­brary and re­search­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion.

It’s funny to think that only a few years ago, many were pre­dict­ing the death of the book due to the sud­den in­crease in pop­u­lar­ity of the Ama­zon Kin­dle, and sim­i­lar elec­tronic read­ing de­vices. Sec­ond hand book shops, both on­line and on the high street, have re­cently seen a resur­gence in pop­u­lar­ity.

It could be said that, as we are all so much more clued up about ecofriendl­y prac­tices and how to shop and con­sume more sus­tain­ably to help save our planet, the sec­ond­hand book is be­com­ing more pop­u­lar. It is not only a way to find books that may be rare or out of print, but it’s also a chance to en­joy read­ing in a way that is kinder to the en­vi­ron­ment.

When it comes to start­ing an an­tique book col­lec­tion, the con­sen­sus is to start with – and al­ways look for – sub­jects that are of in­ter­est. Matthew Ha­ley, di­rec­tor of books and manuscript­s at Bon­hams, ex­plains: “If you are buy­ing to spec­u­late on value, you need to be quite knowl­edge­able and you may face dis­ap­point­ment. A gen­eral rule could be only buy books you would ac­tu­ally read.”

Clive Moss, head of printed books and manuscript­s at Chiswick Auc­tions, also ad­vo­cates to look for sub­jects that you have a pas­sion for and as­serts that many peo­ple be­gin col­lect­ing items that hold nos­tal­gia or re­mind them of fond mem­o­ries of child­hood. “Find­ing an­ti­quar­ian books can be a life long search, and the search is part of the en­joy­ment,” he says.

A great place to source an­tique books is at one of the many an­ti­quar­ian book fairs run by the Pro­vin­cial Book­sell­ers Fairs As­so­ci­a­tion (pbfa.org) around the coun­try. Matthew Ha­ley says that book­sell­ers ex­hibit­ing at such fairs are re­quired to sign up to a code of prac­tice and can pro­vide sound guid­ance about the con­di­tion and rar­ity of pieces.

The de­tails for many trusted an­tique book­shops can also be found on the web­site, as well as at the An­ti­quar­ian Book­sell­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion (aba.org.uk). Other places to scour for hid­den gems can range from char­ity shops to on­line auc­tions, sec­ond hand book­shops and lo­cal auc­tion houses.

As a gen­eral rule, the con­di­tion of the book is what mat­ters the most. “Un­less the item be­ing bought is so scarce that no other copy is known, then buy­ing the best copy you can find and can af­ford is the only way to go; con­di­tion, con­di­tion, con­di­tion,” Clive says.

Matthew adds that the rarer the book is, the less that the con­di­tion mat­ters. “For a Dick­ens first edi­tion, there will be nu­mer­ous copies avail­able on­line, many of them in good con­di­tion, so the mar­ket for a poor-con­di­tion copy is min­i­mal. If there is only one copy ex­tant, but it is in poor con­di­tion, then the mar­ket is more for­giv­ing.”

When it comes to rarer and most sought af­ter pieces, Clive tells me that the first edi­tions of books are of­ten the most de­sir­able to source. And ac­cord­ing to Matthew: “The rarest and most sought-af­ter book would be one of Shake­speare’s plays pub­lished dur­ing his life­time, be­tween ap­prox­i­mately 1590 and 1616; this could eas­ily be val­ued at one mil­lion pounds.” Clive says that as all books are dif­fer­ent and can be found in a va­ri­ety of con­di­tions, some may re­quire care­ful re­pair work, for which he ad­vo­cates ask­ing for spe­cific ad­vice from the dealer. “Books can be del­i­cate, so some may need to be pre­served in spe­cially-made boxes, other leather pieces may ben­e­fit from a gen­tle clean with leather cleaner or pol­ish, whilst oth­ers may sim­ply need a light dust­ing.”

What­ever you are look­ing for, a trip to a mag­i­cal book­shop stock­ing rare and an­tique tomes could be well worth your time.

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