The Book Collectors' Dilemma

There's a kind of magic about a book. It is portable. It does not need a power supply. It is personal. The books you choose define your life.

That is why we keep them, long after the first reading. It is why, when we find a book that means something to us, we're eager to find more like it. There are other ways to learn but a book places the knowledge in your own hands.

That's why we collect: because books entertain, disturb, transform, teach and look good on a shelf. What starts out as curiosity can soon turn into a passion because there's nothing quite like the excitement of opening a book you didn't know existed or holding a rare volume that you never thought you'd own.

That's when you come face to face with the book collector's dilemma. Will you buy it? Can you afford it? Can you resist the temptation or will someone else snap it up while you're still making up your mind?

Help is at hand

The first question anyone asks when they're bitten by the book collecting bug is: "Where do I look?"

The internet has opened up the market in rare and collectable books for new enthusiasts, but there is still no substitute for turning the pages yourself and no better way to judge whether the book you are holding is one that really belongs on your shelf. So if you're new to collecting there's no better place to start than a PBFA fair or a bookshop run by a PBFA member.

Collect what you love

You know where to look, but what are you going to look for?

The only advice we can give you is to collect something you genuinely enjoy - and can afford. If you're after Harry Potter first editions or botanical plate books you are going to need thousands of pounds in the bank; on the other hand a specialised collection on virtually any subject of interest to you can be built up for a modest outlay.

Just take your pick

Here are some of the most popular specialisms.

Antiquarian Books
These books can be defined as anything printed before 1900 and could be collected for the quality of the printing, paper, illustrations or the binding or just the pleasure of owning a piece of history.

Art Books
Interested in Art? Most people are these days, whether it's pickled cows, unmade beds, Aunt Emily's watercolours, a particular artist or movement.

Children's Books
In the large field of children's books it is difficult, but all the more exciting, to find books in good condition, as most books will have been read and reread by several generations of children.

Local Interest/Topography
Topography is not just about natural features of the landscape, but also about human settlements, roads, railways and other artificial features.

Military History
The Wars of the 19th and 20th centuries are well documented from official histories to the personal memoirs and collections of letters from individual soldiers.

Modern First Editions
Modern First Editions include books all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century. The dustjacket is of vital importance; a book without a jacket is usually worth a tenth of what it is worth with a jacket.

Natural History Books
Piranhas, pythons, tarantulas, grizzly bears, vultures, pterodactyls, carnivorous plants and erupting volcanoes all excite the imagination.

Science Fiction & Fantasy
J R R Tolkein who wrote The Lord of the Rings over 50 years ago was one of the first to generate an imaginative journey into Middle Earth and Terry Pratchett and   J K Rowling are following on in this tradition of "fantasy".

Sporting Books
There is a wide field here for collectors. Most will choose the sport which they enjoy playing or watching.

Travel Books
Who isn't fascinated by the huge variety of countries and cultures in the world? There are books out there about every one of them.

Places to look

Secondhand Book Fairs
There are many PBFA book fairs every year in the UK, some large, some small, some highly specialised, but all packed with the thrill of discovery.

Secondhand Book Shops
The PBFA has over 120 members with bookshops in every part of the UK.