Good Reading : March 2004
19 (bookcollector) (GoodReading) including Mary Grant Bruce of Billabong notoriety or Ruth Park of Muddle-headed Wombat renown, may be more affordable in the UK or the US as they are not as widely known there.The same could be said for US author HA Rey’s Curious George monkey series, which may be gathering dust on a second-hand bookseller’s shelf in Australia − at a very reasonable price. Building a collection based on a theme rather than a specific author widens the scope. Selecting ‘School Stories’ as the topic for a collection opens the possibilities to Elsie Oxenham’s Abbey Girls, Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers or Charles Hamilton’s ‘Greyfriars’ series.While many of these as first editions are prohibi- tively expensive, by virtue of the number of reprints undertaken a wider range to collect from is ensured. The path collectors take to seek out their chosen titles is a cir- cuitous one that leads them through dusty second-hand bookshops, neighbourhood garage sales, fetes, umpteen char- ity shops and often, hours of Internet browsing. Canberra-based collector, Steve Surthwaite’s most mem- orable experience was finding a cornucopia of antiquarian books for $2 each in a rural bookshop that he stopped at on impulse whilst on a driving holiday. Often chatting with antiquarian book- sellers or fellow collectors at book fairs who share a similar passion will open up new avenues to explore. It is these unexpected pleas - ures that emerge in the pursuit of vintage children’s books that often exceeds the dollar value of the resulting collection. The Internet has certainly opened the field for book collectors allowing titles, housed across the globe, to be inspected and pur - chased at the click of mouse. Ebay hosts many a frenzied auction and other sites such as www.abebooks.com and www.biblioz.com offer sophisticated search engines to locate even the most obscure titles. Peter feels ambivalent about this and believes it is vital to handle a book to properly inspect its condition. He muses, ‘Life’s too short to sit in front of a computer and there’s really no substi- tute for going around and fossicking in bookshops’. In order to establish a good collection, collectors and book- sellers alike stress the importance of making an early decision about collecting criteria and then adhering to this.With such a broad selection of children’s literature out there, a collector’s budget is easily eroded with superfluous copies, not to mention the additional book shelving required. Juliet O’Conor, Children’s Literature Librarian at the State Library of Victoria advises, ‘Collect as specifically as possible. Antiquarian books can be very expensive and it is very easy to broaden your acquisition scope after you have established a solid basic collection’. By basing your decision on what personally appeals ensures that the ‘hunting and finding’ will bring greater reward. As when assembling any collection, each book needs to be the best possible example of what was originally printed, so therefore condition is the foremost consideration when making a purchase. Good condition constitutes original binding, a dust- jacket (if the book was issued in one) and minimal flaws – tears, stains or crayon embellishment! Peter states that, ‘the presence of a dust-jacket makes a huge difference to the value of a book, in fact it can be worth more than the book itself ’. A case in point is the first edition of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, which can bring $4000-5000 without the dust-jacket and $130,000-170,000 with it. Children’s books, being what they are, have often lead ‘active’ lives so it is uncommon to find them in pristine condition. Many, however, have survived in an acceptable state and it is these editions that need to be flushed out. Of course locating that elusive ‘first edition’ is a major feat, but distinguishing one from the field of reprints is an even greater one! Early children’s literature often does not contain adequate publication information so this is where the benefit of the experience of a reputable book dealer comes in.The practice of handling collectable books over time equips dealers with the knowledge required to accurately identify collectable books. John Carter defines a first edition in his book ABC for Book Collectors as ‘the first appearance of the work in question, independently, between its own covers’. It can therefore be said that all editions produced from the first setting of type are first editions. On occa - sion first editions are recalled due to printing errors or in the instance of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland , the author’s displeasure with the printed outcome of the illustrations. The reissues of these titles are then marked first edition, second issue. (Alice was reprinted to the author’s satisfaction and those recalled first editions of which approximately 25 copies remain today are extremely precious.) So now with a renewed interest in what seemed deeply buried in the recesses of your mind, venture out into the garage or up into the attic and sort through the boxes to unearth those personal treasures. Now is as good a time as ever to reacquaint yourself with those beloved old friends.