Category Archives: Bibliography and Reference Books

Chapter 578 Questions New Collectors Ought to Ask Booksellers, Or How We Can Help You, Part 2

If you read Part 1 of this post and its related post at The Private Library, welcome back. If you’re just finding this post for the first time, click here, to see what Part 1 was all about. Once again, the always intelligent Private Library has posted more advice to new collectors from the perspective of other collectors. I’m an antiquarian bookseller and I’m answering questions that I am sometimes asked by new collectors.

5. Which reference books will help me identify books that fit my collection?
This is why it is handy to get to know a good antiquarian bookseller. A good antiquarian bookseller, unlike the internet, will have at least a shelf-full (and, I hope, an entire case-full or more) of good print reference books. While it is easy to research current asking prices of books for sale by checking out online aggregators like or, and one can even pay a subscription fee to learn past auction prices on many titles, it is still difficult to find online accurate information for identifying first editions of various books, examples of authors’ signatures, and lists of important books in particular subject areas. Getting to know a good bookseller will help you learn the important references and bibliographies in your subject area and will help you learn. Over time, you can acquire your own copies of these references.

6. How can I learn the terminology associated with book collecting?
A good place to start is John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors. Buy a copy of the book and keep it on hand when you are reading book descriptions. It will go a long way toward helping you to understand the truncated language of many bookseller catalogues. You can also access Carter’s ABC online at the website for the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB):

Another thing to learn early on, perhaps even before you start collecting books, is the meaning of various book condition definitions. The Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA) includes definitions of these things here.

Another useful general print resource is Geoffrey Glaister’s Encyclopedia of the Book, a large and comprehensive listing of terms used in papermaking, bookbinding, and publishing.

This list is merely a start. The more you learn, the more you’ll be led to the best reference books in the area in which you like to collect.

7. How do I learn who are the experts in the field in which I am collecting?

Depending on the type of book you collect and the amount of time you have to devote to scouting for books, you may wish to deal primarily with a specialist book dealer. A specialist will not only know and understand your subject area, but, if he is known as a specialist in a particular field, will also frequently be offered books in that field by other booksellers before those books are offered on the open market. Still, there’s a lot to be said for the fun of scouting for books from a general antiquarian bookseller. If you’re in it for the thrill of the hunt, as many collectors are, and you have time to slowly build your collection, make the time to scout out the shop (brick and mortar or online) of the general bookseller or the booths of the variety of sellers at an antiquarian book fair. Check out the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association (ABAA) website to see a directory of some antiquarian booksellers and their various specialties.

8. How do I learn when there are book sales and book fairs in my geographic region?

Shopping for books at book fairs is fun. Where else do you have a gathering of booksellers who sell a huge variety of books under one roof? Book fairs offer one-stop shopping and the chance to see a range of books of all kinds. Library sales, too, can be fun places to hunt for prized tomes hidden amongst the ordinary books. In order to go to book fairs and library sales, you need to have them on your calendar. Book Sale Finder can help you find upcoming library sales, book fairs, and even auctions in your area.

9. What tools will help me keep track of my books and the prices I paid for them?

Keeping record of one’s books, especially if you hope to sell them later, should be a high priority for the new book collector. There are quite a few computer programs that can help you keep track of your books, their authors, their catalogue descriptions, and the price you paid to purchase them. Don’t wait until you have collected hundreds of books to start keeping track of them. Your life will be much easier if you catalogue each book as you get it. (Oh how I wish I took my own advice!) Here are a few that, depending on how extensively you wish to catalogue your books, are worth examining:

Book Hound is designed for booksellers, but could be used by a collector as well.

BookTrakker has both bookseller and book collector editions of its software.

My Book Collection is easy to use and practical for collectors. is useful for those who collect books with an ISBN number (that is to say books published in last 40 or so years.)

If you’re new to book collecting, allow me to be the first to say welcome! And thanks for taking the time to get acquainted with some of the basic points I’ve written about. If you have any other book-related questions I can answer, please ask away in the comment box below.

And don’t forget to read all about what experienced collectors have to share with new collectors over at The Private Library.


Filed under A Bookseller's Education, Bibliography and Reference Books, Getting Started, Internet Resources for Booksellers and Book Collectors, Uncategorized

Chapter 539 Reference Book Acquisitions, Or, Knowledge Adds Value

I’m still working on “spring cleaning” our house this week. What a chore — a necessary chore. I feel so much better when things are organized (ok, kind of organized). 🙂 Last week I made it through cleaning out and re-organizing kitchen cabinets and Tom and Huck’s room. This week it’s on to cleaning out their closet and to two storage closets we have in our hallway. I am beginning to find clothes, pantry items, and books where I expect them to be, and that makes me happy.

Thoughtful Husband has his own version of spring cleaning. He is still working on completing the rest of my bookcases. Remember these?

There are two more like that coming, and Thoughtful Husband is working on the last one as we speak. He’s only had time to assemble them in between Tom and Huck’s sports games on weekends, so it’s been slow going. As he completes a bookcase, I’ve been slowly unpacking books from last month’s Sacramento book fair and organizing my new shelves.

One of the fun things about filling my new shelves with books is that I can see where there are gaps in my various collections. Take reference books for example. I have quite a few of them, but I think a good bookseller can never have enough of them. I always try to spend some of my acquisition budget on reference books, and I bought quite a few more at good prices here and at the Sacramento book fair. I’ve said it before, but I haven’t said it again for quite some time, so I’ll say it again: Knowledge adds value. Information is one of the keys to succeeding in the antiquarian book business. Contrary to popular opinion, not all of this information is available on the internet. Much of the information you need to know you can find in reference books and bibliographies, some of which are easy to find if you know they exist and some of which are quite obscure.

Here are a couple of photos of my recent reference acquisitions, purchased largely to fill in gaps in areas of interest to me:

In the photo above, the bottom two books are California Local History, by Margaret Miller Rocq) and Basic Texas Books by J.H. Jenkins. If you’re going to collect Texas books and documents, I also suggest you read the book called Texfake so you are aware of why and how authentication of certain of these type of items can sometimes be difficult.


A Christie’s auction catalog from 1997 — The Doris Frohnsdorff Collection of Beatrix Potter.

The World of Louisa May Alcott, by William Anderson and David Wade.

A History and Bibliography of the Roycroft Printing Shop, by Paul McKenna.

Works of Maurice Sendak: 1947-1994, by Joyce Hanrahan

When I see my reference books — which now fill one 36-inch-wide, six-shelf bookcase — I am happy with what I’ve been able to acquire in three short years. Many of them I got very cheaply at library sales. A few were gifts from kind booksellers who wanted to encourage me in my budding bookselling career. Some I sought out from other booksellers, and still others came from past housecalls. But being able to organize these books in one place also allows me to see the areas in which I need to continue to add to my reference collection.

As I finally make a place for every thing (and every book) and have every thing in its place, I know these books will get much use, will help me to know as much as possible about the books I buy and sell, and will continue to bring me much satisfaction. That’s why spring cleaning is such a necessary — and in the case of books, enjoyable — chore.


Filed under Bibliography and Reference Books, Book Fairs, Book Finds, Organization

Chapter 495 My First Appearance in Print

Today I received the Fine Book & Collections 2009 Compendium in the mail. Now that the magazine has gone to an online-only format, the annual Compendium is a print version I have been eagerly awaiting.


In addition to the great Gift Guide for Book Lovers and a slew of great articles, the 2010 Bookseller Resource Guide included in the Compendium lets you know where you might consider shopping to fulfill all of your bookish needs.

Wait a minute. What’s that?

Hmm. Let’s zoom in a little bit on page 89, to the first listing under the heading “Book Dealers”:

fb&c ad

It’s the first time I’ve advertised my business in print! It’s a humble ad, not nearly as pretty as the half-page and full-page ads by some of the other dealers, but it’s in there. This is also the first time that my logo, originally drawn in the early 20th century by my great-grandmother, has made it into print, and I think that’s kind of neat.

Another milestone reached. I feel so official!

Thanks for letting me toot my own horn today.

See you in the stacks!


Filed under A Bookseller's Education, Bibliography and Reference Books, Getting Started

Chapter 482 2009 Fine Books & Collections Compendium Now Available

Great news! The Fine Books & Collections Winter 2010 Compendium is now available.

Those of you who have been interested in books and book collecting for a while already know that Fine Books & Collections was one of a handful of magazines for book collectors. Last year, the periodical went to an online-only format; no more print versions of the magazine will be printed. While there are still the same well-written articles on all kinds of bookish topics in the online version and there’s also a blog (to which I occasionally contribute), I find it difficult to read through an entire month’s worth of articles on my computer, especially those I might want to keep for future reference. Yes, I love and use digital technology, but I miss print!

According to Fine Books & Collections, The Compendium is a “deluxe edition of the magazine that will include our best columnists, feature articles, a directory of the industry, and more.” Last January, I received an email message from FB &C that “current active subscribers will receive the Compendium as part of your subscription to Fine Books & Collections. ”

I look forward to receiving it. I have missed the print version of the magazine, and though this won’t replace that, it will also include the 2010 Gift Guide for the book minded and the 2010 Bookseller Resource Guide, a listing of more than 700 bookstores and book-related institutions worldwide. (Full disclosure: I have purchased a listing in the Resource Guide, the first time I have advertised my business in print.) 🙂

If you’re interested, you can order your own copy here.

Happy reading!

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Filed under Bibliography and Reference Books, Book Finds, Book Related Products, Internet Resources for Booksellers and Book Collectors

Chapter 440 Bookmark This! Laura Ingalls Wilder Bibliography

I had planned to write a post featuring some of the books I hope to read before summer’s end. That plan has been interrupted by something much more important. I’ll write about summer reading tomorrow.


As a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and collector, I am a regular reader of the Beyond Little House blog. I commented on a recent post that it was unfortunate that, to my knowledge, there was no single print bibliography of all of Wilder’s works, including her many articles and essays written for the Missouri Ruralist. A few hours later, another reader of the Beyond Little House blog emailed me to say that there is an online bibliography of the works written by or about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. (Thanks, Gina!) It’s the most complete bibliography for the two authors I’ve seen to date.

Here’s a link to Pioneer Girl, a site devoted to the “fact and fiction of Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Here you can find almost everything you could possibly wish to know about Wilder — the various places she lived, the various works she wrote, and you can even find out how to get your own research copy of Wilder’s unpublished manuscript, Pioneer Girl. The site also contains a list of all of Wilder’s Missouri Ruralist articles with a link to both text and image of each article.

If you click on the “Research Room” button on the site, you’ll see all of the bibliographic information.

Bookmark Pioneer Girl. This site is a valuable resource for Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane scholars, fans, and collectors.

See you in the stacks!

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Filed under Bibliography and Reference Books, Internet Resources for Booksellers and Book Collectors, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Chapter 419 Useful References About Ephemera

I wrote about an interesting ephemera find last week, an 1890s board game called The Game of Round the World With Nellie Bly. I promised to share with you the way I planned to research whether this game is (one of) the earliest to be based on an American woman. After a search for references about American board games, I ordered and am waiting to receive, Margaret Hofer’s The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board and Table Games. If it can’t answer my question, it’s quite likely that it will have a list of additional resources for me to check to see who can answer my question.

I’m also interested in learning more about American trade catalogues. Two catalogues of ephemera from Rulon-Miller Books got me interested. I learn a lot about books from other booksellers’ catalogues, and I expect the same will be true for ephemera. Here are the links to the two ephemera-based catalogues:

American Pamphlets and Trade Catalogues
Travel Guides and Ephemera

And here’s the list of the books I either have or have ordered in the past few days to learn more about ephemera. It’s by no means an extensive list, just a place to start:
Rickards, Maurice. Encyclopedia of Ephemera
Romaine, Lawrence B. Guide to American Trade Catalogs, 1744-1900
Fredgant, Don American Trade Catalog Reference Book
Hofer, Margaret. The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board and Table Games

There are a few online resources for learning about ephemera that look as though they may also be useful:

Epehemera Society of America

Their bibliography of ephemera is quite extensive.

An ephemera blog

Here’s a little bit of ephemera I bought at the recent Gold Rush Book Fair. It will fit in nicely with my collection of books by or about American women, which has a tiny section on suffrage. This small pamphlet has a rather controversial title:


And even more startling content (or lack thereof):

The back cover explains all:

Really! 😉

The look of the small pamphlet reminded me of this book, which presents the other point of view, that women should vote and the responsibilities incumbent upon those who did vote:
political primer

My catalogue description for this book:
Beatty, Bessie. A POLITICAL PRIMER FOR THE NEW VOTER Introduction by William Kent. San Francisco: Whitaker & Ray Wiggin Co. , 1912. 12mo. 76pp. Tan paper over boards. First edition. Half-title reads, “Compliments of William Kent” (who wrote the introduction). California granted women the vote in 1911, a full decade before the rest of the country. Unusual in its focus, the book is written to explain to the new female voter what is meant by the terms citizenship, elections, government, and the legal status of women. Beatty was a reporter for the San Francisco Bulletin, and later visited Russia with John Reed. In 1919, she published a book on the Russian Revolution called The Red Heart of Russia. Kent was a California Congressman credited with saving what is now called Muir Woods in San Francisco. Minor foxing to endpapers. Near fine.

I just like how the ephemera and the book complement (or perhaps negate?) each other. Do you have any good resources or references for learning about ephemera? If so, share them in the Comments Box below.

See you in the stacks!


Filed under Bibliography and Reference Books, Ephemera, Internet Resources for Booksellers and Book Collectors

Chapter 385 It Figures

You already know I’ve been working with a graphic designer to complete my Dante catalogue. After having to scan the covers of 66 books (twice!) and then research, price, and write descriptions for an additional 10 books, I finally turned over everything she needs to the designer yesterday. She says she’ll need two weeks to show me a complete draft. (She’s juggling my project with some others.)

Despite the slow pace, it was a good feeling, a feeling of progress being made. A feeling of satisfaction.

The very next evening, I discovered something I’d missed — I found a bibliography of Dante in English about which I hadn’t previously known. To my knowledge, there are only a handful of bibliographies that cover editions of Dante printed in English, and most of them are just printed library catalogues. Most Dante bibliographies I’ve seen focus on the older, mostly Italian editions of Dante. One reason I picked illustrated and unusual editions of Dante from the past 300 years for the subject of my first catalogue is that I thought it would be fun and challenging to have to do my own research. That is to say, I wanted to rely on sources other than or in addition to bibliography. I knew that doing so would help hone my bookseller research skills. I spent a huge amount of time researching editions of Dante from the past three centuries. I like research, and other than the fact that I’d like to get my catalogue finished, I could happily spend days (and did) doing research. Late the other night, I was reading Nick Havely’s Dante, and when I referred to one of the book’s endnotes, I discovered this bibliography of Dante in English. Despite having spent two years on this project, I hadn’t heard of it before. I hadn’t seen it referenced online or in any other books.

It was a bittersweet feeling to discover this heretofore unknown bibliography. Bitter because I have a feeling it could have saved me a lot of work. Sweet because I suspect the bibliography will help me to fact-check my own research. Of course, some bibliographies are merely checklists and not especially useful when it comes to research. This might be one of those. Or it might not.

Of course, I can’t find any copies of the bibliography for sale online at the moment, but the a public library has a copy.

Of course, that library is 30 miles from my house.

Of course, I have other commitments this week and this weekend and I can’t get to the library until the middle of next week.

It figures.

But you can bet that I’m going to check out that bibliography even if it means I have to make changes to the catalogue.

See you at the library!


Filed under Bibliography and Reference Books, Catalogues

Chapter 364 “What’s This Book Worth?”, Or, On Determining the Value of Books

So there I was this past weekend, reading through one of my local papers, the San Jose Mercury News, scanning for interesting articles. Suddenly, a headline caught my eye: “Web Site Puts a Price Tag on Old Books”. The article, written by Steven Wayne Yvaska, is part of regular column called “What’s it Worth”. The author counsels those who own “old books” to use a bookselling website — abebooks — to learn how much their books are worth. He went on to say, “The Web site is an online marketplace for book lovers. You can buy or sell books, join a club to hobnob with others about a favorite author, and read articles and book reviews.”

My brow immediately furrowed in consternation. While abebooks is certainly a marketplace for books of all kinds and I have bought numerous books there, it is not the best place for a seller to determine price. If all a bookseller does to determine the monetary worth of a book is to look it up on abebooks, is he really a bookseller? After all, what abebooks lists are books for sale. The prices noted on their site are the prices being asked for a particular book, not the prices realized for books actually sold. While knowing the prices currently being asked for a book is indisputably helpful, it is only one of many tools a bookseller uses in determining price.

I’m still new in the antiquarian book business. After two-plus years in the trade, I find pricing to be one of the most difficult aspects of the job. I can remember times when I priced a book too low and times when I’ve lost a sale because I have, perhaps, priced a book too high. Getting it right — where both I and my customer feel I’ve asked a fair price — isn’t always easy. I’m sure more experienced booksellers have a lot they could tell us about their pricing methodologies. Since this is my blog, you’ll have to settle for my opinion on the issue. I have several criteria for reaching a price on an antiquarian book, and I’ll share some of them with you here:

1) The price I set for a book must include room for a profit for my business. I love books and I love my job, but it is, after all, a business.

2) The price I set for a book includes a look at prices actually realized for the same title and edition in similar condition at auction. Two websites, subscriptions required, are very useful in ascertaining these numbers: American Book Prices Current and Americana Exchange. Though they charge an annual subscription, both sites have far more reliable information on prices realized than looking up prices being asked on abebooks. The information I learn there has justified the subscription costs many times over.

3) The price I set for a book includes a look at the marketplace. Sure, that means I look at abebooks, too. But I also examine prices on Amazon, Google Shopping, Bookfinder, and Via Libri. Looking at the aggregate of books offered across several marketplaces will give you a better sense of the overall market. I also take into consideration whether I think a particular book will sell fastest at a book fair, online, or through direct quote to a customer.

4) The price I set for a book includes my making an informed judgment about the book in hand. Is my book worth a high-end of market price (maybe if it’s in better condition than all the others offered or it’s the only one being offered or it has a special inscription from the author) or are the other copies currently on the market overvalued (my copy might sell faster if it is priced lower than the dozen other copies offered for sale)?

5) The most important criteria I use when I offer a book for sale is to do some research (and not just online research; I use reference books and bibliographies, primarily) on that particular book or author. Occasionally, but often enough to make it worthwhile, I find information not widely known by other sellers that illumines the book’s significance for others.

All of these thoughts and more were swirling through my head as I turned the page to read the bulk of the article. I was relieved to see that the author had ended his article with the following:

“Professional appraisers use all sorts of tools to assign values to personal property. They check book auction results and records for specialized sales. Undoubtedly, sellers confer with one another to compare their expertise. Discovering values can be exhaustive and painstaking. You won’t find everything you seek on a web site. . . .”

Quite some time ago I wrote an article about what makes an antiquarian bookseller different from other booksellers. The primary difference is that antiquarian booksellers do not just look up prices asked by other booksellers to determine the value of their own books; rather, antiquarian booksellers use knowledge to find the value in books and to illumine the importance of a particular book for others. To be at all effective and accurate, this knowledge must necessarily include more than the know-how to look up prices on abebooks.

See you in the stacks!


Filed under A Bookseller's Education, Bibliography and Reference Books, Book Finds, Internet Resources for Booksellers and Book Collectors

Chapter 320 Again? Or The Death of the Print Magazine Redux

Ian at Lux Mentis has ruined my day.

It really isn’t his fault. He’s just the messenger, and I know he’s as saddened as I am at the news.

Read his post here.

If you don’t want to read depressing news about the death of print magazines, then please re-read the list of bookish gifts from yesterday. I would add to the want list, “all available print issues of book collecting magazines, which are shortly to become collector’s items themselves.”

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Filed under A Bookseller's Education, Bibliography and Reference Books, Book Related Products

Chapter 317 More on Fine Books and Collections Magazine

It’s official. Fine Books and Collections magazine released this statement on December 1. The magazine will be in print as a compendium only once a year while online content will be expanded and updated more frequently. I will be happy to have a chance to get all of the electronic information as a print compendium, even if it is only annually. I prefer my bibliographic information in print, in case I want to refer to it again quickly and easily.

From the Fine Books website:

“Fine Books & Collections Launches E-letter, Blog
2008-12-01 Durham, NC. Fine Books & Collections magazine announced today that it plans expand its online offering of information for collectors, while at the same time reduce its print schedule for the magazine to annually.

Beginning in January, the magazine plans to launch Fine Books “Notes”—a monthly e-letter sent to collectors free of charge. The e-letter will feature the writing of Nicholas Basbanes, Ian McKay, and Derek Hayes, all of whom had been regular contributors to the magazine.

The magazine also announced that it plans to launch the Gently Mad blog, a weekly blog journal written by Mr. Basbanes. The blog will appear on both the Fine Books & Collections web site ( and Mr. Basbanes’ own web site ( Under agreement with Mr. Basbanes, Fine Books & Collections is taking over management of the author’s web site.

Many of the regular columnists from Fine Books & Collections magazine will now appear directly on the magazine’s web site. However, Fine Books & Collections will publish an annual compendium in November 2009, sent to all current subscribers and available for sale and digital download to others. The compendium will include content published throughout the year digitally, as well as new content and a directory.

Traffic on the publication’s web site topped subscribers to the magazine by a factor of three-fold. According to the magazine’s associate publisher, Kimberly Draper, traffic growth on the web site has been significant.

“We believe the addition of a blog by Nicholas Basbanes and adding fresh new content to the site on a regular basis will drive a considerable amount of new traffic to the site,” said Draper. “We very much want this to be a destination for book collectors, to be able to engage other collectors, find out what’s going on, and to create a more robust community.”

Fine Books and Collections magazine, which began life in 2003 as OP magazine, says it will continue to offer back issues to the print magazine for some time to come. “Our online store ( has proven to be very popular with collectors,” said Draper. “The thirty-six issues of the magazine published over the last six years—and now joined by an annual compendium—still contain a wealth of information for collectors. We think they will have a very long shelf life.”

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Filed under A Bookseller's Education, Bibliography and Reference Books, Book Finds, Getting Started, Internet Resources for Booksellers and Book Collectors