At times, even the most knowledgeable collector must seek help in identifying a specific edition or completing their collection. And then there is the legion of people who love books but are baffled by the jargon of the rare book industry.
This selection of key reference books is designed to help beginners and perhaps some advanced collectors too. When it comes to learning about rare books, it is necessary to read more books. We have also included a couple of books that shed a little light on the rare book world itself and give some context to all the terminology.
The single indispensible book for the beginner collector would have to be ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter which contains over 450 terms listed alphabetically. Although ABC for Book Collectors is a reference book, Carter's personality comes through as he explains the terms and often their origins too. An old Etonian, Carter was a former managing director of Scribner's and also worked for Sotheby's. There is a well-thumbed copy of ABC in the AbeBooks' marketing department and it is our main reference tool, but we have heard of veteran booksellers who still refer to this timeless book.
The list includes contributions from rare booksellers David and Natalie Bauman and the late Matthew Bruccoli, a professor of English at the University of South Carolina and renowned F. Scott Fitzgerald expert. Although it is not a reference book, we urge everyone to read A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes – rarely has anyone described the passion for books in a more perceptive fashion.
See our video review of ABC for Book Collectors. › Play Video
A beginner's introduction to book collecting that includes numerous beautiful full colour photos from the inventory found in the Baumans' rare bookshops.
A serviceable introduction to collecting modern editions – the focus is on 20th century authors.
Includes chapters on starting a collection, organising the library, book care and other useful information on categorising, editing, storage and space saving.
This book offers basic do-it-yourself designs for building your own shelves, and some book care tips. It could also be a beautiful coffee table book.
Renowned book collector and author Basbanes provides a compendium of information on collecting books in the Internet age. Lots of anecdotes too.
This book reveals the secrets of locating rare and valuable books including information on first editions, reading copies, auctions, catalogues, and the strategies of book scouts.
Many publishers do not readily display the edition and there are many different systems in use. This book explains the intricacies of spotting firsts from as far back as 1928.
Winterich covers books as an investment, the mechanics of collecting, and answers the age old question: what makes a book rare?
A quality guide with the added bonus of being highly portable, great for taking to book sales and book fairs.
Simple tips and tricks for caring for your books and basic repair techniques.
This guide to prices and quality focuses on basic categories such as English and American literature, children's books, illustrated books and more.
A history of the rare and secondhand book trade in Britain in the 20th century – offers much context on the industry itself.
Greenfield offers advice on storage, handling, cleaning, and repair, as well as how to handle books of value.
A five-volume set includes a compiled list of initial appearances of works by American authors in American and English editions.
This comprehensive reference work provides all the answers to the questions that constantly arise when trying to identify accurately any kind of print.
A practical introduction to rare and valuable books, including the 'new antiques' - books on photography, the movies, comics - as well as modern first editions.
A memoir from this famous bookman – worth reading to gain a perspective on the rare book world during the wars.