Association copies are books that are signed by the author, or another well-known person, to someone of significance (either in the author's life or a celebrity). These tomes are rare and collectible treats since they bring to life some part of a well-known person's character and background. Books, of course, tell their own stories, but an association copy extends the meaning of that tale into the realm of reality.
Jane Austen inscribed a book of William Cowper's poems for her niece, Fanny Knight. Cowper's work, which included works about everyday life, had a tremendous impact on Austen, and she quotes him in her novels. J. R. R. Tolkien inscribed a number of his books for close friends and relatives. His handwritten dedication of a first impression copy of The Hobbit - 'to Aunt Jane from J.R.R.T. with love October 6th 1937' - highlighted his great affection for his mother's sister; his mother died in 1904 when he was only 12, long before he would make his mark on the writing world.
Collectible association copies may take some exploration to uncover, but no one needs to adventure into this area alone. John Carter's ABC for Book Collectors provides entree into the world of collecting, providing straightforward information on topics such as auctions, Harleian Style, and e-books. Other People's Books: Association Copies and the Stories They Tell by Tanselle and Kugeler covers unique tomes from the 1400s to the 1980s; the book contains 52 stories behind association copies in rich detail. John Winterich's A Primer of Book Collecting is an enduring classic originally published in the 1920s but available in updated editions.
Collectors can purchase association copies to round out their collections or simply spice up their shelves with some rare treasures. Whatever the reason, association books can provide years of enjoyment and are ideal for sharing with other bibliophiles.