Inscribed books go beyond providing a simple signature from the author: they also contain a brief, usually more personal note to the owner of the volume. Some inscriptions are simply designed to convey the author's feeling toward the owner of the book. Inscriptions can be simple, such as 'Hope you enjoy this book' with the author's signature. T. S. Eliot's patroness, Lady Rothermere, who sponsored his The Criterion, received a terse tribute to her generosity: 'For Viscountess Rothermere with the homage of the author.' However, inscribed books can also contain cryptic or highly detailed messages to the owner of the work.
Collectible inscribed books can be an interesting part of any personal library because they bring a new depth to the work. When an author includes a brief note to the book's owner, it can reveal more about his or her character. Inscribed books also take on a novel dimension when they are signed by famous or relatively well-known people. The scarcity of inscriptions from a particular writer adds to the rarity value of the books, too. For example, Winston Churchill is known to have signed or inscribed many books, while Thomas Pynchon was less quick with his pen.
Getting insights into inscribed books means starting with the fundamentals of collecting. John Carter's ABC for Book Collectors provides a good starting point. Collected Books: The Guide to Values by Allen and Patricia Ahearn includes an expose on the most collected books as well as some pointers on prices. For a fun take on early collecting, Charles P. Everitt's The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter: A Rare Bookman in Search of American History provides the perceptions of an avid book collector.
Enthusiasts who shop inscribed books can find a broad assortment of unique editions offered by AbeBooks sellers. These volumes can add a richness and depth to your collection.