Monday 5 October 2009

Collecting Crime

When I talked to second hand book dealers, while researching background for The Serpent Pool, I was struck by how often they mentioned the fact that decent old books have become increasingly difficult to find. I know of at least one (very good) dealer who has given up selling books simply because he couldn’t find enough items of quality. Where they have all gone to, I don’t know. Hidden in private collections, presumably.

The value of a book is largely determined by its rarity and in particular by its condition, and that of its dust wrapper. The quality of the story, oddly, seems to matter rather less. I suppose this is partly because really notable books will often be printed in such large numbers that there is no great value in any one particular copy. The more obscure the author, the more valuable the book, is a general principle. There are exceptions, though. Very often, the first book of a major writer will only be published with a small, or relatively small, print run. This was true of, say, J.K.Rowling and Ian Rankin.

I’m interested in books with intriguing inscriptions from the author. Partly, I must admit, because I have a half-formed mystery plot floating around my mind that involves such an inscription. One or two inscribed books of my own feature in the Collecting Crime page on my website.

There are a number of inscribed items in James M. Pickard’s catalogue of rare books. Two that caught my eye were co-written paperbacks from 1964, the two volumes that made up Liberal Studies: an outline Course. One of the authors and signatories was one N.C. Dexter. Much better known today as the creator of Inspector Morse…

One place where thankfully there is no shortage of second hand books is Hay-on-Wye. And as I've sorted Blogger out (for the moment, anyway) here are some pictures as promised from my recent trip.

However, given that my resident webmaster and IT guru has just left home to start his university career, it's only a question of time before my attempts to cope with technology are afflicted by various glitches. So apologies in advance for any examples of incompetence....


crimeficreader said...

Martin, I think you'll cope as the evidence is already here and you've had a good teacher! All the very best to Jonathan as he embarks on independence and the foundations of his future.

Book collecting is a quirky world and I have learned a lot over the last few years about it, not that I am an expert...

It was Minette Walters at the Hay Festival in 2004, I think, who got me thinking about this. Her first novel as a first, first, was trading at near £1k, she said. But they'd also ditched a cover late in the day when she noticed that it was not appropriate to the novel. Apparently four made it through the cull and these trade for double the price.

I have to admit that a certain author sent me a first, first of his first novel at the start of last year: something I will always treasure. He knew I'd been trying to find a copy and they are indeed rare on the 2nd hand market. The last one I noted to come on the market was an ex-Canadian library edition at about £232. Mine is in perfect condition, signed and with a personalised note on a separate piece of paper. Absolute bliss and treasure!

Also at the Hay Festival, I listened to actor Neil Pearson (a bibliophile and collector) and Rick Gekoski (book dealer and collector) a few years ago and learned a lot. This included:

1)Store to protect from damp and sun.
2)Keep everything associated with the novel, including promotional wraps such as offers of money back etc. and especially related correspondence.
3)Seek out a protective box for storage, which can be customised for fit.

We have such lovely books in their existing format and they deserve to be preserved as we embrace the digital age. For some of us, the value is not only of the pecuniary quality, but also of the beauty and inestimable value of that held in the hand.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for bringing up second-hand bookshops. They really are my favorite kinds of stores for browsing and finding unexpected treasures : )

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I *love* your pictures, Martin. We're really losing our second hand shops here.

I wonder if the advent of the internet into the marketplace has caused the difficulty of finding rare volumes. It was easier for collectors to find them, snatch them up, and hoard them.

Good luck with your Blogger issues. :)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Martin Edwards said...

Very interesting point about the internet, Elizabeth. Dealers say that the internet has tended to drive down prices, but this isn't the case in relation to the truly rare items, I think. Just in relation to those that may be uncommon, but are not really rare.

Martin Edwards said...

Crimefic, many thanks. A lot of meat in that comment! I've never been very good on the 'storage' issue, though I realise it's important. The snag with customised boxes is that they take up vast amounts of space. I have a couple of Christies in such boxes, but otherwise....