By Christopher D. Lancette
On a snowy day in Washington D.C., I sat inside the main reading room of the Library of Congress basking in the warmth of that cathedral of knowledge, and reveling in the moment … caressing the pages of a book published in 1856. For several precious hours, I gently perused the life of U.S. President John Adams. Its worn pages even smelled old.
From time to time, I climbed the black spiral staircases between levels of books and opened one after another just to find out how long ago they were printed.
The work by Adams” grandson wouldn”t let go of me. I copiously made notes of key passages of fine writing that had aged well with time. I took mental snapshots of its dimmed red cover and the fortitude of its spine. The book about one of my heroes, I knew then, would live inside of me forever.
Heading home, I wondered what it would be like to own such a book. To possess something antiquarian.
I had no idea that I would own an edition exactly like it just a few weeks later. Or a dozen other books covering that time period.
Welcome to the world of book collecting – where you can set your intellect on fire, acquire items of great personal and even financial value, and enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
Book collecting is a hobby with possibilities as broad as the oceans. It helps to chart your course before you embark.
- Determine what subjects or authors interest you and build your initial collection around them. No sense finding and buying books you”re not going to read. My long-lingering flame is the American Revolution, and the life of Henry David Thoreau. The former gave us the freedom to live; the latter teaches us how to live. What is your passion?
- Consider a budget. You can find old books that range in price from eighty cents to eight figures. (Yes, as in $10 million.) I found the Adams book for $95. The first edition Walden I dream of goes for $35,000. Lottery tickets, anyone?
- Do a little research on the hobby. The first must-see website is Abebooks” Rare Book Room at www.abebooks.com. You should also pick up a basic guidebook there or online at any traditional book store.
- Visit an old book shop and play with books. My favorite in metro Atlanta is The Book Market at The Defoor Centre (www.defoorcentre.com), where more than a dozen book dealers share space. The staff is exceptionally friendly and will teach you anything you want to know. Make sure you visit the adjoining reading room café set to open at the end of March.
- Look at yard and estate sales in a whole new light. You could find a great addition to your personal interests, and maybe even some gold in them there hills.
My book collecting journey into the American Revolution has given me a profoundly deeper appreciation for what that entire generation did for us. It has also given me a fantastic new way to spend some of my free time and hard-earned dollars.