While writing an article for the Delaware Bibliophile's newsletter,Endpapers, I received emails from other bibliophiles about their own projects. Communications began to fly back and forth once two of us realized we were writing about similar projects--the student produced books*. Meanwhile, another bibliophile began to email, thrilled with her own project and soon a bunch of book lovers were salivating over each others ideas, finds, and projects.
It was during this flurry of email, that I stumbled across the following definition for the term "bibliomania" in American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking: Containing a History of These Arts in Europe and America.** I wanted to share it on Passed Time, because chances are, if you are on this website, one of the traits of the biblomaniac will apply to you. Honestly, if one has to be a maniac, isn't a bibliomaniac the best kind?***
Bibliomania signifies a passion for possessing curious books. The true bibliomaniac is governed in the purchase of books less by the value of their contents than by some other consideration affecting them. To be valuable in his eyes they must relate to particular subjects, be embellished curiously, or have something remarkable in their history. Among those that are thus sought for are all books printed before 1480; all books except the trite religious ones printed before 1500; block books; the production of the Elzevirs and the Aldi; Caxton's works; the first editions of authors, like Bocaccio's Decameron and the single plays and first folio of Shakespeare; books from celebrated presses, like those of Bodoni and Ibarra; the first books printed in particular towns, like Bradford's in New York and Philadelphia, and Day's or Green's in Cambridge; a set of an author's works, like Ruskin's; books with defecta or errors, like the Vinegar Bible or the Breeches Bible; those which have been bound by celebrated binders like Payne; that have had artistic owners, like Grolier; that have a book-plate or the signature of some distinguished person, such as Burns or Washington or Goethe, and in fact everything that lends an interest to the volume apart from its reading matter.
Particular works rise in value to a very great height. There are many books known to bibliographers which are worth over a thousand dollars; one was sold in New York for $8,000 twelve years ago and has since been resold for $15,000, and Quartich displayed in New York in 1890 the Psalter of 1457 of Fust and Schoeffer, for which he asked $26,250.*** The highest price yet reached for an American book is $1,650. To be worth a large sum in the bibliomaniac's sense the book must have something about it which would make it remarkable in his eyes and it must then be scarce. The book written by Napolean when he was a lieutenant of artillery is an illustration. There are many collectors who are anxious to get everything they can concerning him; the book was of no value when published, the edition was small, and the work not being in demand most of the copies were probably thrown away. It is now consequently very scarce, so if a copy turns up it is worth ten times the value of his nephew's Vie de Cesar, although this has intrinsitc merits. has valuable historical matter, is much larger and is well printed.
Gathering many editions of the same work has always had an attraction for the bibliomaniac, while to make a complete collection of the works of a voluminous writer of the whole number of volumes issued by a single printer is likewise very seductive. It is supposed that there are about two hundred books published by the Elzevirs. A collector attempts to gather them all and is at first pleased with the ease with which he moves on. many can be bought for about a dollar or two or nearly any volume for $5. But after he gets beyond one hundred and fifty it is impossible to obtain the rest. He knows the names of the books he requires, but a year will go by without showing him more than three or four, no matter how assiduous may his search or how long his purse. Of some there may not be more than two or three in existence; of the scarcest perhaps only one; those that have eight or ten copies may all be in public or corporate libraries or in the hand of men who will not sell: and the collector's only chance on these is when a library is dispersed by the death of its owner.
Books were formerly printed in editions of a few hundred. War, fire, mice, water and ignorance speedily destroyed them. Those that are preserved are in public, society or college libraries, and their number is continually becoming smaller. There are not many copies of the first folio Shakespeare, yet when Edwin Forrest's house caught fire in Philadelphia one of these books was there. The Chicago Historical Society Library has twice been burned out; there were undoubtedly many unique books on its shelves each time, and these have now totally disappeared. The finest collection of materials for Western history, that of James McBride, of Hamilton, Ohio, went to the papermill. The book which George H. Moore esteems as the first one from Bradford's press in New York is lost. It is a curious fact that cheap books issued in large editions are among the hardest to find when some time has elapsed. Thus the New England Primer is very difficult to obtain, while larger New England books, which were not published in hundreds where this was in thousands, can very easily be obtained. An early edition of Mother Goose's Melodies will bring its weight in gold.
Illustrated books, those upon vellum, prohibited books, works upon curious materials and obscene books have each their collectors. Tall copies are greatly desired. Until lately there was no close uniformity in the sizes of sheets. Before the Fourdrinier machine came into use the sheets of paper frequently varied an inch or an inch and a half. After being printed those that were of one size were picked out and bound together. If the work afterwards becae sought for this large copy looked much finer and gave a better opportunity for the binder to show his skill. Most books wer and are yet cropped too close. In America the first editions of Hawthorne, Lowell, Longfellow and other writers are now sought for, as are the first productions of the New England towns, New York, Philadelphia and Ephrata. Other American cities and neighborhoods may have a few collectors, but not enough to raise the price of the books materially. For instance, the earliest productions of Cincinnati lie unnoticed there out on the stalls, and New York books after the Revolution up to the 1825 are still unregarded. Yet there can be no doubt that some day, when these books are far more difficult to thet than they are now, collectors will endeavor in vain to obtain sets.
In England Caxton is the summit of the bibliomaniac's desire. He published some ninety books, which will bring anywhere from £ 20 to £ 300 each, according to condition and the value of the book itself. In New York and Philadelphia Bradford books are sought for. By a curious succession of adventures it happened that he began the art in both cities--in Philadelphia in 1685 and in New York in 1693. Thus he appeals to book-buyers in both places. Proficiency as a book-collector is only to attained by buying largely, by attending auctions and fequenting book-stores, by comparisons of catalogues and by examination of the books themselves. Some collectors by large lots and then weed out what they do not desire. Brinley, who had the most valuable American library, traveld from town to town with a light wagon and purchased the contents of garrets; much was bought in lots that he did not examine. Some of the books for which he did not pay more than five or ten cents have since sold for nearly as many hundred dollars. Well-selected books or pamphlets keep continually increasing in price.
*The student produced books were the articles (shown above and below this article) that set off so much excitement. Thanks to R.M. Walsh and the Delaware Bibliophiles for letting Passed Time share the two articles!
**Keep in mind this was originally a dictionary entry, as such, no paragraphs existed. I put them in for easier reading.
***Pasko, Wesley Washington. American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking: Containing a History of These Arts in Europe and America by Wesley Washington Pasko. New York. Howard Lockwood & Co. Publishers, 1894. pp 43-44