A note on Collecting and Collectors, Books and Condition, Rare and Just Expensive.

Well this one is likely to turn into a bit of a rant, but hey,  why not?

Collecting a large list of books is a challenging and sometimes quite daunting task, I have always described my Paris Olympia collection as a working collection, to clarify that definition, it is a collection that has been built and depleted many times over 30 years, my financial circumstances have meant that I have purchased copies of books in the best condition I can afford at any given time, subsequently upgrading the quality, subject to the availability of books and the thickness of my wallet. I have at times purchased large numbers of titles from book dealers all over Europe, the advantage of being physically present and armed with cash should never be underestimated. On the other side the rarity of some of the titles have allowed me to generate income when I have needed it.

It must be understood that completing such a collection is much harder now than it was even 10 years ago, interest in the Press has increased significantly and some of the titles are ridiculously overpriced, you would need a very big budget indeed to get anywhere near completing a collection in any time in the near future, the real challenge not being the expensive items, because they will always be there, but more of that further on.

Most of the collectors I have known have been building their collections for very many years and on similar lines to my own pattern, however I have not come across anyone else getting off their arse and travelling quite so widely as I have, I have toured many countries and viewed quite a few collections, not many in the UK but some great collections in France, The Netherlands and Scandinavia. At one time I was supplying books to some dozen or so different collectors around the globe, but I must admit that I now have very little idea of who is still collecting. Pat Kearney’s collection went to auction many years ago, as did Angus Carroll’s, I know of at least one Scandinavian collection that was also auctioned off and I suspect many others have gone the same way.

Which brings me to a point for consideration, is it better to sell a collection at auction thereby preserving it where hardly anyone will ever see it again, or to keep the books in circulation by selling and trading individual titles and encouraging new interest and new collectors?, I don’t know the answer, it is just a puzzle for me personally. I don’t accept that people who buy ready made collections at auction are true collectors, this may quite rightly open me to the accusation of being envious, but I cannot quite believe that the satisfaction is more than a passing moment of pleasure, when compared to the gradual building of a collection by hunting for individual titles. Not sure that I am explaining myself too well here, but I will expand elsewhere when I describe some of my major finds in my Story of a Bookcase blog.

Just a passing note on two collections I have seen, both very complete but somewhat odd, some 10 years ago I saw a collection in the UK, in which the Traveller’s Companion Series were completely uniform in colour, now this might not sound that odd, but bear in mind that the titles were published over a 10 year period, produced by a wide range of printers using various card stock, it is not possible to have them all the same colour without some kind of cosmetic intervention. I did ask in passing how come they are all the same colour? the mumbled response was “I had them retouched”, now whatever rings your bell, its up to you what you do with your own stuff, but although such an option would be an anathema to me, I still would like to know how he did it.

Another collection that was housed in Denmark, I went to visit, having just found some 80 Olympia titles in Sweden, 18 of which were wanted by my Danish friend, who I had been in telephone contact with but never met, face to face, I will not give too much detail about the actual circumstances , as to do so would possibly identify him, but he showed me his collection housed in something akin to a high tech, fallout shelter, and I noticed that half way along his shelf of Olympia’s, there were a selection of books bound in an outlandish bright almost garish binding, my reaction was to say “what the fuck are those”, the collector responded, “I am having all of them rebound , by  ???????? “(apparently a famous Danish binder, whose name eludes me, who should be taken out and shot in any case), part of this rebinding process involved cropping off the front cover  and sticking it inside the the rebound volume, discarding the spine and back cover, and in most cases also losing the back page which in many titles has the print details.  And this guy was a serious collector, I had to make him promise not to mutilate any of the books I was bringing for him.

The condition of many of the Olympia titles is often well used, there are of course exceptions  and for fine copies you can expect to pay a premium, as with any book that meets that definition, in other cases sometimes its down to how many copies are available at any given time, if you have a title as a want, and have not seen one, when it does turn up it is probably best to snaffle it up pretty damn quickly. If you are completely reliant on the retail search engines then the quicker the better, as many dealers, spending long lonely hours in empty bookshops, sit on the search engines looking for the under priced items coming in from non specialist dealers around the globe.

Which brings me to the not rare but just expensive books, top of the list,” Lolita”, run a search on any engine to see how many are out there and you will find a fair old choice of prices and condition, try again “Naked Lunch”, a favourite rant of mine see my other Page New additions: Naked Lunch, but again more copies than you can shake a stick at, but expensive, a new comer to the over priced madness “Candy”, I think the contemporaneous variant “Lollipop” is rarer, but both are becoming expensive. In fairness Candy is a tough find these days and a future classic, whereas I never really liked the book written by a right wing University lecturer about a murderous paedophile that is now rated as high art. I’ll leave you to pick the bones out of that. Sad fact is that if you want a complete collection you will need all of these.

Rare Olympia Press titles, like for example my wants “Melting” and ” Springtime in Paris”, does that make them valuable? not at all, because there are only a very small number of people interested in them, but they are really rare, much more so than any title mentioned in the previous paragraph. And who then decides what is valuable and what is not, well in some cases the literary establishment, by naming books as the greatest thing written in the last century, up the value of specific titles, and if the demand is great for an individual title then that impacts on the poor sod of a collector who is often competing with people of unlimited resources, but this does not mean that you cannot find one somewhere at a  fair price if you get out there.

My main issue about many of the highly priced items is that the condition does not warrant the price, if for example you would have to pay between £4000 – £6000 for a fine copy of “Lolita” does this make a really shit one worth £1000? not to me it doesn’t, with some Olympia titles you can and should get the best copy you can afford and improve on it in time, not so with ” Lolita “ you are best advised to wait until you can afford a nice enough copy. With “Naked Lunch” its an absolute minefield, many copies listed as First Editions are not and again see my page on the subject. By the way a book dealers description of “GOOD” translates to shit in any other language, As for my books ask for details and I will give you an honest and accurate description and as many photos as you like, if I know where there is a better copy I will email you a link to it. There are some really cool and fair dealers out there and they will give you a much better deal if you buy direct. Happy Hunting:

There are over 50 Posts on this site and increasing daily, to get the best out of it, Scroll down to CATEGORIES, on the right hand side of the main page, and follow the headings, Books for Trade and Books for Sale will take you to all of my lists.

2 thoughts on “A note on Collecting and Collectors, Books and Condition, Rare and Just Expensive.

  1. Pingback: BEATS: Three William Burroughs first editions at Auction this week | Paris Olympia Press

  2. There are Two Problems with Collecting: the Collector and the Dealer. Today, Most Collectors and Dealers are Equally Ignorant about Condition and Scarcity, and most Dealers are Greedy, fueled by Collectors who are Mostly interested in their Collections merely as an Investment, and are otherwise Dispassionate about them — except to Brag about their Value. Hence, High Prices for Shit copies of Books that are Not Rare!

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