By Christina VanGinkel
I first became interested in collecting vintage books when I received an old set of books titled Masterpieces of the World's Best Literature that contained many of the classics of our times. Included in the set were poems and short stories by famous poets and authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Henry W. Longfellow, John Milton, Washington Irving, and many more. The set was inherited when my father passed away and I was but twelve years old. There was always something appealing about opening the old yellowed pages of these books and reading the words as they were written by so many of the same authors that I had heard my father admire.
Through the years, I would often be drawn towards books a bit worn and faded, and if the author was someone I recalled, or the pages held maps, or colorful lithographs, all the more reason for me to desire ownership. Even as a teen, everyone in my family knew that if they wanted to give me the perfect gift, find an old book by one of the authors I had also grown to admire.
Now as an adult, I have a small but respectable collection of vintage books, with the set of the Masterpieces of the World's Best Literature still my favorites, but joined by such varied titles as Picturesque Panama and the World's Greatest Canal, and John Steinbeck's children book, The Red Pony.
If you are interested in building a collection of vintage books, I can tell you that it can be a very rewarding hobby. From used bookstores tucked into small corner buildings, to flea markets, to private sales, and even the average rummage or estate sale, all can be havens with which to provide you opportunities to discover vintage books from which to build or add to a collection. I can honestly say that I have come across some of my best finds in some of the most unusual places. One of my favorite finds was a vintage copy of an illustrated book about Hobbits that was discovered in a gift shop on the mainland across from Mackinaw Island. It was on a small table, tucked into a corner where the owner of the small shop had a display of a few used items along with her regular wares.
As to the condition of vintage books, much of what you find will need to be looked over carefully, and your own judgment will need to come into play on almost every book you find.
Do pay attention to wear and tear, especially if the book is one you have been searching for. It seems to be that when a collector has been searching for a specific title, they often overlook damage that they might otherwise take great notice of if the same damage were in a book that they had just stumbled upon. While I have never turned away a book because of a scribbled name inside the cover or even notes in a margin, mold and mildew have kept me from picking up a copy of a book I had coveted for some time. The problem with mold and mildew is that mold can spread to other books in your collection much the same as people can spread a bad cold, especially if left untreated. If you feel that the mold can be dealt with by treating through various means, such as exposure to light, do be aware that mold will still leave staining, even if you are able to stop its growth.
Check the conditions of the binding on any vintage book you might be considering purchasing. While a binding should be tight, a somewhat loose binding might represent other damage such as missing pages, so be alert if you do decide to buy a book that has a loose binding. Depending on the type of binding, it might be able to be repaired, so keep this in mind if you find yourself searching for a very old book. Possibly find out how the book was assembled, and find out ahead of time if that particular type of binding can be repaired.
Some books you desire might be so old that finding a copy in good condition is just not possible. If this is the case, you will need to decide, case by case, whether you are willing to buy a damaged copy if this is the only one you are ever likely to find. Collecting vintage books can be a very rewarding hobby. If you love books, and finding an out of print copy of a book by a favorite author or a first edition of a much loved volume sounds like something that might appeal to you, be sure to look deeper into this fascinating hobby!