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Where the Wild Books Are

Finding and collecting rare books takes specialized knowledge. We all have an attic full of old books, because books are hard to let go of. But the ones that are worth big bucks are the rare ones, and they are quite hard to keep up with, much less spot in a private library. Rebecca Rego Barry has a master’s degree in book history, which gives her an edge in the hunt for rare treasures. Her new book Rare Books Uncovered is filled stories of how people discover and collect really rare and valuable books. Some tell of great luck, like the time Christie’s missed the value of a rare copy of Gone With The Wind and let it go in an odd lot of other books.    

This raises an interesting question: When one person finds a rare book, is their gain always at the expense of somebody else?

“That can be true,” Barry says, “but among the booksellers I work with, especially those that belong to organizations like the ABAA or the ILAB, there’s an ethical obligation not to swindle each other or people who don’t know any better, like little old ladies selling their husband’s things. Personally, if I were to go to a garage sale and thought I had found a $5,000 book on sale for a dollar, I would feel conflicted. In most cases, though, the more common example is that you see a book you feel like you’ve seen before and decide to take a chance on it. It’s only after you get it home and do your research that you know if you’ve hit the jackpot—or overpaid.”

Read some of those stories, and take a look into the field of rare book discovery, at Collectors Weekly.

(Image credit: John Wiley, Jr.)


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