Well, Easter was a little over a week ago, and I’m sure that many of you settled in with bowls of popcorn for the annual screening of The Ten Commandments. Whether you think this marathon epic is the greatest film ever made, the biggest piece of cheese ever to emanate from Hollywood, or both, every year ancient Egyptians speak with British, American, and some unidentifiable accents. What does this have to do with books? Only that it reminds me of the afterward I wrote to my 1993 book Everybody’s Guide to Book Collecting. A lot has changed in the book world since 1993, but a lot of the book remains relevant, especially, I think, my “Ten Commandments of Book Collecting.” Here they are in the original form:
1) Buy books that you love—all other considerations are secondary.
2) Set limits without limiting yourself. True, it’s an oxymoron, but try to gain focus without losing imagination.
3) Be discriminating. Condition is the most important factor in the value of a book.
4) Invest in a few basic reference books. They will pay for themselves many times over.
5) Learn. Read reference books, dealers’ catalogues, and anything about books you can get your hands on.
6) Be prepared. Bookshops surface in the most unlikely of places, so don’t get caught without your want list and any other guides you may need.
7) Buy it. I have never met a collector who regretted making a particular purchase. I have met hundreds who regretted not making one.
8) Take care of your books. Treat them with respect.
9) Get to know the people. Dealers and collectors are your greatest resource for books and friendship. Cultivate relationships with them.
10) Share. The greatest joy of collecting is sharing your passion and your collection with others.
Unlike the list that Moses brought down from the mountain last week in Technicolor, these aren’t carved in stone, but I wouldn’t revise the list much, even after more than twenty years. Number six is about the only one I would change. Now your want list is probably securely on your smart phone at all times, and bookshops don’t turn up nearly as often as they did in the pre-internet days. But it is, I think, still a pretty good set of guidelines.
Now—what would you add for commandment number 11?