Antique Book Collecting; a curious hobby indeed

Antique book collecting can be a truly fascinating hobby to exercise, but what about its countless parameters?

Ever seen Roman Polanski's "The Ninth Gate" with Johnny Depp? And if yes, ever wondered whether there are celebrated book collectors out there like main antagonist Boris Balkan who will go at any lengths to acquire a rare book or manuscript? Book collecting -and antique book collecting in particular- is a fascinating hobby for many various reasons. But those who practice it know too well that it is a hobby that's not only time-consuming but also one that quite often requires them to delve their hand deeply into their pocket. Whether it's a profitable hobby is another matter altogether. Antique book collecting is all about the little pleasures that come along the way; little pleasures that more often than not outweigh the prospect of becoming a millionaire in the future (though that'd be nice too). In all, one cannot become a credible antique book collector if one's purely motivated by money; one needs to cherish the knowledge and history that an old book carries through time in order to comprehend its value.

Strange as it may seem, book collecting as a hobby dates as far back as the antiquity, long before the advent of lithography and printing. In the ancient times, it was quite fashionable for a nobleman to possess a library of papyri and scrolls, usually the works of poets and philosophers. Mind you, that was not a trend without its detractors. Seneca the Younger wondered (and quite reasonably so) "What is the use of possessing numberless books and libraries, whose titles their owner can hardly read through in a lifetime?" Regardless however, book collecting as an enterprise received its major boost thanks to a man called Johannes Gutenberg whose 1440 invention dubbed 'the movable type' ushered a new era in human history and was the decisive factor in the spread of learning to the masses. No wonder, Gutenberg himself contended that the idea of movable type came to him "like a ray of light".

Johannes Gutenberg in a 16th-century engraving. Where would book collecting be without this man?

Following the massive production of books initiated by typography during the Renaissance period, history acquired its first ever noted book collector in the person of Treasurer-General of France, Jean Grolier de Servières, viscount d'Aguisy (1489-90 – 1565) whose library of 3,000 volumes became pretty much the template for book collectors to come. Amongst his other passions, Grolier was particularly fond of richly decorated book-bindings and he was no less than eager to apply this pattern on the books of his own library. Grolier's books can now be found in the British Library and the National Library in Paris and are easily identified at first glance by their signature leather covers and their elaborate reliefs.

A typical Grolier cover. Grolier's habit of binding the books of his own library has been copied ever since by many book collectors. Hence, the craft of book-binding is still on high demand today despite the advent of Internet and the introduction of e-books.

Antiquarian book collecting nowadays concentrates mainly on books published before 1900, thus encompassing books printed in 19th, 18th, 17th, 16th and 15th centuries. Avid book collectors tend to make a distinction between 'old' and 'valuable' books. And quite rightly so since those two denominations do not necessarily connect to one another. If you've ever browsed through the countless Beginner's Guides for antique book collectors on the Web, you may have noticed that this particular topic is quite often brought up stirring endless discussions over what's valuable and what's not. At OKYPUS, our motto is "Follow your heart and go with your gut". If you are new to book collecting and you aspire to grace your library with antique books as well, then you will sooner or later realise that there isn't really any such thing as a 'worthless book'. You may also find out that comparisons between books is somewhat futile. An astronomy book published in the 18th century can be every bit as fascinating as an illustrated 1950s astronautics book that contemplates on the idea of man's future landing on the Moon using vivid images based on contemporary science. In both cases, the reader experiences a magical journey through time, to cognitive worlds of the past. Really now, who can put a price tag on either case?

The rarity of a first edition is usually a crucial factor for a book being deemed 'valuable', especially if the book receives later recognition. Our favourite example in this case is a book we have in the OKYPUS collection that's called "ELECTRICITY AND ITS SIMILITUDES - THE ANALOGY OF PHENOMENA NATURAL AND SPIRITUAL", published in 1902. It was written by Charles Herbert Tyndall (1857-1935), a clergyman who was also a professor of science. This is a book that's been reprinted by modern publishers using the scanning process, chiefly as a curio for those readers who are interested in 'weird science', so it's easy to find in print form. Still, the first original edition is a very rare item, a fact we cannot help feeling proud of. However, our adoration for this book lies beyond its value as a 'rare first edition'. It is its content that we find intriguing, its thesis which actually examines the metaphysical aspects of electricity as well as the spiritual connection between electricity and divinity. Now, its ideas might seem absurd to the modern individual who's surrounded by the use of electricity everywhere. But at the turn of the century, these were notions that were taken into serious consideration by a public that was still reticent towards electricity. This is one of our books that we just love and it always makes us smile as we gaze its spine on the bookshelf.

To conclude, at OKYPUS we believe that the igniting force for book collecting is a combination of appreciation for printed books and a genuine sense of adventure. After all, this is how we see ourselves at OKYPUS; as adventurers. We tend to liken ourselves to Indiana Jones without the whip and the hat. Throughout our compulsive search for precious books, we feel like archaeologists who excavate rare treasures in expeditions that are both demanding and rewarding in equal measures. So, let's share this dream together.

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