From this appreciation for artful presentation the book as artful object has developed as a collecting category. If most book collectors focus on content and printing priority and thus value the first edition over the second and take their clues and information from the text, the world of "books as objects" looks both at priority and artistry and comes down with emphasis on the quality of presentation. This art expresses itself as exceptional printing, sometimes as the unusually illustrated, other times as bindings complex, original and evocative of the text, other times focusing on an author, even the book owner. In all these many ways the content of the book is but a point of departure for the printer or binder to create and convey an impression and feeling. For many collectors, it is the feeling they collect with emotion never far from the surface.
Such material is per-norm visually appealing and hence often the subject of library and institutional displays and shows somewhat out of proportion to the small numbers extant. The impression is made that librarians, who see books in all their forms, often personally connect with such richly embellished examples. Everyone can sing. A few can sing an aria with grace. For many who appreciate such material, exceptional bindings are their grace notes.
It is to the rank and file somewhat esoteric and I therefore sought to better understand this Rhode Island among the California, Texas and New Yorks of traditional book collecting by simply asking the knowledgeable for their perspectives.
For the past thirty years Bob and Lynne Veatch have made a life and business as The Veatchs Arts of the Book. For them "Book Arts" encompasses an appreciation both for the book as artifact and for the individual arts which created the book– papermaking, type design, calligraphy, layout, presswork, illustration and binding. The collector captivated by a Kelmscott Chaucer, magnificently printed on handmade paper, illustrated with Burne-Jones' woodcuts, and bound in blind-tooled pigksin, may study the history of type design. Or papermaking. Or book illustration. Or bookbinding. Then there are humbler books-as-objects which help illuminate the history of bookmaking. "Early printed books with an earlier vellum manuscript leaf used as part of the binding and an 18th century novel with its pages untrimmed and in original wraps" are two such examples, each different and yet united under the banner of book arts.
In discussing how collectors approach the 'book arts' Lynne explains that, "because the field is broad, collectors narrow their focus. One might collect 16th century French bindings, or bindings executed by women, or publishers' bindings in striped cloth. One might collect books illustrated with wood engravings or with original etchings. One might collect the entire output of one private press, or fine printing from one geographical area, or the writings of Herman Melville in every fine edition. The possibilities are endless."