How to effectively build a collection of books, manuscripts and ephemera

- by Bruce E. McKinney

Drimages

Living with a collection is a great pleasure.


By Bruce McKinney

In starting out to build a collection that may be entirely books or include books there are a series of questions to be considered that will help define the collecting experience. Thinking about these issues at anytime helps collectors understand their options. There are six: [1] defining scale of interest and range of materials; [2] choosing a subject; [3] sources of advice; [4] defining collection parameters; [5] how will we buy?; [6] outcomes.

Defining scale of interest and range of materials Scale is a function of time, space and cost. Is this a sometime thing that may become a passion in the future? Is this simply a casual undertaking? How much money will you spend? These are important issues to consider.

Is this to be a shared experience? How broad will the collection be: books, manuscripts, ephemera, paintings, other art and objects?

Is this collection going to inhabit the library or also other spaces?

Will your wife, husband, partner or friend participate in building the collection? If so, their perspective needs to be considered. A collection that involves two perspectives may involve more than books. Great collections often involve an amalgam of materials purchased from a variety of sources and fields.

Choosing a subject A collection may evolve from personal interest, the continuation of a family commitment, from personal associations or location. If you live in Gettysburg you will probably choose a subject related to the Civil War. If two people will share the experience of building a collection they should also share the decisions about what to collect.

Is your focus impact, budget or value? Spending a budget is basically about bookkeeping. Demanding good value will require discipline and study as you are going to understand material before you buy it. Impact involves compelling material, the judgment to select and the skills to acquire. Such collections often involve knowledgeable dealers in many disciplines.

Sources of Advice The question here is whether the collection will be dealer-directed or self-directed and the best answer seems to be a combination of both. I have been collecting for years. I have learned to know my areas of collecting better than almost anyone so I know what is rare, what is common and what is fairly priced. When we buy hand-colored images however I get advice if the image is expensive. The rule then is to know all you can. For everything else get advice.