Book Collecting in the Modern Era

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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A Edward Newton: words matter


If you are a collector or someone interested enough to invest a few hours to know more about collecting there is no better place to start than to acquire in AE's Books for Sale:

Books For Sale

There run a keyword search for Newton Book Collecting Game to find copies of "This Book Collecting Game."

It's required reading for what it doesn't say but what we now know. It is an series of essays published in 1928 by a gifted writer and exuberant collector - A. Edward Newton - who has sent to us an unintended cautionary message about the collecting of books and manuscripts. In it he commits the cardinal sin of making judgments in print that have become enduring examples of misplaced confidence. Every book collector should read it for its cautionary message, expressed not in print, but in the readily available facts that have since rendered a somber verdict on his optimism. Make no mistake. A. Edward Newton was a voice, arguably the voice of collecting books and manuscripts of his time. He was very good and also very wrong. The lesson to be learned is not "abandon hope all ye who enter here." Rather, it is to have your wits about you. They who will collect will be knowledgeable.

He trusts and pays a high price for it. He praises Thomas J. Wise as "the great English collector" and quotes from his bookplate a motto which is characteristic of the man:

"Books bring me friends where 'er on earth I be,
Solace or solitude - bonds of society."

Six years later John Carter and Graham Pollard published An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets and established that Wise had forged various items and traded them for real material.

He also speaks with great confidence about book collecting as an investment. In the year the book was published, 1928, most investments made money. A year later the bubble burst. When his collection was sold in 1941 it realized only about 40% of his cost.

In the modern era it is possible to thoroughly research material. It is possible to know how often material appears at auction, the condition of the material changing hands and the prices they bring. With this knowledge it becomes easy to evaluate offers from dealers and listings on the book selling sites.

In this way you can accept from A. Edward Newton his love of the game and, matching his enthusiasm for collecting with common sense about what to pay to collect more efficiently. If Mr. Newton were alive today it is what he would be doing.