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Saturday, February 24, 2007

See What Condition My Condition Is In

As political correctness expands it sway over modern society, we are told, and rightly so, that every person has value. We must find a place, not only for the whole, but also for the bruised, the sightless, the limbless, the ageless. (It seems somewhat odd that while believing people can continue to be productive workers at an advanced age, we have also decided that children cannot be productive workers at ages they once were--someone should stand up for the children's right to work!) People are no longer disabled or handicapped, they are challenged, or differently abled.

In the world of books, one hears all the time that value is predicated to a large degree on condition. Conventional advice is to purchase only those books in superior condition. In the Bookman mysteries we have been reading, Cliff Janeway is regularly remarking on books that pass through his shop that are in pristine condition. Results from major auction houses tell repeatedly of books that would have been knocked down for more, but for a torn dust jacket, a moisture stain, or some other flaw. But Janeway's philosophy predominates:
Never buy a bad copy of a good book. The better the book, the more the flaws magnify. Condition, condition, condition ...

How does one begin a decent collection on a strictly limited budget? Why not purchase those books that have been marked down for quick sale, because they are missing a flyleaf, or have badly shaken boards, or battle-scarred leather binding? One will then have the book, and when one's means have increased, the flaws can be treated, turning a one dollar investment into a five hundred dollar value.

Many collectors believe that a book found once will be found again, and so pass at the first chance if it is not of superior condition--but not all. Roy Meador has said, "I have never been a collector eager to pass up important firsts simply because they are past their prime or even look as if they are doubtful survivors of earthquake, hurricane, war, pestilence, and an evil dog-earer with a highlighter fetish." Dr. Minor Myers, Jr. collects anything from the eighteenth century, and he doesn't fret over condition. Using a symphony as example, he says if he finds only one part of the orchestral score, "You buy it anyway; you don't ignore it because it is incomplete." Henry Ryecroft was also not averse to owning the raggedest and wretchedest volume.

We have volumes exquisite for their photographic plates, despite a detached upper board. We have examples of the most luxurious margins in books that shiver and shake. We have one of a ten-volume set, and nine of a ten-volume set, awaiting the glorious reunion with their kin. Our most cherished volume of Dracula is a battered paperback, because of it's family provenance. The pleasures of collecting books are myriad, and to limit oneself to value only condition reduces those pleasures to a lonely one. When we look beyond condition, we will find that every book, like every person, has value.


  1. You speak true about book condition. If it is a book I badly want and have been searching for for ages, I will get it even in the most battered condition. The only books I won't buy are ones that are moldy because they make me sneeze and because I worry about the mold spores spreading to my other books.

  2. That's good mold policy. I find destroying books to be a despicable practise, but I am ruthless with mold, if there is even a trace the book goes in the trash.