Between the pages
By David Bauman
It’s not that I don’t love the frenetic streets of the city…dodging the taxis that push through crowds of pedestrians in Manhattan. But when I reach my rare book gallery, I look around at the mahogany and the leather bindings of calf, morocco and vellum, and I breathe in. Here is respite.
Over my years in business, I’ve met people from all walks of life. I’ve sold books to stockbrokers, scientists, authors and artists. I’ve helped build libraries on the American Revolution, filled with ephemeral pamphlets arguing the pros and cons of independence. On translations of the Bible, from early manuscripts whose authors were declared heretics to the magisterial first edition authorized by royalty. On livres d’artiste, which bring together the finest minds of art and word – even if, as with Joyce and Matisse, they may not always have gotten along. And on inscribed copies of the great writers in the Modern era, learning along the way that F. Scott Fitzgerald was a horrible speller. But among this endless range of personalities and tastes, there is one thing we all share: a love of books.
That’s how rare book collecting starts. There’s always that book. The one given to you by a loved one or perhaps even forced upon you in class. The one that woke up your mind with delight, like stepping under a waterfall. Have you ever seen a first edition of your favorite book? Ever held a copy that was one of the first ever read? It’s like you’ve stepped under that waterfall again.
Envisioning your collection
When people ask me the best way to collect, I tell them to collect what they love. They have me to guide them on the particulars, to weave them through the labyrinth of bibliographies, collation and condition. Collecting is an excuse to learn the history of the books you most enjoy. There is something special about cradling that first-edition copy of Moby Dick and inspecting its plain cloth binding, which takes you back to its humble roots when it was panned by critics. There are few places in the world today where you can find a book that remains very nearly how it would have appeared to its original readers hundreds of years ago.
Collectors also have a responsibility. The books that touch them have often been preserved for decades by others, who were once equally as moved by them. Putting together a wonderful collection means acknowledging our duty to value and care for some of human intellect’s greatest creations. Our love of books will ensure that the next generation will be granted the opportunity to experience these same revelations.
Responsibility doesn’t mean that a collector can’t also take pleasure in the adventure. Few thrills compare to discovering that 1640 edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The world will continue to march on at its frantic pace – and us with it. But sometimes you need a vacation. You need to step under that waterfall again.
David Bauman owns Bauman Rare Books, a preeminent company offering fine first editions, documents and letters, with galleries in New York and Las Vegas and offices in Philadelphia.