Advice for Beginners in Book Collecting

If you want to become knowledgeable about book collecting, a great deal can be learned about it by reading the many books available on the subject.  The accumulated wisdom and methods of other collectors can be invaluable; in book collecting, as in anything else, knowledge is power.  By arming yourself with the shared knowledge of others, many mistakes can be avoided and your eyes can be opened to new avenues to be explored.

Some of these books also make very entertaining reading to anyone who has been bitten by the book collecting bug.  One I have been enjoying recently is Book-Collecting as a Hobby – In a Series of Letters to Everyman, by P. H. Muir (Alfred A. Knopf, NY, 1947).

Written in 1947, the knowledge and advice offered in its pages remain accurate, timeless and valuable to this day.    Copies of this title  are readily available at reasonable cost at used book sites such as or

I highly recommend it, especially to anyone just getting started in book collecting.  It is straightforward, pleasurable reading in a series of letters to “Everyman” about the hazards and opportunities in book collecting.  It is not overly complicated or dry, and his descriptions, practical advice and explanations are clear and concise.  One can read a chapter a night and begin to feed the little grey cells valuable basic knowledge to store away for future use.

Chapters are divided into “Letters”:

I.                    How to Begin

II.                 What Shall I Collect?

III.               How to Tell a First Edition

IV.              How to Tell if a Book is Perfect

V.                 How to Judge Values

VI.              How to Transform Mountains into Molehills

VII.            A Short History of Book Production

VIII.         How to Read a Bookseller’s Catalogue

The author has one of the clearest descriptions I have come across on the folding of printed sheets and gathering and sewing of signatures in bookbinding, and the importance of examining signatures in older books to determine whether a book is complete.

He strongly advises new collectors to pursue less-trodden paths, selecting under-collected authors or subject areas on which to focus, which is a good argument; it can be much more interesting, affordable and rewarding than trying to collect the “blue chip” authors or popular subject areas, and can end in a totally unique and valuable collection if done with care.  He offers some intriguing suggestions.

The book is also full of excellent recommendations for further reading, which will lead you on to further knowledge, and perhaps get you started on assembling a nice collection of books on book collecting while you are at it!

A note on the author of Book-Collecting as a Hobby:  P. H. (Percival Horace) Muir (1894-1979) was a British bookseller author, bibliographer. He was the founder and first president, 1945-1947, of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association.  He was also the first president of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), 1948-1950.

Mostly self-educated after leaving public school at the age of sixteen, he fought with the London Scottish in World War I, joining the BE.F. in France, was invalided out after being wounded, and became successively an actor, vaudeville artist, professional singer, and journalist, after which he became an antiquarian bookseller.

You may be interested in obtaining additional books on book collecting by P. H. Muir, which include: Book Collecting – More Letters to Everyman,   Points, Victorian Illustrated Books, and Bibliographies of Modern Authors.

We are always happy to answer your questions about book collecting at Old Scrolls Book Shop.


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