Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Rare Books

Paper born from a humble mixture set off mankind’s greatest communication revolutions

From aviation to zoology, the range of collectible books spans the entire range of human knowledge and experience. It all begins with an affinity towards books - by a particular author or a particular topic and voila! you are a book collector.

With some it is a passion, with others it was for fun or for money. But the first rule of collecting books is to ‘Collect’ and not accumulate. Unrelated , miscellaneous books will result in a library but not a collection. The most common way any individual begins by collecting books by a single author, though few authors have created works that may be considered classical in the long run like James Michener.

Collections can be made in any manner from books by; single authors, to particular subjects, in-depth collections, devoting an entire collection to different copies of just one great book like Alice in Wonderland. You need not be rich to start a collection but you need to have a ‘good eye’.

There are many factors which influence the price of rare books and every generation has its own collectibles. Most sought after are the first editions of few great books and those books-objects of desire which become a trend during the past few years. Book prices fluctuate from dealer to dealer, collectors generally see a doubling of prices when moving from a general bookseller to the specialist for most books.

First hand experience in the book market is a necessity. Though books are rarely as profitable as a well managed portfolio, they are more interesting to read. Collect what makes you happy, rare books often give an insight into the ways of life and past experiences that one cannot even imagine.

To collect a rare book keep in mind three things - condition, condition and condition. In order to possess the highest value, a rare book should be as close as possible to the physical state it was in when published. Collectors can range their collections from ‘very fine’, ‘fine’ to ‘very good’. Many books published during the 1900s are accompanied by a dust jacket, remove it and loose 50 to 90 per cent of the value of the book.

A dust jacket features eye-catching artwork, publishers blurbs, printed prices, reviewers comments, information about the author and list of related titles which make it invaluable. In short, you can judge a book by its cover.

Collecting books is an intense passion for even if you own a great many books does not necessarily make you a collector. A word of caution, before you begin collecting read and familiarise with the world of collecting, browse used-book stores and new-book stores and their rare books section. Online sourcing has become a major part of book collecting but do not buy before seeing the merchandise or talking to reputable dealers. The sign of good dealers; they provide detailed descriptions of each and every rare book, which takes a long time. One phrase description is not a good sign.

Restoring books

Rare Finds was begun in 1996 by Dilnavaz Mehta as a unique collection of original prints, old maps and antiquarian books. It came about from a personal interest in old books and ancient history. Her intention, to create an awareness by generating interest in these remarkable and unusual works and to effectively reach out to a large number of individuals.

An MSc in Microbiology, she has trained abroad. “But there are no fixed courses just workshops. I have attended workshops in Canada and UK.” With no specialised course for restoring books, it has been a learning experience while on the job. Every method took lots of experiments and work to perfect them, keeping in mind the Indian climate and the acidification effect on books available here. At the moment she is doing a course in Indian Aesthetics from Mumbai University.

She began by sourcing books from friends and relatives. “It was a gradual process.” Today she travels all over India to source books. And on the way she has made many friends amongst book sellers. She gets books mostly in pristine condition because of the price she is willing to pay. Dilnavaz is the first to receive a call at the appearance of a rare book at these sellers.

Restoring rare books is a very expensive business. Her equipment and substances needed to restore a book have to be ordered from abroad. Neither the course nor the substances needed for restoring are available in India. Restoring and binding a small book may cost just Rs.200. But that is not all, she always recommends whether the book is important enough to require restoration and binding. “The book may be too far gone to require a restoration. Some books may not be rare and may not need restoration and binding, it could be a waste of time and money. I always ask clients to get the book evaluated before going in for restoration.”

She also helps create and take care of libraries. “This does not mean just collecting books but also weeding out those that are not important to the library. Everyone reads paperbacks, bestsellers but directors like to read different books. To maintain a library I also recommend books that should be bought to enhance their collection.” Rare Finds has a wide selection of books published between 1775 to 1940 on literature, history, travel, art, architecture, archaeology, biographies, natural history (including shikar), old Mumbai, British India and British history of India.

Caring for books
by Dilnavaz Mehta

To give you lasting pleasure and appreciated value over the years they have to be kept in a good condition. All the factors, which lead to physical damage and acidification of the pages, have to be avoided. As far as possible keep the book in its original condition. Do not put plastic covers on very old books as these are hardbound copies and laminating them with plastic would cause the cover to bend. Clean the books with a soft cloth preferably white muslin.

Regularly open books, which have leather cover as disuse could lead to cracks in the leather. Clean the books frequently and air them randomly opening a group of pages. If possible air them in the direct sun for a few minutes constantly changing the exposed pages. Do not put books in an environment, which is moist, store them in closed cupboards or showcases. Preferably store old books on their backs and not vertically on the spine. This takes the pressure of the spine, which is the part that shows maximum amount of wear and tear.

Do not store books over a long period of time in an area, which faces direct sunlight, as the sunlight will lighten the exposed areas. Do not use DDT powder. Do not keep tobacco leaves within the pages as they accelerate acidification.

Do not keep pressed flowers, leaves, ribbons, and cards in old books. They leave an impression on the pages and in the case of flowers and leaves it leads to accelerated acidification. It is convenient to use naphthalene in those units where books are stored. While reading an old book, do not open the book fully by spreading it out under pressure, as this will cause the pages to loosen from the spine.

If there are any stains, tears, insect bites, pinholes then get the book restored / repaired from a professional. Do not use regular glues for mending tears. Do not use cello tape it only harms the paper and it is very difficult to remove once it is stuck. The stains left behind on the paper by the tape are very persistent and often can be seen on the paper even after restoration.

If you are starting / building a collection then buy those books which are in a good condition. It is a falacy that old books have to be necessarily in a poor condition. Buy old books from a reputed dealer which assures you of an authentic piece. If you think you have inherited or come across a valuable book then get it evaluated – you might get lucky.


Some of the books that are going to on display at Cymroza Art Gallery from 27-30 November,2002 :
•Portrait of Sakharam Hari Gupta, a general of the Maratha army- with a sketch of his life by B.A.Gupte – 1886
•Religious establishments, festivals and customs of Mewar by Lieut. Col James Todd – 1892
•The Kanchenjunga adventure by F.S.Smythe – 1930
•Durbar by Mortimer Menpes – 1903
•Sport in Many lands by the Old Shekarry – 1890
•Memoirs of his Highness Shri Shahu Chhatrapati Maharaj of Kolhapure by A.B.Latthe – 1924
•History of India by L.J.Trotter – 1889
•Kashmir by Francis Younghusband – 1924
•In times of Peril by G.A. Henry
•The martial Races of India by Sir George Macmunn – 1935


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