The Collector’s Tools: Bibliographies!

>There are three things necessary to build a collection. Well, actually, only one thing, but the other two are essential. First and foremost, every collection must, without fail, have some sort of unifying principle. You cannot, for instance, have a collection of children’s books, or graphic novels, or books on history. These terms are generic, not thematic, and require further narrowing. You CAN have a collection of American children’s books, or graphic novels about war, or books on the history of Rhode Island.

Other than a unifying principle, you need the money to acquire books (not necessarily a lot), and a map of your field. The best tool to establish how relatively important or complete your collection is, is the bibliography.

For example, one of my directives is to collect works illustrated by the British artist Arthur Rackham (see my January 9 post, Not too long ago, when I began to focus on this collection, I realized with chagrin that we lacked the definitive bibliography of Rackham’s works, published in a limited edition in 1936.

Chances are, if you are collecting, some industrious scholar, librarian, or amateur collector has created a bibliography that will save you a lot of time in identifying works to pursue. Often there are multiple bibliographies that will help. Here is one example–this is the entry for Grimm’s fairy tales illustrated by Rackham published in 1909, including information on the British limited and trade editions, as well as the American edition. If you are putting together a great Rackham collection, you will want examples of all three. But say, for instance, that for comparison’s sake, you want copies of any other edition of Grimm’s fairy tales that might have been released in London in 1909. Nowadays you can always throw a question like that at Google and hope you get lucky. But if you are serious, you’ll need to find a definitive bibliography of editions of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. You might also check for bibliographies of fairy tales in general, or German children’s books, or even of children’s books produced in London in the early part of the 20th Century. A great and creative collector thinks completely around his or her theme, so that in the end, the collection becomes more than the mere sum of its parts.
PS: The 1936 bibliography of Rackham cited above was “superseded” (never believe a good reference book is superseded) in 1994 by Richard Riall’s A New Bibliography of Arthur Rackham, but that has become too expensive for us to acquire at this time).

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