No Reading, Please, This is a Rare-Book Shop by Adam Douglas

Adam Douglas

No Reading, Please, This is a Rare-Book Shop


On the third day of a careers seminar on selling rare books, we opened up to questions from the floor. A young participant grabbed the microphone and cocked her head at us accusingly. ‘I’m finding it hard to gauge whether any of you actually, you know, enjoy reading,’ she said. I glanced along the table at my fellow panel members. Which of us would be brave enough to admit that in our strange, looking-glass world, there’s only a slender connection between book collecting and reading?

The person who coughed up £680,400 at auction last year for a first edition of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (1687) wasn’t planning to rush home and read it, even assuming the individual could understand Latin. It’s enough to know that it’s the book in which Newton first revealed his laws of motion and of universal gravitation. Nobody except specialist historians of science reads it. This is landmark collecting, where a book is valued solely for its historical or cultural importance. In the rare-books world, there are whole swathes of genres where readability is irrelevant – not just science and medicine, but travel, economics and many other fields too.

But surely that can’t be true of imaginative literature? Don’t collectors yearn to own books they love to read? A visit to any mainstream bookshop to see the titles kept in print by Wordsworth Editions and other such publishers will give you some idea of which writers also

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