Book collecting (also known as Bibliomania) is generally described as the acquisition of rare or otherwise exceptional books, and is often restricted to the activities of book collectors who specialize in these areas. Today book collectors focus on a broad range of different areas form rare antique books to paperbacks by their favorite authors. The rarity and value of a book are determined by a variety of methods, based upon widely dissimilar criteria, many of which are irrelevant to the literary merit of the work within book. Books may be artificially made rare and valuable by limiting the number of copies printed and having the author sign a limited number of copies, or costly binding and manufacturing methods and materials. The most valuable books, however, generally acquire their value through a combination of historical associations and the specific circumstances of their history and publication. For example, the first editions of books are many well known authors, particularly those whose reputations were established posthumously or late in their writing careers, are often small in number and therefore valuable. Books published during the early history of printing, from the middle of the 15th to the end of the 17th century were invariably issued in comparatively small editions, and they become increasingly valuable by inevitable losses of and injuries to, surviving copies through out the years.
As is very often the case with coins. A special category of rare books consists of those which are arbitrarily valuable to collectors because of defects in printing or binding, such as a defective cover, a missing page, a superfluous title page, or a significant typographical error. Some otherwise commonplace books can be rendered valuable in the rare books market by virtue of their previous illustrious or famous owners and in some cases by an inscription or marginal comments inserted by these owners. Two types of nonprinted matter also figure as books of value to the collector: books handwritten and bound before the invention of printing, and original authors' manuscripts. The first category has intrinsic artistic and historical importance; the second is often of interest to scholars and critics because of changes and corrections made by the author in the course of writing the book. Some books can also be considered valuable for the illustrations, if illustrated by a famous artist.
The history of book collecting dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. One of the earliest notable sales of a book took place in London, England in 1812, when a copy of the first edition of the Decameron by the Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio was purchased for 2260 Pounds, probably the highest price ever paid for a single book up to that time. London became the center of the international rare book collecting market in the 19th century, and certain books became established as standards of historical importance, rarity, and value. Notable among such books are copies of the Bible in two volumes issued from 1450 to 1455 in Germany by German printers Johann Gutenberg and Johann Fust, now generally known as the "Gutenberg Bible"; the Aldine editions, issued during the late 15th and 16th centuries by the Italian printer Aldus Manutius, and notable for their beauty of type and binding; and the first edition of the collected plays of William Shakespeare, issued in London, England, in a folio edition in 1623, and generally known as the "first folio". About the end of the 19th century the center of the book collecting activity gradually shifted to America. Rare books most sought after by American book collectors have been classed as follows: the earliest printed books and first editions of the classics; first editions of English writers of the 16th and 17th centuries, especially poets and dramatists; books relating to America, particularly narratives and accounts of the earliest explorers and colonists; and the first books printed on American presses. The prices which exceptionally rare books now command can be illustrated by sales of some books in the 20th century. Between 1944 and 1946, $50,000 was paid for the original manuscript of Alice's Adventures Underground (later expanded and published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), by the English writer lewis Carroll; $23,000 for the proof sheets, corrected by the author, of a suppressed first edition of the same book; $13,000 for a defective copy of the first edition of the Canterbury Tales, by English poet Geoffrey Chaucer; and $50,000 for a Shakespeare First Folio. One of the most valuable books printed in America has often been considered to be The Whole Book of Psalmes (generally known as the Bay Psalm Book), originally published in Cambridge Mass., by the American colonial printer Stephan Daye. In 1947 a copy of this work, the first book printed in the American colonies of Great Britain, was sold for the then record price of $151,000.
Today many of these antique rare books are out of reach for collectors. The bulk of modern day book collectors focus on first edition books from through out the 20th century, and editions signed by the authors. There is also a group of book collectors who collect replica editions of first editions, many of them by joining book clubs. Perhaps the most valuable modern day books, in terms of binding and materials are those produced by the Easton Press and Franklin Library. In recent years, perhaps due to the expanding internet usage, the number of book collectors in this field has increased. This website, along with a few other sites were created to to serve this area of book collecting. What ever the modern day book collector chooses as their passion, the fact remains that book collecting today is more popular than ever.