BookThink Review

by Craig Stark

#1, 1 September 2003

Antique Trader Book Collector's
Price Guide

by Richard Russell
Krause Publications, 2003, 448 pp
ISBN#: 0873496078

Richard Russell, bookseller and book lover for over three decades, states in the introduction to his recently published Antique Trader Book Collector's Price Guide that he became a bookseller as a front to cloak his habit of reading for pleasure. No doubt many of us who sell books also steal moments during our days to read for the same reason - and look appropriately busy in the process - but in Russell's case it's clear that this seemingly frivolous but persistent use of time has contributed in no small way to his effectiveness as both a dealer and author. More about this later. First, the facts.

This is a 448-page price guide for books that, for one reason or another, attract the interest of collectors. Over 5,000 books are listed, along with prices for copies in both superior and average condition, publication data, and in some cases issue points for first edition identification and editorial commentary. Regarding Nabokov's Lolita, for example, Russell adds, "Find it and you can join Chevalier in singing 'Thank Heaven for Little Girls.'" Listings are arranged in 12 different categories (Americana, Art and Illustrated Books, Banned Books, etc.), and each section is introduced with a list of "Classic Rarities" - some of the most desirable titles within the category. One or more black-and-white illustrations appear on most pages, and there's a 16-page, glossy color section in the middle of the book.

Prices, Russell explains, are based on averaged prices of retail offerings from both online and open shop dealers and do not reflect actual closed sales in, for example, auctions. Also, in the process of computing average prices, he throws out the highest and lowest numbers. The resulting values seem at least reasonably close to what dealers might expect to achieve, and if anything are lower (and more realistic) than those typically found in other price guides. Also, prices reflect "whole books," those with dust jackets, errata slips or whatever was present at the time of publication. In any case, as in all good books of this ilk, the primary value lies more in identifying which books are collectible in the first place than in supplying spot-on values. Russell seems to have accomplished this task handily.

Other useful information is included in this guide: a primer on first edition identification, a glossary of book terminology, a discussion of grading, an extensive list of pseudonyms, 100 or so facsimile signatures of important writers, a small collection of interesting bookseller's tips from various dealers, and a directory of recommended book stores.

What caught the BookThinker's particular attention, however, were the 12 one- or two-page introductory monographs preceding each category of books. What comes across first and foremost in these is Russell's deep affection for books. The presentations are straightforward, unusually informative, and, best of all, steadily hammer home a vitally important theme: the most valuable books are quite often the ones that live on the edge of things. Controversial (banned) books that mainstream publishers wouldn't touch. Cutting edge books that those same publishers saw as competing in unfavorable ways with their predictably profitable (and disappointingly derivative) titles, And those books which almost nobody believed in at the time but later became monumentally influential. Knowing this, understanding this - applying this - will help booksellers and book collectors alike in succeeding at their respective pursuits, whether it's in knowing which books to buy or which to sell. We suspect that this focus has helped Russell himself in his business.

The one complaint we have has nothing to do with the book's content but is significant nonetheless, especially as it applies to a guide that will be referred to regularly. For some reason - who knows who makes these decisions or why - the margins are cut annoyingly narrow, and on many pages it's difficult to read text next to the inner margin. We found ourselves peering into shadowy gutters to decipher words time and time again. Less patient readers will no doubt crack the spine in short order.

Still, despite this problem, the BookThinker gives Russell's book an enthusiastic thumb's up. Krause Publications has an excellent track record for producing useful and authoritative collector's guides, and this entry is no exception. Purchase Russell's book on BookThink's BookShelf page.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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