Purchasing antiquarian material can be a joy for some and induce nervous tension in others, largely due to experience in this area or lack of it! Aside from the advice given on our page regarding how to acquire antiquarian books, some knowledge is desirable in certain genres. Here is some helpful information on two popular areas of antiquarian publishing; literature and natural history. Of course there is very much more published on both of these subjects for those wanting to explore further. Acquiring the literature of one's culture is a traditional and respected pursuit and enables the collector and reader to ascertain a certain understanding of the history of identity. The most popular era acquired is often at the beginning of a collection when the buyer may find themselves drawn towards works written and published in their own century; modern firsts, for example. This possibly reflects the collector's own experience and tastes, education and the spirit of the age with which they identify. Investment in modern firsts, or signed modern editions can be precarious as it is a market which can quickly fluctuate. Try to purchase the best edition you can, in the best condition and always with its dustjacket as, despite what anyone tells you, a book may still very much be judged by its cover and the dustjacket is considered to be of intrinsic value to the integrity of a volume in terms of appearance at the very least. A book without its jacket will depreciate sharply. You may find - as with older works - that scarcer publications by very well known authors become desirable. Often famous authors had early work committed to magazines or journals, published in essay form or available when they were building their reputations as scarce publications created as part of a very small print run. This stands true for the greats - such as Shakespeare or Dickens, ( Dickens work of course being serialised initially), where the first editions - particularly in the case of Shakespeare - can reach exorbitant prices. As a rule, certain time periods can wane - and recover - such as the Restoration Period. Similarly, when the reference books or academic research evolves around a certain period, subject area or even more obscure author, the collectable nature of particular volumes which have been previously neglected now becomes intensely desirable. A word on poetry of the nineteenth century (which is removed from the genre of novels), which is that those collecting poetry usually find themselves confined to the greats and as such find them at reasonable prices and largely accessible. However, it would be wise to seek out concurrent, smaller publications by those major poets which are contemporaneous with the leatherbound full collection, for example. Minor poets, sadly, fall by the wayside in comparison to their novel-writing peers because early obscure pamphlets and other printed matter can be hard not only to date but to verify in terms of edition.
Now on to Natural History which, like the development of cartography, underwent significant aesthetic blossoming as the emphasis on practical information evolved into lavish and highly coloured plate and print production. First editions of early herbals from the 1400s (all based on the circa 1481 'Herbal of Apuleius published in Rome) are extremely rare but off-shoots can be found. In the 1500s botanical illustration flourished - although outwith the masterly drawings and prints of artists such as Leonardo and Durer - until the arrival of Fuchs and Brunfels whose superb command of the woodcut is evident in seminal works Herbarum Vivae Eicones, 1530-6 and De historia stirpium, 1542. The texts for these, however, borrowed heavily from Dioscrides, a herbalist working in the mid first century AD who wrote the Materia medica. These early works were emulated in turn and provided the basis for a flourishing woodcut industry in natural herbals. The best period for botanical illustration might be said to be the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century during which time many exquisite volumes were carefully produced fuelled by publications such as Curtis' Botanical Magazine first published in 1787 with editions still being printed today. The cousin of botany, zoology - and its relation ornithology - also benefitted from the lavish colour prints produced in the 1800s with works by Audubon, for example, and Lear being among the most remarkable.
Our oldest book?
Biblia Sacrosancta from 1557.