Collecting Big Game Hunting Books

During the 1990s Trophy Room Books was selected to Chair the prestigious seminar on collecting sponsored by Safari Club International. Our long time leadership in the field of collecting both out of print and new big game hunting books is recognized throughout the hunting community. This speech was written to provide insight and information to new, intermediate and advanced collectors. Please take time to read it.

Collecting pleasures - A passion for the past, a taste for tradition, history and master craftsmanship energize today's collectors of art, firearms and books. Many professionals in the collecting field have a rule or two they follow or a special piece of advice they pass on. So I will give you one of my favorites: While in nature we all know that it's the early bird that catches the worm, in the world of collecting the saying goes YOU NEED TO KNOW A WORM WHEN YOU SEE ONE. In other words, cheap collectibles seldom become rare or valuable. ...more commonly this is known as "there ain't no free lunch."

When does one become a collector? Some say it is when you buy more of something than you need. Others say it is when you buy something for reasons other than need and price. Perhaps it is "when you buy the best you can afford or because you can afford it." Whatever the reason or impetus, there are - in all fields of collecting, some things every collector needs to know. That is why we're here this morning.

I started in this business in 1971, primarily as a book collector and with neither the money nor social connections to propel me into business. What I did have was a love of the subject and all things related to it and to book collecting. One major asset throughout the growth of Trophy Room Books was that it always maintained the collectors' perspective. Emphasis was on the love and appeal of the material and the knowledge that buying the finest was the way to collect in most fields. In 1973 I became one of the youngest members ever admitted to the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America. In 1978 lured by the prospect of "my own business" and the ability to quote, set your own hours and make unlimited income unquote, Trophy Room Books became my full time occupation. Quickly did I learn that the unlimited part related more to the number of hours one was required to work and the income side meant that by strictly observing a frugal lifestyle one could continue to accumulate inventory. In 1989, my husband Jim took early retirement and joined the business. He too came from the collector side: travel and exploration books and linen backed folding maps for travelers. I can assure you that those who say, "How lucky you are, you get to read books all day and then sell them all for a profit," never actually worked in the book business.

There are several facets to Trophy Room Books. Primarily we deal in antiquarian or out of print big game hunting books catering to collectors. We also published three to four signed numbered limited edition hunting books each year. Third we offer a small number of other new and in print titles of interest to big game hunters. It will probably surprise you when I say that my husband and I enjoy this business more today than at any time in the past 30 years. For the most part the collectors with whom we deal are appreciative, responsive and interested in learning about both the big game hunting books and about book collecting.

The printed word is intended to convey to the reader the thoughts, emotions and experiences of the writer. To the extent that the writer succeeds in this endeavor, the book becomes a classic. It is cherished by those who own it and sought after by other eager buyers. It withstands the test of time sometimes for many generations. In some cases, when that book is also a beautifully produced volume, perhaps with colored plates or illustrations by a noted artist, the item becomes even more in demand. As far as big game hunting books are concerned, most of them were printed in relatively small numbers. Keep in mind that the actual number of books available from that limited printing continues to shrink each year.

Within the broad field of big game hunting the collector can specialize - books on elephant or lion hunting, books on the big five, books on certain geographic areas (east, central, or southern Africa). You can collect by time period (something popular among those with more limited funds): pre 1900, pre WW!, between the wars, post WWII, recently published or limited signed edition books. You can also collect books authored by professional hunters, or only those considered rarities. Or, you can collect any of the above books that are just good to read, i.e. the classics. In short, there are no hard and fast rules. In fact, unless your funds really are unlimited, one of the joys of collecting is to define your own pleasures and start building a library.

The big game hunting book collector reaps the dual rewards of having read his or her books and learned from them, of having been the proud owner of the book for some period of time, and perhaps also of having seen some price appreciation. At the turn of the last century, great book collectors like the Morgans, Huntingtons and Folgers spared no expense amassing collections which today rank among the most important in their respective fields. The robber barons spent seemingly outrageous sums to own special or fine works of art on paper. But they didn't pick the market clean. Why? Because the collecting landscape is an ever changing field and there is always something new coming out. Furthermore, collecting today is not restricted to "old" books. In the big game hunting field, many collectible titles actually came out after the first and second world wars, or in the 1950's, the so called Golden Age of African safaris. Books by so called professional hunters (a term not used extensively before WWII) were written mainly in the late 1940's through the late 1970's, again illustrating that new collecting trends make this market more exciting, less predictable, and always ready for new entrants.

It also helps illustrate that a book's value is not solely dependent upon its age. Many more recently published books, as well as OLD books have become collectible. In the big game hunting field, there are excellent books printed within the past one or two decades that have been in demand. This is due in part to the fact that a book considered to be important also becomes collectible. Just as the Golden Age of Safari Hunting saw a few wealthy individuals embark on 60-90 day safaris and book their favorite PH year after year for 2-3 months, so the post WWII era saw a new generation of hunters go on 30-day safaris perhaps every second of third year. More recently, we have seen the 14-21 day safaris and a new group of hunters. This new hunting era produced thankfully a new group of client authors and professional hunters who authored big game hunting books. The ones who are able to pass along facts, experiences and information that garner and maintain respect become "new" collectibles. Like the ocean's ebb and flow of the ocean collecting opportunities come and go. These new collecting trends make the market both more exciting and less predictable.

However, while people tend to collect what they like to read, the collector needs to pay attention to some basic factors that make a book COLLECTIBLE:

Rarity, scarcity, demand, condition. Rarity refers to a book that is rarely seen, or rarely seen in a certain condition and which was not printed in large numbers. Scarcity on the other hand can apply to a book that has been printed in large numbers but which seems to sell immediately and/or always have a "want list" on dealers' inventory lists. Demand refers to the number of people that want the book depending on price. Simply put, a book achieves some degree of rarity only when demand exceeds supply.

Condition. As with the real estate market, some people say the three most important things about collecting books are CONDITION, CONDITION CONDITION. What do I respond to people who say they got a good buy on lesser condition, ex library, or defective books. "Good bye money." Perhaps the hardest thing for the new collector to understand about books is the vast price difference in the same book based upon condition. As you can surmise, condition is a major factor in determining a book's value and collectability. This refers both to the books physical appearance as well as to completeness of contents.

A book with little signs of wear (external or internal) will always be more valuable than one with signs of use, or abuse. Sad to say, although books were intended to be read, the ones that retain the most value are the ones that have been read the least. A book that has been rebound is usually less valuable than one in its original binding. The exception might be if the book has an exceptional binding, was a special presentation binding, or was owned by a very important person as relates to the book. An example, my own copy of Theodore Roosevelts African Game Trails is rebound in leather, and was a special presentation copy from John Fitzgerald Kennedy to his PT 109 boat commander. Defective books (ones with missing pages, plates or maps, are, and I quote from virtually everything on the subject - almost valueless. Here I should also interject that dealing with an established bookseller, perhaps one who is also a member of a trade association, helps ensure that a book is described not only accurately but along a grading criteria that is fairly strict and widely accepted. This is as important to consider when you are buying books as when you are selling books. Phrases such as "It looks pretty good for its age or not every old book can be like new" say nothing about the condition of the book that you're buying. Beware.

Does the number of copies of a book printed determine its value? Of course it does. Since most collectors buy first editions (unless a later edition is really better) the number of copies on the market influences the price and price appreciation. Do reprints make first edition prices go up, or down? The answer is yes to both. Here dealers differ in their opinion. Reprints enable more people to read the book in question and supposedly therefore create over time a greater number of potential first edition collectors. On the other hand, a number of people who might pay say $150 for a first limited edition, would if they could, buy a $50 trade edition and never buy the first. Generally speaking OVER TIME reprints help appreciation of the first edition but themselves rarely become collectible. I once asked a dealer what he meant by "over time" and he responded, "That depends on your life expectancy." Limitation alone does not make a book valuable BUT the fact that the edition is limited is a factor that will help in determining value.

Signed or association copies: As regards books printed before WWI, signed presentation, inscribed or association copies are not common and the addition of an authorial inscription or signature adds value. A bookplate, unless it is the bookplate of someone well known, generally does not. Also the association between the author and recipient can add to the value. From the author to someone who stood in line to have the book signed may not mean as much as someone who received a lengthy personal inscription indicative of a personal relationship with the author. Generally speaking experienced book dealers, especially specialists, know their books and you can expect to pay a premium for signed books. Finding a late 20th century book signed by the author is more common than finding one printed earlier. Authors today routinely make publicity trips around the country (just look at the number signing at this convention). Also books are signed for different reasons. All of these factors come into play when considering collectibility.

INTERNET: I debated whether to call this pleasure and pitfalls of the internet or beware about getting e-screwed. No one can deny that the internet is here to stay and that there are many of out of print titles listed. Beware of major discounts or excessively high prices. Many people who list their books on the net are not dealers, certainly not full time and probably not even part time. Many lack specific experience. The biggest problem for some of us is calling about books listed on the net and asking normal questions such as:
Are the inner hinges sprung?
Is the spine sloped or canted?
Is the cloth worn through to boards?
And when the response is "HUH - what do you mean," I just make an excuse not to wait for an answer.

It is fair to ask the seller who claims a book to be in a certain condition, how many copies of the book he or she has seen in their bookselling experience. All things are relative. I once called to order a book described in fine condition because in almost 30 years I never ever saw a copy of that book in fine condition. What did the dealer respond when I asked to be sure the book really was in fine condition? "I don't know. I listed that book for someone and they said it was fine." You should also know that the term first, comma thus, means - listen carefully - that the book is NOT a first edition. First thus means it is the first edition in some form AFTER the first edition, like first reprint edition, first illustrated edition, first annotated edition, first revised edition etc. First thus is NOT EVEN CLOSE to a first edition. Can you return a book sold as a first thus because it was not a first. Well one of our customers tried to do this with E Bay and was told, NO, the seller listed it as a first thus. If you wanted the true first edition you should have asked.

In other words, serendipitous surfing can result in as many or more mistakes than bargains.

In the very specialized field of big game hunting books, most collectors obtain their books from specialist dealers. Sadly, for we enjoyed it as well, the days of "finds" at second hand shops are long gone, as are most of the shops themselves. The fact that specialized book selling is now a mail order business means that you are generally buying something sight unseen - yet another reason to be sure the firm your are dealing with is established and experienced.

One of the most important aspects of a collector/dealer relationship is the development of friendship and rapport. It is interesting to note that in every major auction or bibliography of an important subject collection, the collector always thanks those dealers with whom he or she worked over the years. Although the specialist dealer endeavors to have a wide dispersion of material in all price ranges, it is fair to say that a number of "special" items often sell on direct quote. So let dealers know what you want, and what your price thinking is. That way, you are likely to get first chance on that item when it comes into stock.

While it may seem today unrealistic or old fashioned to ask a collector to be loyal to only one dealer, it is still sage advice to suggest that the collector select a small group of dealers with whom to work. This way, as a result of frequent contact, you are assured of being advised of special items that come into stock and/or of getting early catalogue mailings. Remember that the dealer is often a necessary link between you and those books you want and furthermore the dealer may know fine points about the item that the collector might be unaware of.

While we are concerned - obviously - with creating new collectors, our other purpose is to introduce people to the field of big game hunting books. The field is rich, varied and many rewarding hours can be spent reading about the experiences afield of those who have gone before you to and through the world's big game hunting grounds. There is not time in this short seminar to do more than introduce all of you to the pleasures of collecting big game hunting books and to making you more knowledgeable buyers of the rare and scarce titles.

We hope to hear from you in the future. Our website has been designed to allow you to peruse our fine collection of old and new, rare and scarce books in all price ranges and all categories and we'd be pleased to chat some more on this subject.

Thank you for reading this.