The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 8, February 24, 2019, Article 45


Here's one more for the bibliophiles, but it contains a lesson for all collectors. I've always felt that a sufficiently advanced collector is indistinguishable from a dealer. To build a great collection, one has to see and handle a large amount of material, and there's no better way to do that that to become a dealer, be it in books, coin books, coins, or whatever strikes your collecting fancy. Some of my best acquisitions came when I was actively buying everything from individual books to complete numismatic literature libraries.

Here's an excerpt from the February 21, 2019 issue of Historical News from Heritage about Otto Penzler and his collection of mystery fiction. I think collectors of all stripes will appreciate the story. -Editor

Otto Penzler It was just after college that I started to collect. Although I earned only $42 a week ($37 after taxes), I had decided that I wanted to collect English and American literature - all of it. Fortunately, a wise old bookseller convinced me to narrow my vision and, after a couple of years of specializing in British adventure fiction and World War I poets, I focused on mystery fiction.

Since I enjoyed reading the books, they seemed a good niche for collecting as there was very little competition for books in that field. New York City's famous 4th Avenue booksellers' row (with more than sixty bookshops within a few blocks of each other) flourished back then and it was easy to find a half-dozen first editions in collectable condition within my five-dollar-a-week budget. As my salary increased, so did the quality of the bookshops I came to know, and the number of shelves I had to erect to hold ever more books.

In 1979 I opened the Mysterious Bookshop in midtown Manhattan and broke what I had been told was the cardinal rule of bookselling-never compete with your customers. We sold new and used books, like most mystery specialty stores in the country, but I was mostly interested in first editions and the people who collected them. Thousands of books came through the door some months and all purchases were brought into my office where they were sorted into two stacks: one for the store, one for my private library.

My office was beautiful! It had floor-to-ceiling shelves that I calculated could hold nine thousand volumes which, I was certain, was more than I'd ever need. Just to be insanely safe, I had them built wide enough to be two rows deep and, since book collections are like gas, expanding to fill the space available, they eventually became inadequate as the number of volumes approached twenty thousand. With no end to the torrent of new additions in sight, I built a large house in the country to hold them. The library wing of the house would comfortably contain about seventy thousand volumes so, as the collection hit the sixty thousand mark, there was still plenty of space to grow. In the year 2000, I decided to stop collecting every new book published, as they were rarely of bibliographical interest, and I focused on upgrading titles already on the shelves and filling in the many missing titles. I owned most of the major titles and therefore concentrated on finding the obscure and arcane volumes that had proved elusive, with only moderate success. Particularly in the area of paperback originals.

Every first edition that came into the store was compared against my copy. I upgraded books constantly, being obsessed with having the best possible copy, as well as checking for variants, which I thought important for bibliographical purposes. It is not hyperbolic to state that some titles were improved up to a half-dozen or more times, which is why the condition of the books in my collection are, mainly, in outstanding condition. I had an advantage over most collectors in that I saw so many books and because I had a convenient way of dispersing my unwanted copies.

Wayne Homren, Editor

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