ABAA member John Schulman of Caliban Book Shop has some advice for anyone considering buying antiquarian or rare books as gifts, and explains how to use the ABAA’s website and how to work with ABAA dealers to your best advantage.

So it’s crunch time and you need a gift for a booklover. When people come into our store asking us to find the perfect item, the first questions we have are about the recipient. We ask the standard questions: how old is the recipient? What does he or she like to read? Has the person already started collecting books in a focused way? Then, as we think about what we have in stock, we ask a few more questions: what is the price range? Would the recipient like a first printing or something in a handsome binding?
Once we have an idea about the recipient, we can get to work.

A Word of Caution! 

Giving a book to a person who’s enthusiastic about a particular subject or author has its pitfalls: the person may already have the book you are thinking about giving, or may have rejected it for some reason. The more you know about the recipient’s tastes and collection-thus-far the better.


Signed Editions

But say the person loves Haruki Murakami, the modern Japanese author often spoken of as a future contender for the Nobel Prize.  It’s easy to find inexpensive copies of almost all of Murakami’s works, but maybe a signed edition of one of his novels would make a great gift. Putting Haruki Murakami in the Author field of the ABAA search and checking the “Signed” box under “Show Only” yields over two dozen results (at the time of writing). You can make sure you haven’t missed any by doing a couple variations on this search – not checking the “Signed” box but putting signed or inscribed or autographed in the Keywords – these might lead to additional results. 



Harriet the Spy

Harriet the Spy

by Louise Fitzhugh

New York: Harper & Row, 1964. First printing. Hardcover. Good/good. First edition, 1964. Pictorial hardcover in dust jacket, 298 pp., illustrated, clean unmarked text, Good copy in Good dust jacket, owner's signatures on the front pastedown and front flyleaf, age-toning to the pages and page-edges, some soiling and discoloration to the covers, wear to the edges of the covers including loss at the tips, front flap of the dust jacket is clipped, dust jacket with some soiling and age-toning, dust jacket with rubbing, creasing, and tearing to the edges including some loss (especially at the spine-ends). Dust jacket housed in archival dust jacket protector. Scarce first edition. (Offered by Caliban Book Shop)



ABAA Code of Ethics

One way that the ABAA distinguishes itself when it comes to signed items is that all ABAA members are bound to a strict code of ethics and standard of business practice; all ABAA members’ items come with an implicit guarantee of authenticity, so that buyers can be confident that signed items bought from ABAA members are not phonies. My personal experience is that online auction platforms, and other used book websites that list items from multiple vendors, are peddling thousands of items with fraudulent signatures and forged inscriptions, and no serious attempt is made to police these hucksters, even those who have long track records of offering bogus material.

Just yesterday, someone came into our shop and offered us a first edition of Jack London’s White Fang signed by London on the title page. The person had bought it on one of those online auction sites, and the seller had provided a COA (Certificate of Authenticity) with it. The COA looked like a college diploma, with a gold seal, and was signed by some guy in Los Angeles who claimed to have been in the book business for thirty years, yada-yada-yada.  Googling him and his business led to zilch: he didn’t exist. The signature was done in ball point pen (invented decades after London died). It was so clearly a fake, it wouldn’t have deceived a ten year old. 


White Fang Fake Signature

A rule of thumb: if it comes with a COA, that’s reason alone not to trust it. If I, as an ABAA dealer, tried to sell this London as a signed copy, I’d be tossed out of the organization. (I bought it from the fellow, just to have an example around of the kind of trouble people can get into if they don’t deal with a trustworthy vendor.)


Search by Price Range

Or say the person loves Jane Austen, but first printings of her works are out of your price range. Another way to use the ABAA site is to establish price parameters, or enter other terms that might yield the perfect gift. In the case of Austen, there might be an edition of one of her novels in a fine binding, that is, a book rebound in leather by one of the binders who specialize in this, such as Riviere, Bayntun, or Sangorski & Sutcliffe. Putting Jane Austen in the Author field, establishing a price range, and further narrowing the results by putting in Keywords such terms as leather or fine binding or morocco or one of the binders’ names mentioned above might give you a not-overwhelming number of items to choose from.


LA Boheme

La Bohème (Scene de La Vie de Bohème di Henry Murger) 4 Quadri di Giuseppe Giacosa e Luigi Illica... Opera Completa per Canto e Pianoforte (A) Netti Fr. 15 - Riduzione di Carlo Carignani. [Piano-vocal score]

by Giacomo Puccini

Milano: G. Ricordi & C, 1896. First Edition, first issue. Very rare. 

The date of the inscription is somewhat unclear, as Puccini appears to have incorporated a small caricature of a face (possibly a self-portrait as a moustache is clearly visible) as part of the date; the composer is known to have occasionally included "doodles" of a similar nature in various contexts such as autograph letters, etc.  (Offered by J.&J. Lubrano Music Antiquarians)



Using ABAA.org for Research

Nothing beats going into a bookshop and asking a knowledgeable clerk for recommendations. The better the clerk the more intuitive and informed his/her questions will be that will guide you to a great gift. But here, too, the ABAA’s website can serve as a viable substitute. Say your husband is interested in calligraphy. There are three ways the ABAA website can help you find a book for him:

On the homepage of the ABAA up toward the top there are a number of menu options: Browse & Shop | About the ABAA | About Antiquarian Books | Booksellers | Events. Click on Booksellers and this leads you to the booksellers page, where you can search by state, region, or specialty. Clicking on specialty gives you a long list to choose from: clicking on Calligraphy in that list leads to results of a few booksellers, any one of whom you can contact by phone or email to get further advice on a good calligraphy book.

If, instead of Booksellers, you click Browse & Shop, you will be directed to a page that has search capabilities as well as a list, down the left column, of featured categories.  Hovering your cursor over “Art, Design & Decorative Arts” yields a further menu of narrower options on the right; moving your cursor to the right you can click on Calligraphy, and then click below that, View Selected Topics. This will direct you to results that have photos or images attached to their descriptions. To get further results, you can unclick “Items with Photo” – the last item in the Refine Search column on the left and you will see considerably more results.

Finally, on either the homepage or the Browse & Shop page you can put calligraphy or some variation thereof in the keywords and see what turns up.


Buying for the Serious Collector

What if you are trying to buy a gift for a seasoned collector? We find it’s best to steer the giver away from books in this case, unless the collector has made some noises about not being able to find a certain book or edition. Buying a random “first edition” of a Hemingway novel for a person who has been collecting Hemingway for decades is going to inevitably result in a poor gift exchange experience: the wan smile, followed by, “Across the River and Into the Trees…wow…that’s really nice…uh, it’ll make a nice third copy to have in case my other two get stolen…”

(Incidentally, NEVER give Across the River and into the Trees to a Hemingway lover. I read it recently and it is the worst book of his published in his lifetime by a long shot, the story of a hard drinking, macho American army guy with a bad heart in post WWII northern Italy and his obsession with a teenage girl in Venice. It’s so stupid. And the sex scene in a gondola is all too creepily revealing of Hemingway’s weird fantasy life. Ugggh.)

However, if the seasoned collector has given you some clues as to what to look for, here the ABAA website can help as well.  Perhaps he is looking for the “first state” of Sun Also Rises. You are not quite sure what that means. There are two ways the ABAA can help, first, there is a glossary of book terms, under About Antiquarian Books, where you can click on “State” and find a definition.  Or, you can put "Sun Also Rises" into the search box under Title and first state in Keywords The results will inform you that “stopped” is spelled with three p’s on p. 181, line 26 of the first state, and corrected in later states. You will find a range of prices for the first state and that will guide you in your gift giving.


The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway, first state (pg 181)

The Sun Also Rises, pg 181.


And he will open up the package and take out the novel. “Yes, this is a good copy. It is the first state and that is good.”

“Yes,” you will say. “I found it on the ABAA website from a very good bookseller. Do you love me?”

“I love you very much. You are good and true. The bookseller is good and true, too.”


--John Schulman also has some thoughts on buying gift books for children...



Richard Burton, 1001 Nights

The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night.

by Richard Burton

Burton Club, 1900. Manuscript edition with original leaf in Burton's hand in volume one. Octavo, 16 volumes. Bound in full green leather, elaborately gilt-stamped to the spine, front and rear panels with Arabic script, raised bands. Top edges gilt and gilt turn-ins. Each volume illustrated with a double suite of frontispieces, after Albert Letchford; the second being colored. In near fine condition. The manuscript leaf is a book review by Burton, of a French translation of Johannis de Capua's Latin translation of a Hebrew translation of the Panchatantra. An exceptional set. Richard Burton was an accomplished geographer, explorer, orientalist, ethnologist, diplomat, polylinguist and author who is best known for his translation of Arabian Nights. (Offered by Raptis Rare Books)


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