Book collecting is the collecting of books, including seeking, locating, acquiring, organizing, cataloging, displaying, storing, and maintaining whatever books are of interest to a given collector. The love of books is bibliophilia, and someone who loves to read, admire, and collect books is called a bibliophile.
With the advent of the printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century, which resulted in cheaper and more abundant books, and with the contemporaneous economic, social and political changes of the Renaissance, book collecting received a great impetus. Jean Grolier, the Treasurer-General of France, was an important bibliophile and book collector of this period. Grolier owned a library of 3,000 volumes and was known for his love of the Latin classics and of richly decorated bookbindings. He was a patron of the Aldine Press that had been founded by the prominent Renaissance printer, typographer, editor and publisher Aldus Manutius the Elder.
With the advent of the Romantic era in the 18th century and its focus on the past, book collectors began to show an interest in old books, antiquarian editions and manuscripts. This new emphasis was nourished by the flood of old books onto the market following the dissolution of monastic and aristocratic libraries during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.
There are millions of books, so collectors necessarily specialize in one or more genres or subgenres of literature. A reader of fiction, who enjoys Westerns, might decide to collect first editions of Zane Grey's novels. A lover of modern English poetry might collect the works of W H Auden. A Californian who prefers non-fiction might look for books about the history of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Book prices generally depend on the demand for a given book, the number of copies available for purchase, and the condition of a given copy. As with other collectibles, prices rise and fall with the popularity of a given author, title, or subject.
Because of the huge number of books for sale, there is no single comprehensive price guide for collectible books. The prices of the copies listed for sale at the online bookseller sites provide some indication of their current market values.
Common defects include general wear; jacket/cover edge wear, scratches, and tears; the previous owner's written name, Bookplate, or label; soil and stains; dogeared pages; underlining, highlighting, and marginalia; water damage; torn hinges, endpapers and pages; and pages, illustrations, or whole signatures free of the binding, or missing entirely.
New books are readily available from bookstores and online. Many bookstores specialize in out-of-print, used, antiquarian, rare and collectible books. Online booksellers, including Abebooks, Alibris, Amazon, and Biblio, encourage other stores and individuals to sell books through their websites, and charge a commission.
The first English movable-type printer was Caxton in the late 15th century. Editions of his books from the 15th century are very rare. Occasionally, 16th-century editions similar to Caxton's books appear among antiquarian book dealers and auctions, often fetching very high prices. The last Shakespeare First Folio of 1623 (first edition of the collected works of William Shakespeare) garnered a record-breaking 5.5 million in 2006. Later 17th-century folios of William Shakespeare's works can still fetch about the price of a small house but are more readily available and relatively obtainable, whereas almost all extant copies of the First Folio are owned by libraries, museums or universities and thus are unlikely to appear on the market. For the antiquarian collector, how a particular book's production fits into a larger historical context can be as important as the edition, even if it may not be a first edition.
Virtual book collecting can be described as collecting books in a digital format (virtually) on a computer or other electronic device. A bibliophile may acquire ebooks by downloading them or copying from borrowed media, such as CDs and DVDs. However, this may violate copyright law, depending on the license under which the ebook was released. Ebooks acquired from Project Gutenberg and many similar free collections cause no violation as they have gone out of copyright, have been released under a Creative Commons license, or else are in the public domain.