How To Create An Impressive Personal Library

In addition to serving as beautiful décor and a source of entertainment, having rare and special editions of books on your personal shelves is a way of preserving history. As Adrienne Raptis of Palm Beach, Florida-based Raptis Rare Books reminded us recently, there’s something incredibly powerful about owning a book that centuries ago helped changed history or an entire school of thought, or a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird that Harper Lee once held in her hands. To help demystify the world of rare books for those who might be considering starting a collection, we asked Raptis to share her expertise on everything from where to begin to how to keep your rare volumes in top condition. Here is her expert advice:
Consider what you’d like to collect. Raptis encourages first-time collectors to seek out titles that have special meaning to them. Look for rare, first editions, or signed or inscribed copies of favorite novels or books that have had a profound influence on you (such as titles that relate to your profession or a particular subject of interest), or start building a collection of classics for your children to treasure. As an alternative to first editions, beautiful leather-bound editions of works or a beloved set in a special binding are great places to start.

Realize the definition of “rare.” According to Raptis, the rarity of a book has more to do with the book’s value than its age. Condition, edition, and provenance are all important criteria, and each can be weighted by different factors. For instance, a copy of The Great Gatsby with the original dust jacket in decent condition is worth far more than a copy in good condition without the dust jacket, and a copy of a book inscribed by the author can be much more valuable than one without an inscription. “Get the book in the best condition in the earliest printing you can afford,” Raptis advises, and above of all, “Have fun with it.”

Know how to protect your investment. As Raptis states on the “Frequently Asked Questions” section of her store’s website, “Books are made to be handled, so they’re naturally durable.” That said, as noted on the “How to Care for Rare and First Edition Books” section of the website, “A rare book is a treasure that is meant to be preserved for your lifetime and beyond.” Rare books should be stored upright, snug (but not too tight) against other books of similar size, in an environment free of extremes—not too hot, cold, dry, or damp, as high humidity can foster mold and warp boards, and direct sunlight can damage pages and leather bindings and cause dust jackets to fade (Raptis recommends investing in protective, acid-free mylar covers for books with dust jackets to keep them in good condition). When you handle your book, don’t rub the edges, and don’t risk cracking the hinges by opening it too far. Watch for signs that your leather books might be drying out, and if you notice signs, treat them with a leather conditioner.

Ask an expert. “There are no stupid questions,” Raptis, who is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, says of working with an expert to build your collection. In addition to helping you find rare copies of your favorite titles, enlisting the help of an expert can help you avoid overpaying for books billed as more valuable than they actually are. So don’t hesitate to strike up a conversation at your local rare book dealer—they’ll be glad to help and appreciate your passion for books. And don’t hesitate to call Adrienne and her husband, Matthew, at Raptis at 561.508.3479 or email them at [email protected] with any questions. Better yet, if you’re in the area, you can also visit them and all the other beautiful stores on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Florida.

TSG Tip 257 from Adrienne Raptis of Raptis Rare Books in Palm Beach, Florida. Raptis Rare Books is featured in The Scout Guide Palm Beach.