Lois J.

Number of Books: About 8,000 - 10,000

Collecting Since: 1965

First Book: Botanical Illustration, Wilfred Blunt

Best Bargain: A box lot of Thoreau containing serveral first editions for $15

Rare Book She'd Like to Own: Walden, Henry David Thoreau

Highest Price Paid for a Book: Tulips, Blunt/McEwen ($1,250)

Top 3 Books in Collection:

  1. Silas Marner, George Eliot, London: William Blackwood & Sons. 1861
  2. The Virginians, William Makepeace Thackery, London: Bradbury & Evans 1857 - 1859
  3. Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Boston: Philips, Sampson and Co. 1858

A gentle madness, a passion, an illness, sometimes an obsession, my books threaten to take over my life. They are everywhere. They climb the stairs and stand against the wall. They sit in stacks on the floor, tables, shelves, and any other near-horizontal surface. They have long since outgrown the bookshelves.

There are hurt books waiting for repair, single volumes waiting to be reunited with their mates, read, unread, started, waiting for me to get back to them... They are treasured friends.

I don't remember learning to read. My parents said that I was reading before I entered kindergarten. I grew up in a house full of books and didn't learn how to use a lending library until I entered college. I had everything I needed at home. I still don't use libraries. If I want to read a book, I buy it. If I really love it I will continue to buy it in first editions, signed or small press and other special editions. My collecting springs from my reading. I will sometimes collect a book for its spectacular binding, but I am just as likely to buy it with a detached cover or even no covers at all. I know that in the antiquarian book world, condition is everything, but in my collecting content trumps condition.

I inherited a library of many thousand volumes from my dad who traveled all over the world and collected at every stop. I have added many more and they keep on coming. I haunt used bookshops, library book sales and thrift shops. I have found some wonderful additions to my collections at the annual book sale of a nearby retirement community.

I collect in several categories. I am a botanical artist and botanist, so I collect herbals, floras, books of and about botanical art and illustration featuring the work of late 20th century artists: Rory McEwen, Anne Ophelia Dowden, Stella Ross Craig, and Marilena Pistoia among many others. It contains some early herbal leaves and some wonderful 18th & 19th century floras with hand colored plates and decorative bindings.

I was a costume designer for many years and I have an extensive collection on historical costume and costume design including 19th century costume plates by Racinet in their original portfolios and works on costume history with colored plates to modern books on design and construction by Waugh, Arnold, and Cunnington.

Other areas include poetry, essays, and fiction primarily of the New England transcendentalists, travel books and guides, maps, and adventures, American and European history, natural history and science, books about books, printing, bookbinding, antiques and collecting, art and art history. The categories overlap and morph into one another. Scattered throughout are small press and limited edition books some signed and numbered, many first editions and special bindings.

I have been trying for years to get a handle on this collection or more accurately, group of collections. Some of it is listed on the computer, some organized by room or shelf, some grouped in boxes. My greatest fear is that there is no complete inventory or appraisal and that upon my demise, my treasured friends will end up in a dumpster or sold as box lots by an auctioneer with no knowledge of books. I have seen the way people paw through and destroy fragile books, damage dust jackets and bindings. I need assistance in organizing this unruly lot and possibly culling duplicates or finding other homes for parts of the collection.