From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
“Books have brought some men to knowledge, and some to madness ― Francesco Petrarca
"There is no greater cause of bibliomania than bibliophilia inordinately pursued." --The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930) by Holbrook Jackson
"The follies of man, his mental and moral aberrations, singularities of literature, enigmas of life and manners, and the like, had a strange fascination for his mind, and were treated by him in preference to subjects of more general interest, for which his natural taste, his vast reading, his versatility, and powers of analysis equally fitted him."--"In memoriam Octave Delepierre" (1879) by Nicholas Trübner
"Better were it that such literature [erotic literature] did not exist. I consider it pernicious and hurtful to the immature but at the same time I hold that, in certain circumstances, its study is necessary, if not beneficial." -- Catena Librorum Tacendorum (1885) by Ashbee
"To the bibliomaniac, the real lover of books for their own sake, these unknown and outcast volumes, these pariahs of literature, are infinitely more interesting than their better known and more universally cherished fellows, and acquire additional value for him in proportion to the persecution they have suffered, their scarcity, and the difficulty he experiences in acquiring them."--Index Librorum Prohibitorum (1877) by Ashbee
Bibliophilia is the love of books. Accordingly a bibliophile loves books, but especially "for qualities of format". A bookworm loves books for their content, or otherwise loves reading in general. Bibliophilia is generally considered to be incorrect, but some would say it is a new, recent, usage. That practice of loving or collecting books is dubbed bibliophilism, and the adjective form of the term is bibliophilic. Also, a bibliophile may be a book collector.
The term entered the English language in 1824, according to the Merriam-Webster's reference below. It is to be distinguished from the much older notion of a bookman (which dates back to 1583), which is one who loves books, and especially reading; more generally, a bookman is one who participates in writing, publishing, or selling books.
The classic bibliophile, exemplified by Samuel Pepys, is one who loves to read, admire and collect books, often nurturing a large and specialised collection. Bibliophiles do not necessarily want to possess the books they love; an alternative would be to admire them in old libraries. However, the bibliophile is usually an avid book collector, sometimes pursuing scholarship in the collection, sometimes putting form above content with an emphasis on old, rare, and expensive books, first editions, books with special or unusual bindings, autographed copies, etc.
Bibliophilia is not to be confused with bibliomania, an obsessive-compulsive disorder involving the collecting of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged, and in which the mere fact that an object is a book is sufficient for it to be collected or loved. Most bibliomaniacs, then, are compulsive hoarders, identifiable by the fact that the number of unread books in their possession is continually increasing relative to the total number of books they possess and read. Extreme bibliophilia may amount to a diagnosed psychological condition.
According to Arthur H. Minters, the "private collecting of books was a fashion indulged in by many Romans, including Cicero and Atticus". The term bibliophile entered the English language in 1820. A bibliophile is to be distinguished from the much older notion of a bookman (which dates back to 1583), who is one who loves books, and especially reading; more generally, a bookman is one who participates in writing, publishing, or selling books.
Lord Spencer and the Marquess of Blandford were noted bibliophiles. "The Roxburghe sale quickly became a foundational myth for the burgeoning secondhand book trade, and remains so to this day"; this sale is memorable due to the competition between "Lord Spencer and the marquis of Blandford [which] drove [the price of a probable first edition of Boccaccio's Decameron up to the astonishing and unprecedented sum of £2,260". J. P. Morgan was also a noted bibliophile. In 1884, he paid $24,750 ($772,130.92, adjusted for inflation for 2021) for a 1459 edition of the Mainz Psalter.
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.
History of book collecting
In the ancient world, papyri and scrolls (the precursors of the book in codex form) were collected by both institutions and private individuals. In surviving accounts there are references to bibliophile book collectors in that era. Socrates was reported by the historian Xenophon to have criticized a rich young man seeking to outdo his friends by collecting the works of famous poets and philosophers. Seneca the Younger deplored ostentatious book collecting, asking: "What is the use of possessing numberless books and libraries, whose titles their owner can hardly read through in a lifetime?"
In 1344 the English bishop Richard de Bury wrote The Philobiblon in which he praised the love and appreciation of books. Philip the Good brought together a collection of "about six hundred manuscripts in his possession at the height of his reign", which was the largest private collection of his day.
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.
During the Reformation many monastic libraries were broken up, and their contents often destroyed. There was an English antiquarian reaction to Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. The commissioners of Edward VI plundered and stripped university, college, and monastic libraries; so to save books from being destroyed, those who could, such as Archbishop Matthew Parker and Sir Robert Cotton, began to collect them.
By the late 17th century, millions of printed books were in circulation and auctions devoted to books began to occur and printed catalogues devoted to books began to be issued by book dealers and by auction houses in Europe and America, leading to a growing popularity of book collecting with the increasingly literate public.
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.
The British Whig politician George John, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834) collected tens of thousands of volumes. Strengths of his collection included first editions of the classics; works produced by important early presses, and notably an almost complete collection of Aldine editions; and many Bibles. In 1812 he founded the bibliophilic Roxburghe Club.
Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872) collected 40,000 printed books and 60,000 manuscripts. He was "the greatest collector of manuscript material the world has ever known". His zealous collecting efforts, which were termed bibliomania by Thomas Frognall Dibdin, resulted in the preservation of much historical material, particularly manuscripts, that would otherwise have been destroyed.
The increasingly wealthy United States during the 19th century saw the appearance of "titan" book collectors such as the railroad magnate Henry Huntington and the financier and banker J. Pierpont Morgan.
Antiquarian book collecting
Antiquarian book collecting may be roughly defined as an interest in books printed prior to 1900 and can encompass interest in 19th, 18th, 17th, 16th, and 15th-century books. Antiquarian book collectors are not exclusively interested in first editions and first printings, although they can be. European books created before 1455 are all hand-written and are therefore one-of-a-kind historical artifacts in which the idea of "edition" and "printing" is irrelevant. There is also an interest among antiquarians for books beautifully made with fine bindings and high quality paper. For many books printed before about 1770, the first edition is not always obtainable, either because of price and/or availability. Later editions/printings from an era of interest are still often desirable to the antiquarian collector as they are also artifacts.
For example, a first edition of Paradise Lost (1667) by John Milton can fetch equivalent to a down payment on a house. However, the first illustrated folio edition of 1688, technically a later edition, is worth a fraction of the first edition, but still fetches in the thousands of dollars as an illustrated book from the era in which Milton lived.
There were many editions of Alexander Pope's translation of The Iliad and The Odyssey. The first edition of 1715-1720 is worth a small fortune whereas slightly later 18th-century editions are a lot less expensive but still garner premium prices. The John Ogilby 17th-century translations of Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey garner hefty prices, but not as much as the first edition of the Pope translation. This may be in part due to a significant number of copies of Ogilby's first edition that probably perished in the Great Fire of London of 1666.
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.
Also of interest are books previously owned by famous persons, or personages of high stature, such as someone from royalty or the nobility. Tracing the history of an antiquarian book's possession history, referred to as "provenance", can markedly affect the value of a copy, even if it is not desirable per se. For example, a copy of a less-important 18th-century book known to have been owned by Voltaire would achieve a value many times its stand-alone market value, simply because it was once in Voltaire's possession. Previous owners of books often signed their copies or labelled them with bookplates, and it is often not difficult to identify a prominent previous owner if the provenance is well documented.
Bibliomania is not to be confused with bibliophilia, which is the (psychologically healthy) love of books, and as such is not considered a clinical psychological disorder.
One of several unusual behaviors associated with books, bibliomania is characterized by the collecting of books which have no use to the collector nor any great intrinsic value to a genuine book collector. The purchase of multiple copies of the same book and edition and the accumulation of books beyond possible capacity of use or enjoyment are frequent symptoms of bibliomania. Bibliomania is not a psychological disorder recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in its DSM-IV.
The term was coined by John Ferriar (1761–1815), a physician at the Manchester Royal Infirmary. Ferriar coined the term in 1809 in a poem he dedicated to his bibliomanic friend, Richard Heber (1773–1833). In the early nineteenth century, "bibliomania" was used in popular discourse (such as in periodical essays and poems) to describe obsessive book collectors.
In 1809, the Reverend Thomas Frognall Dibdin published Bibliomania; or Book Madness, a work described by literary critic Philip Connell as "a series of bizarre rambling dialogues which together comprised a kind of dramatized mock pathology, lavishly illustrated and, in the second edition, embellished with extensive footnotes on bibliography and the history of book collecting." The "symptoms" displayed by the biblomaniacs in Dibdin's work include "an obsession with uncut copies, fine paper or vellum pages, unique copies, first editions, blackletter books, illustrated copies, association copies, and condemned or suppressed works".
In the late nineteenth century, book collections and collectors of note were given regular coverage as curiosities.
Holbrook Jackson was to follow the work of Ferriar and Dibdin later in the work The Anatomy of Bibliomania
People with bibliomania
- Stephen Blumberg, who was convicted of stealing $5.3 million worth of books.
- Sir Thomas Phillipps, 1st Baronet (1792–1872) suffered from severe bibliomania. His collection, which at his death contained over 160,000 books and manuscripts, was still being auctioned off over 100 years after his death.
- Rev. W.F. Whitcher was a 19th-century Methodist pastor who, after having stolen and rebound rare books, would assert they were rare "finds" from local booksellers.
Depictions in fiction
- Addiction to literature
- Dangerous reading
- Bibliomania; or Book Madness (1809) by Thomas Frognall Dibdin
- Bibliomania in the Middle Ages (1900) by Frederick Somner Merryweather
- The Anatomy of Bibliomania (1930) by Holbrook Jackson