Fwd: Why is the Modern Library collectible?

J B Krygier jbkrygier at owu.edu
Mon Mar 21 21:56:12 EST 2005

forward (html document attached; bounced to list admin - jk)

Begin forwarded message:

> From: Readingstore at aol.com
> Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2005 21:52:49 EST
> Subject: Why is the Modern Library collectible?
> To: modlib at algol.owu.edu
> I've often thought the dogeared site should have an FAQ for the often 
> asked
> question: "Why is the Modern Library collectible?" Well, actually, that
> question is never asked, it usually comes in the form of "You COLLECT 
> the MODERN
> LIBRARY??!!?!
> Well, anyways, while reading an essay "Yellow-Backs" (a cheap edition 
> evolved
> in Britain around 1850 for sale on railway bookstalls) by Michael 
> Sadleir in
> a book entitled "New Paths in Book Collecting: Essays By Various 
> Hands",
> Constable &Co., London, UK 1934, I came upon the following section, 
> which with a
> little adaptation would fit the bill:
> The claim of the yellow-back to appear in such a book as this is 
> fourfold.
> Firstly (and generally) it possesses almost to perfection the 
> qualities of the
> ideal collectability. In fine state it has become very difficult to 
> discover,
> so that the amateur of yellow-backs may be sure of long and delightful 
> search
> with, often enough, no result at all. Again - and like any cheap 
> edition - its
> appeal was to humble or casual book-buyers, not to instructed 
> bibliophiles or
> to owners of great libraries. In consequence, the specimens which have
> survived have done so mainly for negative and not positive reasons. 
> Only very rarely
> have they been consciously preserved, usually, either because they 
> were in an
> obscure shelf on the upper floors of a country house or among oddments 
> in an
> inn sitting-room or in the cupboard of a cottage or farm, they just 
> happen not
> to have been thrown away. Items of this kind, when at last they come 
> to light,
> do so in the small bookshops of country towns or mixed up with 
> second-hand
> furniture in the shops of general dealers in back streets. It is 
> unnecessary to
> emphasise to such actual or potential collectors as will read this 
> book, that
> hunting in junk-shops is the finesthunting of all.
> "In the second place, the book-lover who gradually and laboriously 
> assembles
> a number of these fragile and elusive volumes, finds himself the 
> possessor of
> shelf-stuff bothlovely and exhilarating. The effect of a block of 
> yellow-backs
> in a book-case has to be seen to be appreciated; and as every true
> bibliophile gets a large part of his pleasure in his books, first by 
> sitting and looking
> at them, then by taking one out, handling it and putting it back 
> again,the
> visual and tactile qualities of the yellow-back are in themselves a 
> passport to
> collectors' favour.
> In the third place, the yellow-back cannot be ignored in any survey of
> book-production and publishing history. It is as individual and 
> significant a genre
> as the quarto poem of the eighteenth century, as the three-volume 
> novel, as
> the book in parts, as the Annual. It evolved from the past and was 
> itself
> absorbed into the future - which is the present day. As book-making it 
> is perfectly
> distinct from everything both before and since, and no collection of 
> binding
> styles is complete without it. As a phase in the development of the 
> cheap
> edition, it is physically unmistakable and commercially vital; and an 
> assemblage of
> books designed to illustrate the changes in publishing practice, the 
> effects
> of economic development on book-trade enterprise, the influence of 
> successive
> technical experiments on the appearance and price of books, will see 
> in the
> yellow-back a phenomenon as informative and as sharply characterised 
> as any.
> So, finally, we come to the fourth and most important element in the 
> claim of
> yellow-backs as a class to hold collectors' attention - their intrinsic
> bibliographical and textual interest. For on this count they can hold 
> their own
> with many types of book already eagerly soughtafter, with the added 
> advantages
> that their possibilities have but begun to be explored, and that only 
> by timely
> rescue and careful examination of such as still survive can even a 
> reasonably
> fair estimate of their importance be made.The intrinsic interest of the
> yellow-back may attach to its cover-engraving, to the author of its 
> text or to the
> subject of its text. Sometimes two, or even all three, of these 
> interests are
> combined in one volume, but as such occasions are unusual, we shall do 
> well to
> consider the trio of potentialities one by one."

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