Sunday, 31 August 2008

Collins New Naturalists

The Collins New Naturalists are a British institution. Not only are they a particularly fine series of reference books on British wildlife and natural history, the series has become even better known as highly collectible. There is no question that the volumes contained within the series remain among the finest books available on the topics they cover, and even those that are out of date, still remain useful as historical documents. Some of the volumes have been completely rewritten and revised, but even in these cases, the original, long out of date volume, still remains useful.

But as collectors items, the series epitomises the stupidity of collectors, who collect for collecting's sake. The fanatical collector of new Naturalists must have the first printing of the first edition, complete with mint dust wrapper. And of course, this often means that the first printing of a first edition had minor printing errors, that were later corrected. And in many cases dust jackets were what they claimed to be: Covers to keep the book clean, before sale. In the case of the Collins NNs, however, the dust wrappers were beautifully designed, and deservedly became collectors items in their own right. However, because of the collectors' market, dust wrappers became valued beyond any real intrinsic worth, and of course are very easy indeed, with modern high quality photocopying facilities, to fake.

If ever you come across a New Naturalist collector (and many of them are genuinely interested in natural history as well, they will, like so many collectors tell you how much this and that is worth, and how their prized possessions are increasing in value. The reality is rather different. If you were to compare the price of many of the books with their original value when sold, they have declined. A book costing 30s in the 1940s, when a week's wage could be under £5.00, may still only fetch £20-£30 . And a quick search of the internet will show that many of the so-called rarer volumes can still be picked up for relatively modest sums. And of course, for the real naturalist, there is the advantage, that reprints and ex-library copies, usually under a fiver, abound. Allegedly, one of the rarest was a monograph on Ants, published in the 1950s, and apparently withdrawn from sale soon after publication. But if this was the case, there are still a remarkable number of even this, which should be the rarest of the rare, floating around.

I cannot take too seriously the collectors market, but it is gratifying in one way -- it means that HarperCollins have got a guaranteed market for new volumes, on almost any subject they like to publish, however specialised.

1 comment:

  1. Collins now have a website for signed editions and luxury short print run leather bound editions of all new titles. It's at