There are more changes to the eighth edition of ABC than in all previous editions combined

ABC for Book Collectors
Eighth Edition
By John Carter and Nicholas Barker
New Castle, DE:
Oak Knoll Press, 2004.
$29.95, 232 pp.
ISBN 1-58456-112-2

ABC for Book Collectors is the standard primer and glossary for book collecting in the English-speaking world. It enumerates the terminology used, commonly and uncommonly, among collectors, booksellers, auction houses, librarians, and scholars. It describes the life of the book, from the original holograph manuscript, through galley proofs, to issue as parts in wrappers, until binding and distribution. The history of books and book collecting in the West is indirectly retold in the biographical entries for major printers, binders, collectors, and notable figures such as Roger Payne, Edwards of Halifax, and William Lowndes. ABC also delineates the canon of bibliographical literature, frequently abbreviated or referenced only by surname: ABPC, ISTC, NUC, McKerrow and Gaskell. Reading ABC is a course in Book Collecting 101.
It’s a good read, too, one of the few reference volumes that can be enjoyed cover-to-cover. This is due to Carter’s writing, which Barker has seamlessly expanded. The style is eloquent, precise, and succinct. It’s also very British in its spelling, tone, and humor. Carter and Barker have strong, wry opinions. They don’t hesitate to share them in such entries as issue-mongers (“one of the worst pests of the collecting world”) and the chronological obsession. Of that obsession, and biblio-obsessions in general, they write: “If a slightly acid note is discernible in the comments offered [here]…it must be set down to the conviction that all extremes are a bore.” The reader’s knowledge and amusement is amplified by their generous discussion and good sense.
John Carter, who worked for Scribner’s and Sotheby’s, wrote ABC over a half century ago in 1952. Nicolas Barker, former Head of Conservation at the British Library and editor of The Book Collector, assumed stewardship of ABC after Carter’s death in 1975. Barker’s contributions to each new edition have grown, and the eighth edition rightfully gives him full credit as co-author alongside Carter.
If you are a book collector or book lover, and you don’t own this book, buy it. Now. Stop reading, go to your local bookstore, buy this book, and read it. If you have an older copy sitting on your shelf, the rest of this review is intended to help you make the decision to upgrade.
I performed an informal collation of the new eighth edition against the seventh, sixth, and first editions. I was fortunate to find a copy of the first edition in the Boston Public Library’s Rare Book Department. I counted the number of entries in each volume and tracked each entry across editions, noting additions and deletions. Under deadline and unable to find a Hinman collator at my local Best Buy, I didn’t compare each definition in every edition line-by-line, but I discovered there are more changes in this edition of ABC than in all previous editions combined.
The first edition contains 459 entries. The sixth edition, published in 1980, has 519, a net growth of only sixty entries in twenty-eight years. Fewer than a dozen entries were removed (the Ashley Catalogue, mould-made paper, and mint-condition fetishists fell from bibliophilic fashion). Between the sixth edition and the seventh in 1995, only twenty-two new entries were added and a half-dozen removed. Over the course of forty-three years, ABC swelled by a grand total of eighty-two entries.
In stark contrast, the differences between the seventh and eighth editions are enormous: there are 130 new terms. Some of these are cross-references to extant entries, but most are brand new. Several fill in the lacunae in previous editions regarding subject fields like printer jargon (balls, chase, frisket, and quoins) and binding terms (french-sewn, hair-sheep, tacket, and tawing).  The canon of reference works and authors is expanded to include Duff, Greg, Heber, and Bowers. Some entries are excavated from others: minuscule warranted distinction from majuscule. A few items that deserved entries in earlier editions finally make it. Dibdin (patron saint of bibliomaniacs) certainly warrants his own description, where in previous editions he was often cited but never explained. His colleagues at the Roxburghe Club also get their own place in the book, where previous editions focused on the Roxburghe Style of bindings. Perhaps there was an assumption that most readers knew who Dibdin and the Roxburghe Club were, and no reference was needed.
One obvious change makes its first appearance in the new ABC: the Internet. Given the impact of online bookstores and resources since the last edition in 1995, it should surprise nobody that the word Internet gets an entry. E-mail addresses now are included in contact information for bibliographic organizations. Even eBay makes an appearance.
Another change underlies many of the revisions to this edition—the evolving community and market of collectors. Barker’s ruminative introduction remembers when the first ABC appeared:
It is strange, now, to look back on those days. Our world was indeed a small one and, it seemed, contracting. There were few antiquarian booksellers, mostly old men. Their memories stretched back to the Depression and beyond, when old books were commoner and so were collectors. They were, they felt, the last generation: the last books would soon be locked up in institutional libraries, and the trade that they knew would soon be wound up.
Of course, as Barker goes on, the community wasn’t “wound up,” but rejuvenated by economic and geographic changes for booksellers and by a new generation of collectors, scholars, and librarians in the 1970s and 1980s. The question now is will a new generation of collectors take their place over the next twenty-five years?
ABC for Book Collectors isn’t a fixed codex of book words. Rather, it cogently reflects and explains the living bibliographical world. Much of the terminology has been around for several centuries, and its fundamentals will remain intact for another generation. Barker laments the dissolution of bookbinding as an industry, but points to the survival of the craft and its jargon among a new generation of book conservators and art binders. Similarly, the world of book collecting, selling, and scholarship is transforming itself to take advantage of new technology and to meet the needs of a new generation. ABC has shown it can keep pace and will be a constant in that world.

Pasco Gasbarro is Fine Books & Collections’ book review editor.

Collecting Books
By Matthew Budman
New York: House of Collectibles, (2004)
172 pp. Paperback original
ISBN 0-375-72054-5

Recently, a friend was asked for advice on how to start collecting books. Although he has collected for many years, he was struck dumb by the question, his head filled with a jumble of thoughts about issues, states, original boards, and a hundred other bits of book arcana. Matthew Budman, a magazine editor by trade, helps answer the question with what may be the first true beginner’s handbook for book collectors.
The tall, narrow guide—part of Random House’s Instant Expert series—includes all the basic information about collecting, helpfully illustrated with photographs on nearly every page. This ground has been covered before, but rarely with such enthusiasm and passion for books of all kinds.
The book starts out with the common dictum, “Collect what you like.” Budman, however, actually means it. He dispatches the profit motive early on. “I want to strongly discourage your taking the step of becoming a professional or semipro book scout,” he writes. “Nothing sucks the fun out of book collecting like looking at it as a business.” He is also undeterred by generations of disdain for “uncollectable” books. Budman encourages collections of business books, political memoirs, diet books, bestsellers, and even reprint editions. He bolsters novices who are nervous about collecting in unfashionable genres with the promise that they are not alone: “If you think your choice of focus is overly insular or idiosyncratic or, well, kooky, I assure you it’s not.”
Budman is right to encourage non-traditional paths. Many beginners feel daunted by high prices in well-trod avenues of collecting and are discouraged by repeating what someone else with more money has already done better. As an enthusiastic accumulator with 12,000 books in his library, it is perhaps no surprise that Budman’s guide doesn’t explain how to take a general interest and turn it into a focused collection. Political memoirs may have the shelf life of cottage cheese, but a set of every memoir by every member of Congress would have considerable value and would not cost much. A comprehensive collection of diet books could fill many warehouses, but the history of vegetarianism would prove very interesting. Still, that quibble and a few minor factual errors do not detract from what is the essential book for any beginning collector.

Magna Commoditas
A History of Leiden University Library, 1575–2005
By Christiane Berkvens-Stevelinck. Foreword by Nicholas Basbanes
Leiden: Primavera Pers, 2004
112 pp. Paperback original
ISBN 90-5997-005-5

This new English-language history of one
of Europe’s oldest libraries, at Leiden University, demonstrates that freedom of ideas has been central in the development of libraries from the beginning. The University of Leiden was founded during a long period of warfare between Catholics and Protestants. As might be expected, theology dominated its collections initially, but from the start the librarians embraced humanism and acquired books and manuscripts in a wide variety of subjects. Joseph Scaliger’s donation in 1609 of 208 books in Eastern languages—Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Ethiopian—cemented the tradition and encouraged Leiden’s librarian Daniel Heinsius to acquire important books with abandon. During most of his fifty-year reign, Heinsius rebuffed all attempts by university officials to curtail his spending, and the library grew from 442 books and manuscripts to 3117. Its holdings in Eastern languages were possibly the best in Europe at the time.
The rapid growth of the collection brought disorganization and fights over access. In 1595, an ordinance limited library use by issuing keys only to professors and local functionaries. Students took matters into their own hands, obtaining and copying the keys and distributing them liberally. In response, the library was closed entirely for two years, and over most of the next century students and librarians strug­gled over the library, with those in favor of free access gradually winning out.
During the eighteenth century, librarian Petrus Burman launched another collection expansion program. One of his best ideas was the purchase of unpublished letters, which he rightly believed would be of great interest to scholars. This was just one of many innovations of the Leiden University librarians. The library was the first to publish a catalog of its holdings, and it was also the first to form a group similar to a modern Friends of the Library. Librarians cajoled benefactors into donating books by circulating a special catalog of the collection prominently listing books and their donors.
Magna Commoditas, illustrated in color throughout, is an adaptation of a much longer history of the library published in Dutch in 2001. It provides an interesting history of Leiden University Library and serves as an introduction to the role libraries have played in the intellectual development of the West.

Who Murdered Chaucer?
A Medieval Mystery
By Terry Jones, Robert Yeager, Terry Dolan, Alan Fletcher, and Juliette Dor
(London): Methuen, (2003)
408 pages.
ISBN 0-413-75910-5

Terry Jones’s interest in the Middle Ages dates to his days at Oxford, before he became famous as a member of British comedy troupe Monty Python. After the huge financial success of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which Jones starred in, co-wrote, and directed, he took a year off to write a well-received book about The Canterbury Tales. That study left him wondering about the details of Geoffrey Chaucer’s life and the story of his death.
His new book, Who Murdered Chaucer?, developed from a “coroner’s inquest” into the poet’s death held at the Sorbonne in 1998. To make his case for foul play, Jones creates a compelling picture of life in fourteenth-century England, a period when the arts flourished and feudalism waned. Chaucer was a member of the English court, an able administrator, and even a spy for a time. During his lifetime, he was also the best-known writer in England. Yet despite his prominence, he completely disappears from the historical record after June 5, 1400, when he signed for a payment of five pounds.
Less than a year before, his benefactor Richard II had been overthrown in a coup led by Henry Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV. With Henry’s rise to power, Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, used the opportunity to eliminate the religious freedoms that Richard II had tolerated. In Jones’s view, Chaucer’s association with Richard II and his depictions of the clergy in The Canterbury Tales would have made him an enemy of the bloodthirsty Arundel. Jones suggests that no mention was made of Chaucer’s death because his contemporaries were afraid to write about it, and so little of Chaucer’s work survives from his lifetime because it was destroyed along with everything else from Richard II’s court.
Jones’s impassioned arguments, drawn from careful textual analysis, examinations of early manuscripts, and historical records should challenge other scholars to reexamine the question. His book never fails to be interesting, and its integration of color images alongside the text is a real pleasure. If Jones’s prose slips into cliché from time to time, Who Murdered Chaucer? is still a fine example of what dedicated amateurs can bring to book history and is a model that any committed book collector can follow.