I was looking over a glossary of book collecting terms, to see if there was something I had failed to mention to those of you who like our little vocabulary sessions. I noticed one or two things that might be a good start if we ever decided to put together a Book Thesaurus. They spelled out differences among page, leaf, and sheet (a page and a leaf are pretty much the same thing, while a sheet is the paper fed into the printing presses which will later be folded to make the leaves or pages) as well as the difference between juvenile and juvenilia (one is a children’s book, the other work written in childhood by someone who grew up to write famous things.) They did NOT cover one that I was looking up last week: the difference between hardcover, cloth, and casebound. (There apparently isn’t one, unless it’s that a hardcover costs less than a book described as being in cloth, which costs less than a book described as casebound.)
But I was a little surprised when the glossary went on to claim there was no difference, really, among the terms used, rare, old, out of print, and antiquarian when used to describe secondhand books.
Really? Lemme give you a tip here. Don’t EVER refer to an establishment dealing in antiquarian books as a used book store. It’s like saying a lieutenant, a major, and a general are all officers, and there’s no real difference.
People who deal in secondhand books also deal in used books and frequently in out-of-print books. People who regularly deal in rare books are antiquarian book dealers. They all deal mainly with old books, but your chances of finding The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood are better at the first kind of establishment. If you are looking for Young’s Night Thoughts with the first edition of the William Blake illustrations, my recommendation is that you go to the second sort of shop.
If the shelves are made of plywood, and the bookends are flat metal ones (or if there is no room on any shelf for a bookend) you are in a used bookstore. If the shelves are of dark polished wood, and the bookends look like eighteenth century globes or cast iron cats, you have strayed into an antiquarian bookstore. (If you then buy a book, you have obviously used that store, making it a used bookstore, right? Got that one from Abbott and Costello. They were glad to get rid of it.)
If you look at the shelves and see little beyond leather bindings, you are in a rare book store. If at least a fourth of the stock is in wraps (that’s paperbacks, if you’ve been keeping up), you’re in a secondhand bookstore. If the person behind the counter is so busy playing Angry Birds on the phone that she would not notice if a bookcase fell on you, you are in a used bookstore (step carefully next to that stack in the corner; I think a foot is sticking out.) If someone comes out from behind a counter and follows you around the shop, reminding you that you have only to ask to have that glass case unlocked, you have stepped into the Antiquarian Zone.
There is just as much chance of finding something that will fascinate or amaze you in either kind of establishment. That something may cost a bit more in the Rare Book Shop, but if it’s the book you needed, it’s cheap enough. You are just as likely to find something unique in the secondhand bookstore. It may just be something too unique for very many people to care.
What would I call the Newberry Book Fair? Excuse me; I’ll go count the number of Divine Secrets in stock and get back to you on that.