Friday, February 03, 2006

Book Collecting – Imprints

Imprint collections are a less popular but thoroughly rewarding alternative to author or subject-centered collections. Imprint collecting involves building a collection based on the publisher, and can range from high-end endeavors like gathering works from the press of Aldus Manutius, to collecting local, college, or specialty press works.

Collecting imprints need not be the central focus of a collection, though. Imprints may tie in to a theme-based collection, as many specialty presses gravitate to defined subject areas. They may tie in to regional collections, based on the location of the publisher. Or they may be an integral part of an author based collection, as some presses are established as a vehicle for a specific author.

Fine Presses are publishing concerns that focus on the bookmaking art. The books they turn out are generally limited editions, and command prices commensurate with the painstaking detail that goes into the production process. These details can include hand set type, hand made paper, hand colored illustration or illumination, fine inks, and hand biding. These printing concerns are bastions of the traditional art of bookmaking. An interesting site, focusing on early 20th century fine presses can be found at Fine Press Books.

To examine imprint collecting, let’s look at the genre of ‘weird fiction’. Weird fiction occupies the nexus of science fiction, horror, and fantasy. Its origins begin around the end of the 19th century with writers like Poe and Lord Dunsany, and its heyday was probably in the 30’s-40’s when magazines such as Weird Tales were popular. It has continued as a movement, and is currently flourishing in a resurgence of fanzines and small press concerns. It is a highly collectable field.

One well known imprint in this genre is Arkham House. Established in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, the publisher started as a vehicle for the printing of the supernatural fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. Arkham House has continued for sixty years, producing strange fiction and horror from authors such as Ray Bradbury, Basil Copper, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert Bloch, as well as Derleth and Wandrei. The list of works published numbers over 200, and some of the early titles such as The Outsider and Others and Beyond the Wall of Sleep demand prices in the thousands of dollars.

Some Arkham titles are still in print, and are readily accessible to the beginning collector. Many others run in the $100-$200 dollar range, and trade lively on the internet.

Another small imprint, the Borgo Press, had weird and science fiction as a staple. Founded by a College librarian Michael Burgess, and publishing many works under his pseudonym Robert Reginald, Borgo began in the unlikely desert of San Bernardino, California in the seventies. Borgo produced right around 300 books before closing up shop in 1999, including many cutting edge works of literary criticism, fiction, and spirituality. Although largely defunct, the name is carried on by Wild Side Press. Some old stock can be found on the net, while other Borgo books pop up on eBay from time to time.

Finally, a newer publisher of strange fiction, Night Shade Books out of San Francisco seems to be just hitting their stride. Reprinting genre classics by Dunsany and William Hope Hodgson, as well as featuring newer authors like Iaian M. Banks, Forrest Aguirre, and Steven Erikson, Night Shade Books offers fertile ground for a budding imprint collector. It is an imprint that is turning out top notch fiction, that will quite possibly be the collectables of tomorrow.

Small presses have a lot to offer collectors – eclectic author lists, small print runs, and original hard-to-find material for starters. They also offer an escape from mass marketed publishing that is churned out by the big houses dominating the industry. Though sometimes difficult to obtain – often through the internet or mail alone – the payoffs in interesting materials and high production quality can make seeking them out worthwhile. Likewise, Fine Presses can deliver goods from a bygone era of bookmaking.

Great collectables!

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