This weekend I am heading out to Berkeley to attend my first CODEX Book Fair & Symposium. I had the privilege of taking a California Rare Books Course with Master Printer, Peter Koch this past August, where I first learned about this event and have been anticipating it ever since. Peter is one of the founders of CODEX, and aside from all of the valuable information I gathered during his course, he also jump-started my exploration of local book arts and collecting in the Bay Area.
In anticipation of my first CODEX event, I am continuing to read about collecting. This practice has changed significantly over the years. Some aspects of the books I am reading are outdated, but they are providing a rich historical context about the trade and some idea of how the value of books is determined over the years. There are significant differences between collecting books as an art form and collecting antiquarian books. The CODEX event focuses on the book arts, and therefore, requires a different set of evaluation skills than what I’ve been reading about with antiquarian book collecting.
I’m trying to pull out the common threads across generations of collectors, book sellers, academic institutions, and others. From this, I can see that a good deal of the experience I will need is going to be out in the field – finding a few good mentors, and actually holding and studying different books and learning what to look for in order to develop better intuition. I believe my background in book repair and bookbinding will be extremely helpful in evaluating the quality of a book. However, there are many aspects of evaluation that I will need to improve upon and reading about it in books will only get me so far.
Because this is my first book fair, I am not sure what we will return home with – whether the spoils will be books or knowledge or a little of both. My husband and I need to discuss what we might want to collect or how to add to existing collections. This will involve philosophical discussions, including:
- what is a book?
- how shall we define “value”?
- what do the writings of certain authors means to us?
- what is the value we find in the overall work of the book artist?
- what is the value of the book as an art form (types of design bindings, the quality of the printing, typography, paper, artists books)?
- what might we want to collect to benefit future generations of researchers or artists?
- what is the value of a completed collection of “x”?
- how might we create a theme or should we focus on an individual artist or author?
- what is the value of focusing on one or two collections rather than a single, more diverse collection?
- how would we like to narrow down and focus in on this endeavor?
- what is the value of including ephemera, manuscripts, drafts, association copies?
- how extensive will the focus be?
I’m sure I will refine this inquiry several times as I work through it, but it’s a good starting point for reflection. Some of my reading about the lives of book collectors, as well as academic institutions that end up with amazing collections, indicates that many of these questions may only be answered in time, during the actual journey of collecting. It would also seem that circumstances and luck may also factor into what we end up acquiring. In any event, CODEX 2017 will kick-start this renewed exploration, and I am excited to begin.