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Evolution of a book collector

by Jeff Downie

Almost four years ago, I saw the opportunity to realize a dream that had preoccupied me for a decade: to become owner of both my destiny and my own business, and enter the used and rare book trade.

I didn't enter the world of bookselling for the traditional motivation of assembling a spectacular book collection. Nor did I have a very impressive library of my own. For me, the business offered a pure and honest opportunity in our rapidly changing society. Technology was revolutionizing the ways in which booksellers could ply their trade and book enthusiasts could seek and purchase their treasures.

As I have come to learn, much to my delight, books are genuine treasures, and the worlds books create are magical. I have over the past few years become a collector, and I now take great pleasure in assisting other collectors, from whom I have learned a great deal. As human beings, we are an insatiably curious breed; the magic found among stacks of books can satisfy our natural curiosity. Hence, book collecting satisfies our yearning for knowledge and our desire to be entertained or intrigued by capturing that knowledge.

My own interest in books lies chiefly in the field of military history, and thus it is in this direction that our store's inventory has moved. Of course, the scope is as large as civilization itself, but we have been blessed with the opportunities to purchase many fascinating volumes and wonderful collections.

The strength in the inventory (and thus the broadest selection) lies with materials on World War II. Much significant material has come to light in the last 20 years, and some great books have been published which are, perhaps, less biased than those published during the war and its immediate aftermath. But to read accounts written by those who lived through that war (or any historical upheaval) is to encounter an irreplaceable piece of history. Wartime correspondences and personal memoirs make fascinating reads.

I have digested diverse material on World War II, and my curiosity keeps pressing me to probe further back in history to see the scope of "cause and effect." A military book and paper collector is born! The evolution of this type of interest requires paring down the many choices and continually adjusting what you feel is important. A great way to subsidize loftier, more desirable purchases, though, is to sell or barter books from which you have gotten short-term pleasure. This is how the used and rare book trade survives, from one collector's evolution to another.

So enjoy your own personal evolution in collecting as I have and will continue to. For the beginning military book enthusiast, or for anyone fascinated by historical accounts, here is a list of interesting books:

Some more unusual items include The King's Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Militia 1939 and The German Underground Hospital 1942-1945 by Ralph Ellington.

Or for the exotic collector: The Dispatches of Field Marshall the Duke of Wellington During his Various Campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain, the Low Countries, and France, from 1799 to 1818, compiled from original documents by Lieut. Colonel Gurwood, in 12 volumes, including index.

Finally, if you want to glimpse an interesting sliver of pre-World War II German life, look to Die Olympischen Spiele in Los Angeles 1932 for an account of the Los Angeles Olympics with cigarette cards, a lavish collector's item. But you'll have to be able to read German!

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