Banking on Books

Condition counts for almost everything.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Money wasn't part of the equation when Henry David Thoreau wrote that "books are the treasured wealth of the world." But times change. And as anyone who has searched for a scarce hunting or fishing book will tell you, fine sporting books bring big bucks. Not only are they worthy of your serious consideration as a collectible investment, but-as Thoreau concluded-they are "a fit inheritance for future generations."

Collecting sporting books can be as expensive as you want to make it, or as strictly budgeted as you need to make it. Either way, it can be both enjoyable and, on occasion, profitable. At the very least, you'll get hours of reading pleasure and probably learn something.

No one should presume to tell another person what types of books to collect, but there are a few basics of the game that should not be ignored. The three most important determiners in evaluating any given book are condition, condition and condition. Even a scarce book in mediocre condition is often a poor investment compared to a more available volume in excellent condition. However, if the dust jacket is intact, a book in rough condition can be a winner.

There are, of course, a few other considerations in evaluating sporting books, but if you learn to recognize the seemingly confusing differences between "good" and "very good" and "fine" and "very fine," you'll have taken the first step. Booksellers use these terms to describe their wares, and you need to understand them if you want to play on this field.

Poor: Also called a "reading copy," a volume with this designation is adequate for reading purposes or research, but it's probably not of great interest to collectors.

Good: This is the term used to describe a volume of interest that has considerable wear-dog-eared pages, stains or other defects-but doesn't look like it was being read while the owner consumed a spaghetti dinner.

Very Good: This rating varies from "good" only in degree. The book will have very few flaws or signs of damage.

Fine: These are books that show no flaws other than those that would be found in any carefully read volume, such as slight binding looseness or other signs of actual use.

Very Fine: This term should be reserved for volumes that are just that: very close to the condition they were in when they were published.

Mint: Also called "as new," this term is used by some dealers to describe books that are "perfect." But as a person who questions that anything is perfect, I prefer the "very fine" designation for these volumes.

Sporting-book dealers are perhaps the most honest of all sporting collectibles providers, but it's up to you, the buyer, to make the final determination on a specific volume. And if it's something you want, don't let a quarter-inch tear where a single page was turned dissuade you.

"First edition" and "limited edition" sporting books deserve your attention, although the terms, in and of themselves, can be misleading. The serious book collector wants only first editions in as close to "as issued" condition as possible. But you should always remember that all books were first editions when they were published for the first time. Some are of value; others are next to worthless. As with all literature, the term must be examined in context.

As an author who is paid according to the number of copies sold, I distinctly prefer second, third and later printings of my books. But as a collector, I want first editions. A first edition of a book that has been reprinted one or more times is worth considerably more than are the later printings. And a first edition in good condition with a pristine dust jacket is worth that much more. The real worth of the aforementioned dust jackets cannot be overstated when it comes to collectible books. These fragile protective wrappers are often moore valuable than the prose and pictures they guard.

Limited edition sporting books can prove to be valuable investments, but can also confuse beginning collectors who fail to do their homework. Many of today's touted "limited editions" are of press runs of 2,500 or more copies and are not worthy of the designation "limited." More important, they are not apt to appreciate in value in the future. True limited editions (those that were published in quantities of 1,000 or fewer copies)-like the more scarce Derrydale Press books, a handful of Amwell Press volumes (such as The Ruffed Grouse Book) and some privately printed offerings (such as those published by The Angler's Club of New York)-continue to be popular and worthwhile investments. Even in these volumes, keep in mind that condition is the most important consideration in your evaluation. Collectors are a fussy lot, and if you hope to succeed and make some money to enlarge your own collection, you must be fussy too.

Where to Look
Knowing something about sporting books is one thing; finding them is another. The surest way to locate the titles you desire is through one of the many reputable sporting-book dealers scattered around the nation. Auctions specializing in sporting books are another source-if you can be a patient collector and avoid getting caught up in the "sport" of bidding on sporting books, you can and will find treasures.

Sporting books turn up darn near everywhere. Yard and estate sales are proven hunting grounds. So too are thrift shops, church sales and antiques shops. I have picked up Derrydale books at thrift shops, rare editions of Roland Ward and Boone and Crockett record books at flea markets and well-maintained flyfishing books at local church fund-raisers. If you have ever moved, you know just how anxious people are to get rid of the weight of boxes of books when the moving van is in sight. It's up to you to be there when these treasures turn up. Watch your local papers for auctions and estate sales.

No matter how you pursue sporting books, I urge you to get a feel for the market by obtaining both auction and bookseller catalogs. The photos and descriptions are a quick course in judging condition, and the prices or minimums give you an idea of the price range for a variety of books. A small investment ($5 to $20) will pay big returns even if you never buy a book.

Among the leading sporting-book auctions are those run by Oinonen Book Auction (Dept. OL, Box 470, Sunderland, MA 01375). Worthwhile sporting-book catalogs are offered by: Anglers and Shooters Bookshelf (Dept. OL, P.O. Box 178, Goshen, CT 06756); Judith Bowman Books (Dept. OL, Pound Ridge Road, Bedford, NY 10506); Callahan & Co. (Dept. OL, Box 505, Peterborough, NH 03458); Gary Estabrook (Dept. OL, Box 61453, Vancouver, WA 98666); and Safari Press (Dept. OL, 15621 Chemical Lane #B, Huntington Beach, CA 92649-1506).