Books to Treasure

Kerrie Cotton Williams celebrates a literary history

What inspired African American authors to write in the 20th century is the one question Kerrie Cotton Williams intends her budding collection of children’s books, novels, and fiction to answer decades from now. An archivist at the Auburn Avenue Research Library in Atlanta, Williams, 33, places a premium on historical value of our writings and often encourages others to build a library of record.

Categorize your collection by subjects, genres, or themes that excite you then focus on acquiring first editions. First editions by young authors can make a good investment. “[As writers] become acclaimed, [their] books become valuable.” An autographed first edition adds value. Inscribed copies are worth more. “Placing that person and that particular object in the moment is of historical value as well as monetary value,” explains Williams.

Preserve your books by always washing your hands before handling them. Also, appoint a display copy that can withstand changes in environment and a preservation copy that should be housed at a stable 70 degrees Fahrenheit away from fluorescent light and sunlight. Williams suggests storing papers “in alkaline folders or boxes, which create barriers between your materials and outside conditions.”

Acquaint yourself with the collecting community by attending book fairs. Most are sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (www.abaa.org). While there is no single price guide, the American Society of Appraisers (www.appraisers .org) can recommend certified appraisers, whose criteria include “physical condition, edition, manuscripts, or items related to [the author] or books in a repository or someone’s possession, and how your books relate to other books within a collection.”

A hand-corrected Ralph Ellison manuscript on onionskin paper or a Phyllis Wheatley first edition, both acquisitions of AARL (www.af.public.lib.ga.us/aarl), currently command five figures each.

Determine a legacy for your collection whether you bequeath it to relatives, donate it, or sell it to a repository. Civil rights activist and former mayor of Atlanta Andrew Young recently donated his books, handwritten correspondence, diaries, audio tapes, and photographs spanning 50 years of his life to AARL.

Insightful Reads On Book Collecting

  • Book Collecting 2000: A Comprehensive Guideby Allen and Patricia Ahearn (Putnam; $45.00)
  • ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter(Oak Knoll Press; $29.95)
  • Collectible Books: Some New Pathsby Jean Peters (Rr Bowker LLC; $39.95)
  • Modern Book Collectingby Robert A. Wilson (The Lyons Press; $16.95)
  • Collected Books: The Guide to Values 2002by Allen and Patricia Ahearn (Putnam; $75.00)
  • American Book Prices Current 2003(Bankcroft-Parkman; $165.00)
ACROSS THE WEB