Collecting rare early or First Edition books doesn’t have to be a hobby reserved for multi-millionaires.
To be sure, books such as signed First Editions of Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” can have prices in the $300,000 range.
But there are very good reasons other than financial investment for seeking original, vintage books. Depending upon the subject matter, older books can offer an authentic perspective on history that cannot be provided by even the most imaginative modern writers.
Take the 1924 book “God’s Stepchildren” by Sarah Gertrude Liebson Millin, for example. This relatively forgotten book provides an authentic perspective on contemporary attitudes toward race and apartheid in South Africa.
“God’s Stepchildren” is the story of a preacher who traveled to Cape Town in 1821 to “spread the Word among the Hottentots.” It weaves stories of interracial relationships, trials and tribulations that extend through four generations.
Modern writers may be temped to either exaggerate or play down prevailing attitudes of race relations in the early 20th Century. But this book was written during a time when few people apologized for their attitudes. As one feminist reviewer stated:
“Some academics – including JM Coetzee – argue that any understanding of twentieth-century South African literature would be incomplete without her. I agree with them, particularly because Millin’s views on race before 1945 weren’t particularly unusual for the period, although this changed during the 1950s and 1960s as she became increasingly racist.”
The brutal honesty of the writing comes through in the first chapter:
“…they all now came to church, and such of them as had not done it before at last allowed themselves to be baptized.
The Rev. Andrew, his voice a little tired, his tall frame beginning to stoop, accepted their conversion as the first fruits of his sacrifice.
The people were all more friendly with him, too. He told himself that at last he had won them.
They despised him utterly, and his religion.”
God’s Stepchildren (1924) was hailed as a modern masterpiece by reviewers in the Times Literary Supplement and the Spectator. Yet it has been lost to more modern interpretations of race relations – many of which have lost their authenticity simply because so much time has passed.
An old, original book doesn’t have to sit unused on a shelf in order to provide value for today’s collector. You can start a collection that traces the history of your own industry, hobby, ethnic background, or personal interests.
And the older the book, the more vividly you can be transported back to another time.
You will literally be holding history in your hands!