Digest>Archives> November 1995

Collecting Lighthouse Books

How to Locate Those Hard-to-Find Old Books


Lighthouse book collecting is but one of many topics associated with lighthouses. New books abound in local book stores or in catalogues from Lighthouse Digest, Shore Village Museum and other sources. But, obviously, there comes a time when you have every single book that has been printed in recent memory, provided you are a serious, or even rabid, collector. Your bookshelves are sagging, but you want more. You start looking for out-of-print lighthouse books and visit every old, rare, and out-of-print book store within a certain radius of your home. If you are lucky, you might find one or two more items for your collection. It seems that they are almost non-existent. After all, the book stores have several or even dozens of books on topics you have never heard of before, but not a single book on lighthouses. There is no reason to be discouraged; you simply have to be very adventurous. If you have the desire to do a lot of weekend traveling or love a good challenge, you might find the following hints helpful in your quest to find lighthouse books (unfortunately, if you are very successful, you might find the size of your wallet diminishing rapidly).

1. Make yourself known. You may stop at an out-of-the-way book store several times and never find a lighthouse book. This should not deter you from stopping one more time. First of all, it is that time you do not stop that they often have a book you are looking for. Second, by stopping by often, the dealer realized that you have a serious interest in lighthouse books. This may be an incentive for the bookseller to look for lighthouse books to add to his stock or to see if he has one that has been buried in the back room of the store. If possible, leave your phone number and/or address in case the dealer finds a book of interest to you.

2. Always stop at every book store. On your travels, you might decide not to stop at a certain book store because it does not look "promising". Do not pass it. It might happen that no one else looking for lighthouse books stopped there, and a treasure trove is waiting to be discovered. If possible, stop at group shops of antique dealers or at antique stores that have a small selection of old, rare, or out-of-print books. Again, you never know what you may find.

3. Don't limit yourself to heavily traveled areas or to stores located by the coast. Many other people who are looking for lighthouse books generally stop there. Instead, travel the extra ten miles inland and visit some of the more out-of-the-way stores. They, generally, are not as frequently visited by lighthouse-book collectors. It bears repeating that these stores may also have several or even a dozen books on lighthouses.

4. When you go into a store, visit all of the sections that may have lighthouse books. For example: nautical, New England, the sea, navigation, Cape Cod, England...very rarely is there a section entitled lighthouses. If you find one book, keep on looking. Other books might be in different areas of the same section. If all else fails, or if you are really serious, ask the dealer if he has any books on lighthouses. They might keep some in a completely different section, such as "architecture", or in a display case.

5. If you open the book and see a price that is a little too high don't worry. When you purchase the book, ask the dealer if he will take less for it. If you are more daring, ask if he will take X amount of dollars for the book. Many times, they will lower the price for you. If there are several books that you don't have, buy all of them. You might be able to get a discount or a reduced price. It never hurts to try.

6. There is a simple equation that you may find helpful: SEE IT + DON'T HAVE IT = BUY IT. This is true even if the price might be a little on the steep side. One of the worse things you can do is procrastinate and decide to buy it later, or not buy it at all. You might kick yourself when you realize that you gave up an opportunity to buy a book you really wanted. Now, if you are not able to devote much time to visiting book stores, it may be helpful to subscribe to some catalogues from old, rare and out-of-print book dealers. Some such catalogues are specialized and only contain, for example, nautical books. The addresses of these mail-order dealers can be found in lighthouse journals or in magazines about nautical antiques. There are some drawbacks:

1. The prices are generally firm; you cannot negotiate and try to get a lower price. In some cases the prices can be much higher than what you would pay in a book store.

2. You have to call and reserve/order the item you want as soon as you get your catalogue. Many times, you will not be able to get the item you desire. Some dealers, however, keep a list of people who want that particular book and notify them at later dates if they find another copy.

3. If you come home late from work, this option may not be desirable. By that time, many of the items will probably have been sold. There is some hope, however. There are mail-order dealers who start taking calls in the evening. It unfortunately must be stressed that the number of dealers who offer this very helpful convenience is extremely small.

If you have bought every book you see and still want more, you are not out of luck, although you might need to buy another bookshelf. There are many other books that contain a great deal of information on lighthouses but do not quite fit in the category of "lighthouse books". The following is a brief list of other possible sources:

1. Coast pilots. These are put out by private individuals and by government agencies, such as the familiar tan coast pilot put out by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey prior to the 1960's. These generally have descriptions of lighthouses, small lists of the characteristics of the lighthouses including signal, foghorns, and the like. Some of the earlier ones have pull-out sections with engravings of the coastline as seen at a certain distance out to sea. Many of these engravings also include lighthouse towers. These books are very easily located and can be had for less than $5 each.

2. Light lists. These are exactly what the title says they are: lists of lights with the characteristics, fog signals, and other information. If you are doing research or are interested in a particular station, or just like to have piles of bare facts at your hands, these might by ideal. They generally run form $2 to $10 each for those produced after the 1950's.

3. Sailing directions. These are similar to coast pilots, however, they generally cover areas other than the United States. The Defense Mapping Agency and the Hydrographer of the Navy (a British organization, I think) have put out these guides. They generally contain descriptions of lighthouses and may have small photos or drawings of the more important ones. This is an easy and inexpensive way to learn a little about foreign lighthouses. They may go from $4 to $10.

4. There are many other books that contain a wealth of lighthouse information. However, their covers or titles do not hint at what might be inside. The only way you can tell is to open a book and find out. You might be able to get an unassuming book on lighthouses for very little money.

As time goes on, your collection will hopefully grow, maybe beyond your wildest dreams. You might have to get a new bookcase before your old one weakens the floor and falls through. You might be spending more money on books than what you spent during your school days (although, for those of us who are younger, this seems to be a very impossible feat). But, that should not matter in the least. There is nothing more relaxing, enjoying, or simply satisfying than sitting down to read a good book whether it just came out last week or it is over 100 years old and has browned pages and a very peculiar feel to it. Whatever you do, good luck in finding the lighthouse books of your choice.

This story appeared in the November 1995 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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