Since childhood, Siep Kuijpers has been passionate about book collecting. He lives in the Netherlands and has been a teacher and book collector for over forty years. Acquiring limited edition books by his favorite authors is one of his most cherished pursuits. The horror, fantasy, and science fiction genres are his first literary loves, but he is also interested in unique graphic novels. Siep has graciously shared his collecting experiences with us in the following interview.
Books Tell You Why: When did you get interested in collecting books and how did you get started?
Siep: For as long as I can remember I have been interested in collecting books.
As a child I was a voracious reader and I amassed a large collection of Dutch children’s books. The books I treasured the most were a short series of seven books about the adventures of a baker and his wife, Inde Soete Suikerbol, by W.G. van de Hulst. These books were wonderfully creepy and funny at the same time and are still landmarks of our Dutch children’s literature.
We also had a great publisher, Bruna Books, and through Bruna I discovered amazing authors like H.P.Lovecraft, Robert Ervin Howard, Robert Bloch and Clark Ashton Smith. Bruna published a great series of Fantasy and Horror stories with intriguing titles like The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath (Lovecraft) and The Colossus of Ylourgne (Smith) and these titles alone were enough to get me running to our local bookstore, buy these books, and devour them.
Unfortunately, these editions were all Dutch translations. Still in my early teens, my grasp of the English language was insufficient to be able to read Lovecraft et al. in their original language. Fortunately, that changed during my high-school years. English was a mandatory subject and the moment I trusted myself to read a book in the English language I was there again, in my favorite bookstore, browsing through the English paperbacks selection! I became addicted to two authors whose complete works I simply had to collect: Agatha Christie and Alistair MacLean.
Before long my bookshelves were filled with a great combination of Dutch and English paperbacks, mainly from the horror, fantasy and science fiction genres, with a number of detective and adventure novels on the side.
Books Tell You Why: Could you describe your book collection? How has it changed over time?
Siep: Gone are my Dutch paperbacks. As my collection kept growing, I simply ran out of room and some books had to go. Besides, I was no longer interested in reading Dutch translations, so I passed them on to some of my friends who were.
And gone are my English paperbacks. The moment I could afford them, I started collecting hardcover editions. Again, I passed my collection of paperbacks on to interested friends and bought my first hardcover editions.
And that was the beginning of my current collection: hardcovers by my favorite authors. Sounds simple, but I forgot to mention that I discovered first printings of first editions. And limited editions, numbered, lettered, and signed by the author! There was a whole world out there I knew nothing about and over the years, first editions - and limited editions especially - have become the focus of my collection.
I have stayed true to the authors I first fell in love with, from Lovecraft to Christie, but my list of favorites has grown: the works of Stephen King have become the cornerstone of my collection, but I also collect authors like Dan Simmons, Stephen Donaldson, Robert McCammon, George R. R. Martin and Steven Erikson.
Books Tell You Why: Where do you find books for your collection? Do you chase books or authors?
Siep: Before the internet, actual, physical bookstores were my favorite place to discover new treasures. Actually, they still are.
But to really keep up with what’s going on with my favorite authors, I rely on a number of book forums and online small-press publishers.
I just have to mention Cemetery Dance Publications, a specialty press publisher of my kinds of fiction. Their special editions are the cornerstones of my collection and their Stephen King limiteds are without peer.
Then there’s Subterranean Press, another specialty press publisher. SubPress is doing great series of limited books by McCammon (the Matthew Corbett historical novels), Erikson (his amazing Malazan Book of the Fallen fantasy books) and Martin (the A Song of Ice and Fire novels) in beautiful, affordable editions.
As far as forums go, www.thedarktower.org and Cemetery Dance’s very own (http://forum.cemeterydance.com/forum.php) must be mentioned here. The amount and quality of the information found on these sites is unsurpassed, and the collections showcased by members are the best to be found anywhere.
Whenever I find a book I particularly like, I just have to collect the complete works of the author. This happened with King, after having read The Stand, with Donaldson after having read the first book in his amazing Thomas Covenant series, with George Martin after having fallen in love with one of the best vampire novels out there, Fêvre Dream and with McCammon after having read his very first novel, Baal.
My collection consists of complete sets of books, or as complete as I can make it, by a number of authors. I try to collect the UK 1st/1sts (first edition, first printing), the US 1st/1st and if they are out there, the limited editions of these books.
Books Tell You Why: What was your most memorable acquisition?
Siep: For a number of years I lived in Vancouver, British Columbia. On Saturday afternoons I always visited the Golden Age Collectables store, a small place filled with treasures in the shape of old and new comics, games, cards, collectibles, graphic novels, posters….and Stephen King limiteds.
I could not believe my eyes when one rainy afternoon I discovered the Donald M. Grant limited of King’s haunted car novel, Christine. It was safely stored behind glass, where no one could touch it – darn! Of course I asked if I could see the book and there it was, in my hands, a limited book actually signed by King himself. It was the numbered edition with a price tag of $100. Not even too bad, considering the original price for this book was $65.00, but one hundred dollars was an awful lot of money for me in those days – still is, actually.
Empty handed, I left Golden Age Collectables, of course to return the next Saturday to do some more drooling. To make a long story a bit shorter, I finally took the plunge and bought my very first Stephen King Limited Edition.
And that was the shape of things to come.
Books Tell You Why: Some people imagine that book collecting is a hobby only for the very wealthy. How do you collect books on a teacher’s salary?
Siep: I am definitely not very wealthy. Teachers in the Netherlands are reasonably well paid, but don’t look for millionaires in our midst.
My secret, if that’s what you want to call it, is simple: as you can spend your euro only once, make sure you spend it wisely. In my case, this means that I put aside part of my income each month. That money simply goes into my savings account and I do not touch it again until the time comes…a holiday….or another limited edition.
As I’m very good at making sure I don’t overspend, (so I don’t have to make an unexpected return to my savings) and book-wise I stick to acquiring the books I really want and know are coming, this works for me.
Of course there are the unexpected announcements, like the recently published Taschen edition of The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Taschen books don’t come cheap and as I really really really wanted this book I did have to make an exception to the rule. But that’s what a savings account is for, right?
Books Tell You Why: How do you define the "value" of your collection (financial, completeness, rarity)?
Siep: To me, the emotional value outweighs any other criterion. For instance, I used to collect a series of comic books, published by the US-based Warren Publishing company. There were three, rather juvenile, series of books; Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. Storywise, these books may have been juvenile indeed, but they featured the most gorgeous artwork by the best artists ever to have worked in the comics industry.
Although I had almost collected a complete set of each series, when I moved back from Canada to the Netherlands I just could not bring them along.
And now, decades later, Dark Horse Publishers is doing a series of gorgeous reprint editions of the Creepy and Eerie titles, while Dynamite is doing the Vampirella Archives. Although I have outgrown these series, I thoroughly enjoy collecting and re-reading these amazing comics again, and together with my King books these series are my pride and joy and have earned their place amongst my most valuable (book) possessions.
And I did not even mention the fantastic set of reprints Fantagraphics is doing with the works of Carl Barks and Don Rosa (Donald Duck et al.) and Floyd Gottfredson (Mickey Mouse). It’s absolutely wonderful to be able to revisit these lost childhood treasures, and to treasure them all over again.
I never rate my books on a financial scale, as I collect books to read and display, not to re-sell. I do love rare editions, though, and am a bit of a completist. At least, I try to be as much as possible.
Books Tell You Why: How do you decide what book to buy next?
Siep: I usually know in advance when a certain book I want is about to be published. So when a particular date arrives, I am ready.
Doesn’t always work out that way, though. For example, I was really keen on ordering the lettered edition of McCammon’s They Thirst, available through Subterranean Press, and only up for pre-order if another McCammon lettered (Baal, also a SubPress title) was in your possession. As I didn’t own that particular title, I had to wait until the lettered They Thirst became available to the general public. Well, it did, and I was too late to order it. The five books left were gone within a couple of minutes after the announcement came.
Whenever Cemetery Dance announces one of their Stephen King limiteds, there’s a world-wide scramble to get a lettered, or even numbered, copy. These usually are gone within an hour (lettered, 26 or 52 copies) or a couple of hours (numbered, a few hundred copies).
So I can decide to buy a copy, but that doesn’t always mean I’ll be successful in actually acquiring it. But then there’s always eBay….
Books Tell You Why: What is your favorite book in your collection? What makes it special?
Siep: I do not think I have just one favorite book in my collection. If I have to mention just three, they would be:
Stephen King: Christine (the Donald M. Grant limited). The why I explained above.
Stephen King: IT (Cemetery Dance) – the lettered edition. Only 52 copies were published. This edition sold out within 25 minutes after the announcement was made. And I was lucky to get myself a copy – it’s one gorgeous edition! It’s my second favorite King novel and I had to wait 25 years for this edition.
W.G. van de Hulst: Inde Soete Suikerbol – reprints. I no longer owned the originals and was ecstatic when, in 1994, these books were reprinted in their original form. Not rare, not limited, not expensive, but to me, priceless. They recall a childhood long gone, but fondly remembered.
Books Tell You Why: What is your take on reading books in your collection?
Siep: There’s no greater joy than actually reading my limited editions. I know there are collectors who never even touch their limiteds, keep them in boxes carefully stowed away, or maybe, just maybe, handle them while wearing gloves. That’s actually one of the reasons Stephen King is not too fond of the limited edition market. He feels books are there to be read, not hoarded and re-sold at a terribly inflated price.
So, once they arrive, I unpack my limited books, look at them from all sides (not wearing gloves), open them (carefully!) to admire the artwork, savour the smell (nothing beats the smell of a gorgeous limited edition…) and proudly display them on my shelves. And no, I do not use mylar covers either.
My books are there for my enjoyment, not for the secondary book market.
Books Tell You Why: What advice would you give to a novice collector?
Siep: Don’t get sidetracked by what others find important. Especially don’t let financial gain become your focus – although there’s nothing wrong with selling or reselling books. I’ve done it myself.
Follow your heart. Make up your mind about what you love in books, about books, which authors you admire. Set yourself a goal you feel you’re able to attain, and then…go for it.
Put your heart into your collection.
Many thanks to Siep for contributing this interview. Feel free to respond to him and his collection in the comments section below.