Did you know?  Check our Rare Books Page

How Does One Collect the Books of a Great Collector Like Umberto Eco?

By Kristin Masters. Jan 5, 2014. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Umberto Eco, Book Collecting

Born on January 5, 1932 in Alessandria, Italy, Umberto Eco is one of the world's most prolific legendary authors. His family name is supposedly an acronym for Ex caelis oblatus ("A gift from heaven,") and was given to Eco's foundling grandfather by a city official. Eco's father was one of thirteen children. He urged his son to pursue a career in law: stable, lucrative, and prestigious. But Eco had other ideas. His career has led him to philosophy, semiotics, and literature. 

Eco is a collector of books himself, and he's built an enviable personal library of over 50,000 books. His philosophy of collecting is, however, a bit different than that of most rare book collectors. Eco views his library as a tool for research and information, and he values it not for the books he's already read, but for those that he has not yet read. To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Beinecke Library, he delivered an excellent lecture on the library as a model for culture at Yale University this past fall. 

Collecting Umberto Eco

Umberto Eco has been an incredibly prolific author. The genius and originality of his works have long made him an ideal focus for collectors of rare books, especially those who specialize in fiction, semiotics, or philosophy. But Eco also finds his way into collections of children's books and even poetry. A valuable Umberto Eco collection includes not only the "high spots" such as The Name of the Rose or Foucault's Pendulum, but also pieces Eco published in newspapers and magazines, along with his less known works. To that end, James Contursi's bibliography is absolutely necessary for building an Umberto Eco collection. The bibliography is quite thorough, and Contursi put it together with Eco's cooperation and support. Indeed, you'll find a number of Eco titles inscribed to Contursi in our inventory. 


Il nome della rosa

A medieval mystery set in a monastic library, Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose)is one of Eco's most beloved works. The tale is set in 1327, a time of tension between the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire. English Brother William of Baskerville is sent to investigate heresy among the monks at an Italian abbey. His task is overshadowed by a series of bizarre murders. This is a tale of books, librarians, patrons, censorship and the search for the truth. This first edition, in the original Italian, is signed by Eco on the title page. Details>>


Opera aperta

Eco's seminal, revolutionary work in the field of semiotics and critical theory, Opera aperta  (The Open Work) is a collection of essays pre-dating his move toward semiotics. Eco discusses the powerful concept of "openness", the artist's decision to leave arrangements of some constituents of a work to the public or to chance. This first edition in the original Italian is inscribed from Eco to his bibliographer James Contursi. Details>>



Appunti Per Una Semiologia Delle Comunicazioni Visive

First written for the use of students in his university lectures, these materials were later amplified and greatly modified and included in a more theoretically oriented form in La struttura assente (The Absent Structure). Published in the original Italian language, this volume is inscribed from Eco to Giuseppe Flores d'Arcais, considered the founder of the school of personalized pedagogy. It comes from the personal library of James Contursi. Details>>

Ammazza L'Uccellino

Eco doesn't limit himself to scholarly texts and sprawling novels. He has also delved into the world of children's literature. Ammazza l'uccellino is one of the few children's books that Eco published under his pseudonym Dedalus. This copy is inscribed from Eco to Contursi. Details>>


Filosofi in liberta 

Written under the pseudonym Dedalus, Filosofi In Libertà is Eco's second book, a collection of cartoons and poems portraying philosophers such as Aristotle, Kant, and Marx. It includes 15 cartoons by Eco himself. This particular copy is #370 of only 500. Details>>



Misreadings is a compilation of fifteen satirical essays in which Eco pokes fun at the oversophisticated, the overacademic, and the overintellectual. He makes penetrating comments about our modern mass culture and the elitist avant-garde. These essays originally appeared in the 1960s in the Italian periodical Il Verri and then in 1963 in Diario Minimo; they appear here for the first time in an English translation by William Weaver. Details>>


Belief or Nonbelief?

Eco co-authored Belief or Nonbelief? A Confrontation with Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini. The first English edition, translated by Minna Proctor, was published four years after the original Italian In cosa crede chi non crede?. Eco and Martini cover the philosophy of social values and religion; secular obsession with the new apocalypse; when human life begins; men and women according to the church; ethics without god; and violence and intolerance. This is a scarce volume, and it's quite rare to find in signed collectible condition, as this particular volume is. Details>>


Six Walks in the Fictional Woods

Originally presented at Harvard for the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in 1992 and 1993, these essays explore the intricacies of fictional form and method. It's a scarce title in any condition, and this pristine volume is signed by Eco on the title page. Details>>



Further Reading

Get your free Book Inventory Software

Kristin Masters
Master Content Brain. You think it, she writes it, no good thought remains unposted. Sprinkles pixie dust on Google+, newsletters, blog, facebook, twitter and just about everything else.


comments powered by Disqus


  • There are no suggestions because the search field is empty.

About this blog

How can I identify a first edition? Where do I learn about caring for books? How should I start collecting? Hear from librarians about amazing collections, learn about historic bindings or printing techniques, get to know other collectors. Whether you are just starting or looking for expert advice, chances are, you'll find something of interest on blogis librorum.

Get blog notifications per email:

Download the James Bond Dossier

Recent Posts

Book Glossary
Get your free Guide to Book Care

Blog Archive

> see older posts
A Guide to Historic Libraries Part I