Building up a library of books on antiques and collectibles can cost a small fortune. Dozens of tempting illustrated coffee-table books, some of them costing as much as the rarities they describe, hit the bookstores every season. But there are alternatives if you're willing to sacrifice color and gloss for compact formats and no-nonsense data. All of the following recent publications, for example, sell for less than $20.
"The Antique Trader Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide," edited by Kyle Husfloen (Babka Publishing Co.) is one of the Big Four competing general price guides. This one contains more than 65,000 items with detailed descriptions and more than 1,500 illustrations plus several in-depth articles on such subjects as Stickley furniture and Christmas collectibles.
Among the best bargain bets are several series put out by various specialist publishers. One of the most highly recommended is the "Collector's Guide" group from Wallace-Homestead. The most recent titles include "Collector's Guide to Quilts," by Suzy McLellan Anderson; "Collector's Guide to Treasures From the Silver Screen," by John Hegenberger; and "Collector's Guide to Victoriana," by O. Henry Mace.
All the books in the series contain a historic overview of the subject, valuable tips on collecting and care and, rather than specific prices, an informed assessment of the market.
Both entertaining and fascinating are the Athenaeum of Philadephia/Dover Publications reproductions of vintage catalogs. A current issue of particular interest to collectors is the large-format "Jordan, Marsh Illustrated Catalog of 1891."
A third series is the "Official Price Guides" published by House of Collectibles. Representative of these is the new "The Official Price Guide to Linens, Laces and Other Fabrics," by Alda Leake Horner, which offers history, collecting tips and market trends for linens, lace, rugs, quilts, coverlets and samplers, as well as a guide to museum collections.
Heavier on color graphics is "Classic Miniature Vehicles Made in France," by Edward Force (Schiffer Publishing), author of several similar volumes on Corgi, Dinky, Matchbox and other minivehicles. In the present volume, more than 39 manufacturers are represented, with nearly 2,000 examples illustrated in color.
Every merchandising character, from Mr. Clean to Mr. Whipple, the Jolly Green Giant to the California Raisins, is included in the delightful "Character Trademarks," by John Mendenhall (Chronicle Books). Divided along gender/genus lines -- female, male, child, animal, anthropomorphic -- the book successfully relates these icons to American character, commerce and culture.