Unearthing anthropology

By Michael Utt author of article
Source: O.P. World, May 1998

The study of anthropology is the study of man—that fascinating creature with all its various cultures, histories and quirks. For the collector, this area offers numerous fields and endless choices in collection focus and investment costs. For the dealer, anthropology requires knowledge of the various fields as well as some knowledge of the rarity and value of the literature in order to sell to the collector.

My own collection began as a young undergraduate in Latin American Studies. But often my research in the university library came to a stop when I discovered that the book I wanted had been checked out to a professor. In those days, the rules allowed the professor to check out a book indefinitely, thus the book often became an addition to the professor's private collection. So I began to search used bookstores locally and wherever I traveled for anthropological materials. After thirty years of collecting I'd accumulated eight thousand volumes which became the base for starting my business.

Anthropology Defined

Before we can discuss the literature of anthropology we must know what it is. The word anthropology comes from the Greek word anthro (man) and ology (the study of). Hence, anthropology is the study of man. More specifically, this field is divided into several major areas of study: Physical Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Anthropology, Linguistics, and Social Anthropology.

Most people are familiar with archaeology, which has been conducted in varying degrees since the Romans plundered the Egyptian tombs. In the "New World," scientists began exploring areas which later would become significant archaeological sites. Many of the valued works of archaeological literature were created as a result of these early explorations. Two books from archaeologists John Stephens and one from Frederick Catherwood were written during their expeditions through Central America in the early l800's. There they discovered the lost cities of the Maya, and now, these books are very rare and quite valuable. Recently Catherwood's Views of the Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan (1844) sold at auction for over $32,500.

Physical anthropology delves into the evolutionary development of mankind. From the works of Charles Darwin to Louis Leakey's focus on the missing link out of Africa, the study of mankind's history has produced abundant literature. Even mystery writers have use physical anthropologists as characters in their novels. For example, in Martin Cruz Smith's novel, Gorky Park, detective Arkady turned to a physical anthropologist to reconstruct physical characteristics of the deceased. Now, first editions of the works of Charles Darwin can command $13,000 or more, and some works of Leakey will sell for several hundred dollars.

Social anthropology studies the institutions which allow cultures to function. Some institutions common to all cultures are family, subsistence (or economics), religion, government and law. These are some of the subjects early anthropologists Lewis H. Morgan, Edward B. Tyler, and Sir John Lubbock (Lord Avebury) wrote about. Works like Ancient Society, Primitive Culture and The Origin of Civilization and the Primitive Condition of Man were stepping stones to the studies of modern anthropologists Robert H. Lowie and Alfred A. Kroeber.

Cultural anthropology discusses the nature of a specific people or group. This area of anthropology has undoubtedly been published more than any other, as most anthropologists specialize in a particular group of culture. Oscar Lewis' work on the culture of poverty in Pedro Martinez and La Vida examines the Puerto Rican and Mexican cultures within a culture. Other examples include Margaret Mead, who writes about the South Pacific; Edward Im Thurns, who writes about the Indians of Guiana; and Henry Morgan, who has written on the Iroquois of North America.

Although literature about the area of linguistics has enthralled anthropologists for decades, there are fewer books available on the subject. This is probably the most complex field of study in anthropology, however, in The First Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology of the Smithsonian Institution (1880) four of the nine accompanying articles were on linguistic studies.Kenneth Pike's monumental work Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behavior (1967) still has one of the most complete bibliographies on the area of linguistics.

An Invaluable Apprenticeship

After graduating with a degree in Latin American Studies with majors in Anthropology and History, I attended graduate school and soon discovered that my personal library was superior to the local university's. Word got around and soon many of the faculty began "borrowing" titles from me. As I continued to make buying trips, I began to pick up titles for the faculty and my fellow students. Later this became my customer base when the business was formed.

I had the good fortune to study under a number of very knowledgeable professors. Also, many of my peers later went on to become very well- known in their respective fields. One of the friendships developed during those years was with Fred Hall, who was working on his graduate degree. He was on sabbatical from the Newbery Library in Chicago, where he served as curator of the Latin American rare book collection. Through the years of studying and working together, I gained an apprenticeship on rare books that would never have been available to me. Fred used to pass on to me the dealer's catalogs he would receive for the library after he had reviewed them. Once, I recall, I noticed that he reviewed a rather thick catalog in minutes. Since it would usually take me thirty minutes or longer to go through a catalog, I asked him how he could examine all those titles so quickly. He informed me that he only examined books priced above one thousand dollars. The library would not be interested in anything priced less.

Through my professors, peers, and Fred Hall, I was able to compile a bibliography of literature relative to my interest. I have never found a bibliography specifically related to general anthropology, but I have discovered that texts on general anthropology printed over the years are great sources for bibliographic material. These texts also invariably present a very concise history of theory for the field of anthropology through history.

Gathering Reference Sources

Although my business, The Book Collector, specializes in general anthropology, we focus on pre-Columbian cultures with an emphasis on cultural contact between the indigenous populations and European cultures. There are a number of bibliographies in this area, but I have found the Handbook of Middle American Indians, published by the University of Texas Press, the most thorough resource for Middle American Cultures. The seven-volume set of the Handbook of South American Indians published by the Bureau of American Ethnology, although dated, has proven to be one of the better sources for South American Native cultures. There are also a number of proven bibliographies on specific North American cultures. The Handbook of North American Indians, Howes and Sabin are good general sources. I have discovered that most sources are written by Europeans with a cultural bias. First printings are in English, Spanish, French, Dutch, German Portuguese and Russian. The Book Collector focuses on works in English, English translations, and Spanish publications in the field. The Hakluty Society publishes books on voyages, exploration, and discovery- works that are currently hard to find. Works like the five-volume edition of Captain James Cook's three voyages of discovery and exploration have become valuable resources. A Hakluty Society edition with charts can be obtained for around $1,500, whereas to assemble first editions of the three voyages would cost $35,000. The society, which began publishing in 1847, has published over three hundred volumes on exploration and travel, and continues to publish today.

In Middle America many cultures had their own writing. These works, known as "codices", or pictorial writings, give a different cultural perspective on the history and cultural makeup of the indigenous peoples. Many, but not all, of these have been published throughout the centuries. There are over a thousand known "codices" in various libraries and institutions throughout the world. One of the more famous, the Kingsboro Codex, also known as Antiquities of Mexico, was published in nine volumes between 1830 and 1838 and recently sold at auction for $60,000. However, the cost to obtain these "codices" are not always prohibitive. The publishers at the University of Texas, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Arizona, and the University of Utah have reproduced many of these codices. Now, a student or collector can obtain the recently published Borgia Codex from the University of Oklahoma for $156.

Where The Buyers Are

Our clientele is largely made up of professors of Anthropology and History from universities throughout the world. These individuals are less interested in the condition of the material, than in having a good "working" copy of the publication.

Another buyer of this material is the collector. They prefer a quality first edition, but will often accept an edition which has been professionally restored. The third buyer of anthropological material is the person who is interested in a specific cultural group. Although they are seeking quality, they will accept a "working" copy and will often upgrade later. The last primary purchasers of this material are university libraries, which usually replace copies of materials that have been lost, destroyed or stolen.

Consumer Demand Increasing Value

In the last few years, subjects in this area of book dealing have steadily appreciated. There are a number of reasons for this. One is there are more people chasing a limited number of copies. Also, movies like "Indiana Jones" have generated more interest in this field so more lay people are discovering this area of research. But an even more significant reason is the price of University Press titles. Whereas new book prices of the major publishing houses have climbed to the twenty-five dollar range for new titles; a University Press publication often starts at fifty dollars and can command a one hundred dollar price or higher. Because University Presses tend to print a limited number of copies and more individuals are becoming interested in cultural histories, the demand for Anthropology literature is increasing. As an example, the Bureau of American Ethnology, which has published over two hundred volumes before its last volume in 1971, originally sold for less than five dollars. Even ten years ago many of these volumes could be purchased in most used book stores for no more than $25. Today they are commanding $50 to several hundred dollars, and the seven-volume Handbook of South American Indians is selling for $900.

There are a number of other dealers who specialize in Anthropology. I think one of the better ones is Collin's Books in Seattle and COAS books in Las Cruces. COAS even occasionally publishes archaeological works in New Mexico by Anthropologists who are unable to find an outlet for their work. As more dealers begin to specialize, more individuals will begin to focus on the field of Anthropology, or one of the sub- disciplines in the field.

The Book Collector is an Internet-based business formed in 1993. Our specialties include Anthropology, Chess, Mystery/Detective Fiction, and Ethnic Literature. In addition to listing books on the Internet, we produce individual catalogs in our areas of specialty. We can be reached at (817) 927- 7595.