Book collecting: ‘People get a feeling for a book and they must have it’

‘First Editions’ in Dublin’s Ballsbridge is a popular destination for book lovers

Who collects books these days? "Mostly men in their 50s and upwards," according to Allan Gregory the proprietor of 'First Editions' who specialises in rare and antiquarian books.

“People get a feeling for a book and they must have it,” he says, describing book collecting as a “gentle madness”. Most collectors are motivated by pleasure and not investment although rare books can be very valuable.

Gregory, a retired engineer, opened the shop in 2012 – a brave move during an economic recession which hammered the book trade.

The shop is located in Pembroke Lane off Waterloo Road in Dublin 4, close to the junction with Upper Baggot St and not to be confused with the other Pembroke Lane in the Fitzwilliam area of Dublin 2.


Although slightly off the beaten path, ‘First Editions’ is really worth a visit and the contents will delight book lovers of all types and ages.

The main category for book collectors is 'modern first editions' – essentially first edition copies of novels published during the last 100 years. Some of these can be very valuable – most famously first editions of Ulysses that can fetch tens of thousands of euro. But generally, this is one of the most accessible and affordable fields of collecting and the shop, aptly given its name, has an excellent stock.

Gregory sells books by Irish and international authors and he says the most collectible Irish novels include those by James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, John Banville, John McGahern, Elizabeth Bowen and Colm Tóibín while the most sought-after international authors include Graham Greene, John le Carré, Agatha Christie and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The shop also stocks antiquarian books, children's books (including works by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and Patricia Lynch) and excellent selections of biography, history and poetry.

Poetry, says Mr Gregory, is "a very niche area for collectors and becoming niche-er and niche-er". The most sought-after volumes by modern Irish poets are those by W.B. Yeats, Séamus Heaney, Richard Murphy, John Montague and Paul Durcan while "on the international poetry side, the main names are T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and Ted Hughes".

He also stocks volumes by the traditional greats including Byron, Wordsworth and Shelley.

Collectors aside, Gregory says the shop, not surprising given its location, also does a steady trade in supplying rare Irish books as gifts for special occasions – especially to embassies seeking ‘presentation’ copies for visiting VIPs or departing diplomats.

One of the best-selling books in the shop isn't rare or antiquarian. The Little Book of Ballsbridge by Hugh Oram – a fascinating compendium of local lore – is popular with newcomers to the area.

A random selection from the current stock (from a huge and eclectic selection) in 'First Editions' includes: Troubles by J.G. Farrell – described as "the very scarce first edition copy of a novel published in 1970 and priced at €1,650; " a signed copy of the 1976 novel Doctor Copernicus by John Banville €250; 'Travels of an Irish Gentleman in search of a Religion' by Thomas Moore published in 1833 and priced at €150; Flowers from Many Gardens by 'A Christian Brother' – a school text book anthology of poems, published in Dublin in 1935, described as "a beautiful copy and extremely rare", priced at €120; and Michael Collins (A biography) by Tim Pat Coogan, €75.

‘First Editions’, 7 Pembroke Lane (off Waterloo Rd) Dublin 4 is open 12 noon to 6pm Wednesday to Saturday and the website is