Collecting Books of Legendary Authors: Umberto Eco

“To read fiction means to play a game by which we give sense to the immensity of things that happened, are happening, or will happen in the actual world. By reading narrative, we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative — the reason people tell stories, and have told stories from the beginning of time.” 


Eco_UmbertoBorn 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. 

Eco has made quite a name for himself as a philosopher, author, and semiotician. He's also earned a reputation for being an enthusiastic collector of rare books. Eco has amassed tens of thousands of books, and always observes that he hasn't read most of them. Yet his personal library plays an important role for him as a writer, informing his books with a unique--and fascinating--intertextual layer.

Umberto Eco as Consummate Book Collector

In his book, The Black Swan, scholar Nassim Nicholas Taleb uses Umberto Eco as an example of someone who truly understands what a personal library should be and points to him as someone who's actually built an "anti-library"; that is, a collection of books that one has not read yet. After all, "unread books are much more valuable than read ones." Eco would agree. He separates visitors into two categories: those who see his library and immediately ask how many of the 30,000 volumes he's read, and those who see the library (in Taleb's words) "not as an ego-boosting appendage but as a research tool."


Umberto Pregliasco, proprietor of Pregliasco Libraria Antiquaria in Turin, has often corresponded with Eco regarding volumes Eco desired for his library. Pregliasco credits Eco with making the world much more aware of medieval literature, and he also wonders whether it is "the writer's need that guides the collection, or if possession of certain books inspires the writing." Pregliasco calls The Name of the Rose a "book built on books," noting that Eco pulled from antique texts on herbana, drugs, labyrinths, and the Inquisition.

Then for Foucault's Pendulum Eco drew from books on Rosicrucianism and alchemy, among many others. Pregliasco says that "even the index is a downright him to bibliophily." There are so many allusions and references in the novel that only a real scholar would catch them all. For Baudolino, Eco used texts about Barbarossa, the Crusades, and the siege of Casale (just to name a few). Read more.

How Does One Collect the Books of 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 Eco's newspaper publications and lesser-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. Read more.


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James L. Contursi: Umberto Eco: An Annotated Bibliography Of First And Important Editions

Umberto Eco's preface to Contursi's annotated bibliography explains that he is very impressed that bibliographers and scholars like Contursi do research and investigate for them. A comprehensive compilation of non-periodical publications, allowing for full bibliographical description. An essential source for the student of Umberto Eco.


An Interview with Moshe Prigan, A Collector of Umberto Eco (Part One of Two)


Books Tell You Why: What is your favorite book in your collection? What makes it special?

Moshe: All Umberto Eco academic books written before 1960 are good collectable items and his second academic work Sviluppo dell’estetica medievale (Development of Medieval Aesthetics) in Momenti e problemi di storia dell’esteticaparte 1, written in 1959, is especially important to me.

This book is from Eco’s early academic career, when he was a 27-year-old assistant lecturer in aesthetics at the University of Turin. He wrote it in 1959, five years after his first doctoral work (which I am currently trying to obtain).

When I presented him this book for signing,his eyebrows rose up a bit and he chuckled, saying:

“It has been years and years since I had seen or thought of this book.”

For me, such a declaration from Umberto Eco makes the book special.  Read more>>

Collecting Rare First Editions of Umberto Eco 

Books Tell You Why: Where do you find books for your collection?  Do you chase books or authors?

Moshe: I have found most of my Umberto Eco books in Italian antiquarian bookstores. I contact them through email or by phone and keep in touch between purchases; likewise, they let me know if they acquire something that might attract my interest.

When I can’t find Eco books in Italy, I search exhaustively in Switzerland, France, Brazil and the States looking for libri italiani stores.

I’ve also tried eBay – but be careful! You should be very familiar with the author’s work and know what is or isn’t worth your effort. You should ask the sellers many questions since eBay is full of dangerous “landmines.” Not all sellers give a full description of the book (condition, first printing) so it’s important to clarify with them. I have managed to find unsigned books on eBay and then I work to get the author’s signature later.


I do “chase” certain authors by following their literary event schedule and finding creative ways to get their signatures. If I have a friend living in an area the author is visiting—or even just a friend of a friend – I ship them some of my books and hope for a miracle to happen.

This is what happened with the rare pamphlet, Il Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano. It contains protest songs written in 1962 by the musicians and authors who founded the group Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano in Milan. Two of the songs were composed by Umberto Eco (Ventiquattro Megatoni and Tuppe Tuppe Colonnello). I sent the booklet, along with several other books, to my friend in Connecticut. He went to the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, New Haven, where Eco was giving a public lecture and Eco signed the pamphlet next to one of his songs. Read more>>


Featured Umberto Eco Books

The Name of the Rose

Opera Aperta

Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language

Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose

Umberto Eco: Opera Aperta

Umberto Eco: Semiotics
A medieval mystery set in a monastic library. 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. In the original Italian. Eco's seminal, revolutionary work in the field of semiotics and critical theory, a collection of essays pre-dating his move toward semiotics. Opera Aperta (The Open Work) 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. In the original Italian language.

Professor for Semiotics Umberto Eco covers the tradition of the doctrine of signs from symbolic and allegorical readings of the Holy Scriptures, insights of the fields of philosophy and rhetoric to the various positions of modern literary criticism. 

Filosofi In Libertà

The Limits of Interpretation

How to Travel with a Salmon 

 Umberto Eco: Filosophi in Liberta  Umberto Eco: Limits of Interpretation  Umberto Eco: How to Travel with a Salmon

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. With 15 cartoons by Umberto Eco. In the original Italian language. 

Although there is some overlap with I limiti dell'interpretazione, and contains some texts from Sugli specchi, it is substantially different from Contursi A030, and Eco prefers to regards it as a separate work (from communication between Contursi with the author).  A collection written during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Topics of the 41 satirical essays include militarism, computer jargon, Westerns, art criticism, librarians, bad coffee, fax machines, and telegrams. A translation by William Weaver.  

 Browse Umberto Eco Books



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