Interest in collecting old, rare and out-of-print books dates back to late 18th- and early 19th-century British North America, as private collectors and institutional libraries developed extensive collections. Many of these collections were, and continue to be, of a general nature, though in more recent times many collectors and antiquarian book dealers have specialized in such areas as childrens' books, literary classics, military history, Arctica, Canadiana, modern first editions and art books, or they have concentrated on the work of individual authors, illustrators and publishers.
Adjectives such as rare, scarce and antiquarian tend to lack precise definition when applied to out-of-print and used books. The value of an older book may be determined by such factors as age, condition, first edition status, and importance of author or illustrator, though market value depends mostly on supply and demand pressures.
Antiquarian books reach the public market through estate and auction sales, book fairs and charity sales, and via second-hand book stores ranging in nature from the low-price, general stock used bookstore to the higher-price, more specialized antiquarian bookseller. Antiquarian book fairs are held on a regular basis in cities across the country.
The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Canada/Association de la librarie ancienne du Canada (ABAC/ALAC) was founded in 1966 to foster interest in rare books and manuscripts and to maintain standards in the antiquarian book trade. Today it numbers more than 60 member dealers from Halifax to Victoria. In 1979 the Amtmann Circle was founded as a book collectors' club and named in honour of the late Bernard Amtmann, Montréal bookseller and founding president of ABAC/ALAC. Numbering some 100 collectors, librarians and booksellers, it sponsored lectures, publications and grants-in-aid for research on book history and book-collecting topics before being eventually dissolved in 1989.