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Book Value

How do I know if I have a rare book worth money?

In the rare, collectible, out of print, and antiquarian book industry, there is no single set of standards for classifying any one item. Many variables – such as condition, provenance, edition, etc. – all contribute to a book’s status.

Millions of books, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, and broadsides have been published since the invention of printing more than 500 years ago. Only a small portion of these pieces, however, would be considered “rare” by specialists. In simple terms, books achieve a degree of rarity only when demand exceeds supply. Unfortunately, there are no easy formulas for determining rarity.

In the market-driven society in which we live, rare often equates with a high dollar value. But, as any book lover will tell you, books may appeal to us on an intellectual or sentimental level and have a true personal value for which no amount of money has any meaning. These books may be scarce but might not command a high price. Then there are those considered rare, and thus both scarce and valuable, by an objective collector.

The books in our Rare Book Room are not necessarily old or expensive, but they are all, to one degree or another, considered rare. Taken literally, the term rare is misleading. To be considered rare, a book must be more than just scarce; it must be scarce relative to the demand for it.

Beginning collectors often assume that because a book is very old it must be worth a great deal of money. But there are many, many books printed in the 1700s that have no real value; they are scarce, but not rare in the book collector’s sense of the word. Though just what does make a book desirable to collectors is much more difficult to answer, there are some common variables that often factor into the equation.

Sometimes only a particular edition of a book is rare, such as the first printing of a work, known as a first edition, a true first, a first issue or, sometimes, just a first. In some cases, it is the signature of the author, the artwork contained in the book, or the typesetting, layout, or binding of an edition that makes it desirable to the collector. The signature of the author might be the key to a book’s value, or, in the case of an association copy, the previous owner might be someone interesting or famous. Or, the information contained in the book may simply not be available anywhere else.

A book known to exist in only a few copies may have significant monetary value if collectors prize it.  However, a book without important text or distinguishing physical characteristics is likely to have little economic value, no matter how few copies survive.

Age is not enough to make a book valuable. No amount of time will make your grandmother’s collection of Reader’s Digest or National Geographic magazines pay your way through life. It is the importance of the text, the condition of the book, and demand for it that will make for a high dollar valuation. 

Learn more from our book value guide and start your research!

 

11 Comments

  • I have an old book from either my grandfather or grandmother title “The Victoria Regia” london 1861 I’m wondering what it worth has dark green and gold cover

  • I have a old book 1913 the study of composition. The author name is R W BROWN N W BARNES is this antique and is it worth some money?

  • I have an edition of A Prayer Book For Soldiers And Sailors printed for and distributed by the war commision in 1918. Does snyone know a value range for this piece?

  • I have 3 books that iam very curious about. 1Farmers almanac bicentennial issue 1976.2 The Story of Jesus told by Lloyd Edwin Smith illustrated by Henry E. Valley copyright 1934 1941 Whitman Publishing Co.

  • I have a book i am curious about. Geography Southern Lands. Barrows-Parker. Silver.burdett And Company.Copyright 1929 1933

  • I have Vol 1 2 3 of Howes Historical Collections of Ohio I think it was published in 1846. Volumn 1 is one book and two and three is the second book. Thank you!

  • I have a first edition of The Journey to the North Pole 1774, front cover is with book but not attached. Is this worth anything. The pages are so neat and the pull out maps and data are incredible. Very cool find for sure no matter its worth.

  • I have an old book by William Kent, it’s called London in the news and I can’t seem to find anything about it. My book is singed by the author and published by staples, I can’t find any others published by them, and I think it’s a first edition. I’m not entirely sure wheaten it could be worth something but I think it’s could be so if someone could help thanks.

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