Buying Books Search Tips

How to Buy Rare Books as Gifts

A book can be one of the best gifts ever received – a timeless piece of history, an individual work of art, a leatherbound compendium that holds dreams and desires. The best book gifts are ones that have taken a good deal of consideration on the part of the giver. This is especially true if the gift recipient is a book collector or other serious bibliophile.

First, we’ll cover a few important logistics like shipping speeds and book conditions, and then we’ll dive into brainstorming ideas for the perfect gift book.

Rare Book Buying Tips

Consider the Condition

When shopping on an online marketplace where there are ‘used’ as well as new books, it is best to pay close attention to its condition. Carefully read all of the details of the book description so you know what to expect, especially since you are buying a gift book without seeing or handling it yourself.

The standard terms for used book conditions are:

  • New: brand new from the publisher, no defects
  • As New or Fine: without defects
  • Near Fine: only minor defects
  • Very Good: some signs of wear
  • Good: a well-read copy with definite wear
  • Fair: shows significant wear, staining, or writing inside, but is complete and intact
  • Poor or Acceptable or Reading Copy: extremely significant wear, such as loose binding or pages, but still complete and readable.

Shipping Costs & Speeds

Don’t wait until the last minute to order a gift book. What if the perfect copy is overseas? It might take some time to arrange a timely delivery. Buying early ensures you get the special rare book you want at the price you want, and delivered with plenty of time for gift-wrapping!

When looking at shipping costs, pay attention both to the cost of shipping and the expected delivery date. Both shipping rates and estimated delivery times can vary widely among different sellers. Don’t be reluctant to pay a bit extra for faster shipping. You can review shipping rates and choose between standard or expedited shipping on the shopping cart page.

What to buy?

Now, to the truly important factors. Who are you buying for? What do they love? Take some time to think about the recipient of the book and make some notes.

  • Do they have a favorite author or illustrator?
  • What genre of books do they prefer to read?
  • Are they already a book collector? What do they collect?
  • What children’s books are they most nostalgic about?
  • Are they a traveler? Do they have a favorite destination?
  • What inspires them in the world of science, religion, or society?
  • What are their passions? Do they have any hobbies?
  • Who are their heroes or favorite celebrities?

Once you have started brainstorming, it’s time to get inspired. Here are a few ways to get exceptional copies of the right book for your beloved bibliophile.

Award-Winning Books

Add in a bit of chance to your selection and browse through lists of Literary award winners of years past. The Pulitzer, Edgar, National Book Award, Caldecott, or Newbery lists are the perfect way to find a collectible or illustrated edition of a popular favorite.

Add a personal touch by browsing with a special date in mind. Search the list of Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the birth year of your gift recipient and grab a nice copy of the year’s winner. When I looked up mine, I found it’s actually one of my favorite books: A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

First editions

For new and established book collectors, giving them the first edition of a beloved book might be an ideal gift that they’ll cherish forever!

While first editions have the reputation of being expensive, it really depends entirely on what you’re looking for.

Have a favorite author or book? Use the Advanced Search on Biblio and check the box for ‘first editions.’ You might be surprised – at the time of writing, you could find a beautiful first edition of the popular graphic novel Persepolis for under $30.

When searching for first editions, do a little research first to find out when the book was first published and by whom. You can go even deeper with learning about the ‘first edition points’ to avoid getting an Advanced Reader Copy, Book Club Edition, Paperback or Mass Market Paperback edition, or a later printing, unless that’s what you want. You can learn more in our article about How to Identify a First Edition Book.

A caveat: If your gift recipient is already an established book collector, they may already have the items you are considering purchasing for them. It is best to proceed with caution lest you give them something they already own or do not want for their collection. Sometimes it is worth it to forsake the element of surprise so that you know they are getting something they truly want to display and enjoy.

Signed Books

You might just light up the gift recipient’s day if you get them a book signed by their favorite author.

Signed First Editions
This is the creme de la creme of the collecting world – a signed first edition in fine condition.

Double-check and read the description clearly to make sure the item is actually signed by the author – sometimes it is signed by the illustrator or an actor for a book that was turned to film.

A good example of a modern first edition that is both affordable and desirable is Colson Whitehead’s award-winning Underground Railroad or his newest novel. A signed first UK edition of Harlem Shuffle can be found for under $50 USD.

Signed vs inscribed
Here’s an important distinction to consider when browsing for signed copies of books. In a bookseller’s descriptions, the word “signed” means the author has signed their name in the book. “Inscribed” means they signed it TO someone. When buying a gift an author’s signature is often preferred to an inscription, so you’re not giving “Aunt Sandy” something signed “To John.” Get more in-depth with our article from our Book Collecting Guide: “Signed vs Inscribed.

Is this signature real?

Signed books can be worth quite a bit of money. How you can be sure that a signature found in a book or document is indeed the real thing? When an expert isn’t available or practical, there are some tips that amateurs can use to get a better idea of whether a signature is real or not. Dive in with our Book Collecting Article, “How to Tell if a Signature is Real.

Collectible Editions & Beautiful Classics

Know someone who favors classics? Searching for their favorite title, Jane Eyre, with the keyword ‘illustrated’ and checking the box for ‘w/bookseller supplied photos’ and then sorting by highest price came up with some real beauties.

Leatherbound collectible Easton Press or Franklin Library editions of classics are not as expensive as first edition books, but they are quite lovely and are considered collectible.

Still not confident?

If you aren’t certain that you are going to be able to find the right gift, we do offer Biblio Gift Certificates in any amount. Customize and send one by email anytime and allow the book lover to browse to their heart’s content. They may feel a little bit impersonal, but ultimately, who doesn’t love the gift of free books?


  • Why, when a customer buys a book in “like new” or “very good” condition, is it shipped in a simple thin plastic bag allowing it to be damaged in shipment with bent corners, torn dust cover, etc. ? The book I purchased had the corners bent to bulging and an edge damaged. The shipment was failry quick but the packaging was terrible.

  • i have a Moravian book brought here by my great uncle about 1880….it is titled KANCYONAL ….not much damage , nothing missing , all the pages are there , printed in 1753…….is it worth anything .

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