Collecting Books What To Collect

100 Years of Book Collecting – Modern First Editions

As we celebrate Biblio’s 20th anniversary, we want to highlight our picks for the most collectible books by the year for the last 100 years – starting with Modern First Editions.

Some of the earliest “modern firsts” from 1919-1929

What makes these books the most collectible? Value is the number one factor, along with literary merit and cultural relevance. We comb through major award lists, like the Nobel Prize for Literature, the National Book Award, and the Booker Prize. We also weigh popularity by referencing best-seller lists and comparing the current highest prices for first editions from reputable dealers on our site and others.  

There is a lot to be said about collecting the works of current writers. Modern releases can often be purchased as signed first editions for well under a hundred dollars. As the decades wear on and the writer doggedly pursues their craft, those signed first editions will likely increase in value and become more beloved treasures. While often overlooked, an author’s debut work may prove valuable as they pursue their career. Works by writers like Robert Frost and Margaret Atwood drastically rose in value from their initial releases. That is the whole point of ‘collecting’: you are investing in your interests, passions, and an author’s craft.

If you were to buy in Fine conditionTrue Firsts’ of all the books on our ‘Collecting Modern First Editions’ list, your total (excluding shipping and sales tax) would be around $1,073,816.93 (or just 1,071,316.93 with a Bibliophiles Club Membership). 

The cheapest title to collect is also the most recent, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong (2019), which you can nab for under $50. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925) is the most expensive at $250,000, followed closely by Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997) for $225,000.

First editionfirst printingsigned by the author on the title page. Listed by Peter Harrington

Controversy can help with sales, too: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is also one of the most popular titles on our list, selling over 120 million copies. Often banned or challenged, The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger has sold over 65 million, and Lolita (1955) by Vladimir Nabokov over 50 million. 

A few are less well-known today (although perhaps not to our well-read audience). To Let (1921) by John Galsworthy is the final installment of The Forsyte Saga, for which the author was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1932. The first edition of To Let is scarce but can be reasonably priced. Darkness at Noon (1941) by Arthur Koestler lists for $450 for a fine first edition, whereas the average price of our collectible first editions from the 1940s is $4,810. Still, the Modern Library named the novel number eight on its list of 100 best English Language novels of the 20th century in 1998. Cotillion: or One Good Bull is Half the Herd (1971), the fourth novel by John Oliver Killens, is an acclaimed work of the Black Arts Movement and earned the author a Pulitzer Prize nomination. 

So, how many of these outstanding works do you own? How many have you read? Download a PDF of the checklist below.

100 Years of Collecting

We’ve compiled a list of the most collectible modern firsts. How many do you own?



1 Comment

  • I hated, hated reading Beloved – I could acknowledge the quality of the writing, the ambition of the author and the importance and relevance of its themes, I just didn’t enjoy the experience of reading it. Gone Girl, on the other hand, I really enjoyed. Great entertainment. But I’m surprised it made your cut – I am not persuaded it will stay relevant or pass the test of time. I’d question the inclusion of The Satanic Verses – obviously an important book, controversial, its audacity and reception raising far reaching issues, but it is not, to my mind, Rushdie’s finest work. I would have replaced with Midnight’s Children (although that wouldn’t have been 1988 of course). And I think I might have made room for A S Byatt’s Possession….among many others (but please don’t ask me which ones I’d have left off).

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