“How Much is My Book Worth?”
This is a question that all book sellers dread trying to answer, while also being one of the more common questions we are asked. As a used and secondhand bookdealer I have the upmost pleasure of having to explain this over and over again to people who are trying to sell a collection. There are a lot of things to keep in mind when looking for a price for your “old, rare, out of print, unusual” book that has been in granny’s attic since the before sliced bread. In this article I will explain how to determine this before coming to the bookshop.
But first I will start with a joke.
“One afternoon a man wanders into an antiquarian bookshop and notices the large collection of rare, old family bibles.
‘Wow. Do you really sell those things for that much?’ he asks the shopkeeper.
‘Yes. It is a niche market, but some of these can be worth quite a bit of money.’
‘I just threw out one that was in our attic forever. It was falling to bits. Printed by some company called Guttenberg.”
‘You had a Guttenberg Bible in your attic and just threw it away! There are only 21 complete copies in the world! It is worth a small fortune!”
‘Naw, you wouldn’t of wanted it. Some idiot named Martin Luther scribbled notes all over it.’ “
And that shows you the issue with determining value of books. To the one guy it was worthless because you can get bibles anywhere, so why keep one that was old and was filled with notes and underlining? To the other it was beyond value due to being extremely rare and having the notes of a famous person all over it. One man’s trash is another’s treasure.
So here we go. You have a collection of any size or just an older book.
Is it Antiquarian or just old?
According to Regency Antique Books ” In the world of collectible antique books, “old” means OLD…. In the antique book world, the book’s age is very rarely the first priority when choosing a piece for one’s library…. [but] Many serious and experienced antiquarian book collectors are focused on tracking down works from the 16th century and earlier.” www.regencyantiquebooks.com
Another term used is Vintage. These books are older than 50, but less than 100 and have some cultural and social connections. Dune, I, Robot, The Nancy Drew Books and Lord of the Rings all fall into this category.
Now what is the condition?
As in what was the condition it was in when it was first printed and how close is it to that point? This is a very important thing to determine. Condition means everything in a book’s value. Booksellers want to sell books. Nicer copies sell better. This doesn’t mean that your book is worthless if it is damaged, other factors come into play at that point.
Was it published with a dust jacket?
If no then: is the pictorial boards (cover art) damaged in any way or unclear? The level of damage to the artwork
If yes then: does it still have it? If your answer is no, the value of the book goes down–unless there are pictorial boards. Then the condition of the cover art comes into play.
If the answer is yes: is the dust jacket missing parts? Or can you see the artwork clearly? This will also change the value of the book. Depending on the edition, the real draw for the book could be the artist who did the cover art. Popular books have been reissued over time and as the copyrights for the artwork may have been expired or the publisher just wants to be more relevant to the times the art work will change. But due to the large number of copies still available (even if it is different editions) than the value of the book might not be as high. The value then lies in the art work. Typically the worse the condition of the dust jacket, the lower the value of the book.
Is it Signed? By the author or another famous person? Then it has some value, no matter the condition.
Is it a clean copy? Did some one scribble in it or leave notes in the margin? Most of the time this will lower the value of it. Unless….1: someone important made the notes & signed their name. (And this has to be proved) 2: the notes are translations (this becomes an interest to those who are studying languages) 3: the notes are relevant to the work. (this was a text book for someone ) Once again this is a situation where the value can go either way.
Does it SMELL? Please. Please. Please. Learn what things smell like. If it is a tobacco or smoky smell that is fine. This can be fixed to some extent, but if you open the book and your first though is outdoorsy this is a mold issue.
Technically the rule is: the further it is from the original printing condition (within reason for age) the less value it can hold.
What Color is the book? Sounds silly, but if you find a Victorian age book that is a vibrant emerald green DO NOT TOUCH IT. WASH YOUR HANDS. TAKE A PHOTO. USE A TOWEL TO PLACE IT IN A PLASTIC SEALABLE BAG. WASH YOUR HANDS. Did I mention WASHING YOUR HANDS????? Paris Green is the official name of the pigment popularly used in this period for practically everything. It is made with ARSNIC. Are all green books from this time period Paris Green? No, but it is better to be safe than sorry. The following link is a good article on the subject. And of course there have been many books written on this topic as well. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/arsenic-laced-books-discovered-university-library-180969527/
If you do have a book with Paris Green then it might be better to donate it to a museum who can deal with it properly as most bookdealers won’t try and sell it. But you can always ask an antiquarian seller about it.
Who published it? People tend to think that only mass publishing was in the 20th century dealing mainly with paperbacks. To some extent that is correct. But earlier popular books were reprinted by reprint houses like: Walter J. Black, Sun Dial, Triangle, Collier, A.L. Burt, and Grosset & Dunlop. The interior of the book will have the original publishers information, but he spine will have another publisher’s information or nothing at all. The quality of the paper will be thinner or just look a bit off, and sometimes the page count or the printing might be aligned poorly. In this case the rarity of the title on the market will determine the value.
Is it a BOOKCLUB? It has the correct publisher and the book looks legit, but this still could be a different book type. Bookclubs, on average, are the hardcover version of reprint editions. There are some clues:
- There is no price on the dust jacket.
- The hardcovers are smaller than the normal editions, while the paperbacks are larger than normal & both feel lighter due to the thinner paper used.
- The cover may be bound with thick paper instead of cloth and the dust jacket is uncoated and looks cheaply made.
- There may be a blindstamp impressed into the back cover of a hardcover BCE, right next to the spine. Look for a circle, dot, square, triangle, or even a small white dot.
- The dust jacket flaps might have it written on them or it will be on the copywrite page.
- There might be a strange string of numbers on the last page of the book near the margin, running vertically, just before the endpaper.
Sellers do not want book clubs. There are some exceptions to the rule (as always). Easton Press, The First Edition Society of the Franklin Library , the Limited Editions Club, and the Book Club of California do come out with some very well illustrated and designed editions. Science Fiction/Fantasy/and Horror titles are sometimes valuable due to the fact that some authors were published in paperback first and these book clubs became the first hardcover editions and sometimes they will contain two or more works. But it also depends on the writers.
What is the subject matter?
This matters quite a bit and is quite fluid as well. Some books are very niche, others have glutted the market and some are just not relevant any more. If there is no audience for the book you will not get much money for it unless it falls into the Antiquarian category. Or has another additional feature that will draw in a collector.
For example: At one point I was given a collection to sell that was nearly complete as of the time of the collector’s death. She had all of the Harlequin romance novels printed from the the first book to the last one she was mailed. As this is a series that is still ongoing printing 4-6 books a month in each sub-category and she had all of the sub-categories as well. This meant that she had over 6,240 romance paperbacks in very good condition. The publisher price of these was on average $4.99 per book. She spent over 31 thousand dollars on this. Unfortunately since these were mass produced only the oldest 500 had any real value, while the rest could only be re-sold at 6 for a dollar. Which means that as a seller I could only hope to make $1,000 on over 5,000 books over the next few years which would take up over 20 feet of book cases. So I could only offer the owner $250 for most of the collection and another $400 for the older books. Even if they were signed by the author the value would not be much higher.
Why so little? Well booksellers need to pay the rent for the store & also need to eat. So the owner of the book is normally offered 1/4th to 1/2 of the value of the book in the current market.
So in conclusion this is just a starting point to determine if you a have a valuable book or not. If in doubt, go on bookgilt.com or bookfinder.com and search for the book (discount Amazon’s prices please) and see what it is being offered for. Next compare what you have to what is listed using the information above. Lastly contact a bookdealer and see what they say.
I hope this helps you out, dear readers.
Until next time, Happy Reading.