Maybe this has happened to you: you’re going through a relative’s attic or you’re at a yard sale and you find a dusty book published over a hundred years ago. It’s definitely old, but is it valuable?
It’s certainly possible. On shows like Antiques Roadshow and Auction Hunters, we watch ordinary people discover that their old junk is really a priceless treasure. But an antique book isn’t necessarily a rare one. Figuring out whether your old book is worth money requires expertise and experience. The people at RareBookBuyer have been in the business for over thirty years, and are happy to share their knowledge with you.
So is your old book valuable? There are a few basic factors that determine a book’s value. These are the factors that a dealer will consider when appraising a book. Understanding those factors will help you make sense of book prices.
1. Rarity. This just means how many copies of your book exist in the world. If thousands of copies of your book are available, it is much less likely to be valuable. It makes sense that older books will be more rare, since they are subject to the ravages of time and careless readers. But age is not always a direct indicator of the number of surviving copies. Even the majority of books printed in the 19th century are not very rare. Books printed before 1800 often have some value just because of their age, but 18th-century bibles and theological material are so common that they only receive modest prices.
(This paragraph is from the owner of this site and not the guest contributor). I have had good success selling the beautiful leather Victorian Bibles with brass corners and latches. But they need to be in good condition. The same for Books of Common Prayer with the leather and brass bindings. I had a few people that bought multiples of these. The really nice Bibles were sold for as much $395-$495.
On the other hand, certain types of material are unique by nature, such as journals, manuscripts, and original artworks. These objects are always worthy of proper study and evaluation by a competent dealer.
2. Importance: is your old book important? Was it an influential novel or book of poetry? Was it a ground-breaking work in science or philosophy? Did it influence history? If you have a book like this, it could be valuable. In general, first editions of important and influential works can have significant value.
3. Desirability: will someone pay a lot of money for your book? You could have a 300-year-old first edition, but if no one out there wants to pay you for it, it’s not valuable. Collectors usually look for a combination of age, rarity, and importance. Some books are rare, but if they are not desirable, the buyers are even rarer.
4. Condition: this refers to whether or not the book is in good shape. The condition of a book can be extremely important in determining its value. People often say, “For a 200-year-old book, it looks great!” But it’s more complicated than that. A serious book collector or dealer will check for a damaged or replaced binding, stained or spotted pages, and missing illustrations before deciding on a book’s value. Completeness of the text and illustrations is vital: a book missing just one page can be worth significantly less than a complete version of the same book.
5. Provenance: who owned the book before you? Provenance refers to the book’s history of ownership. It can sometimes increase the book’s value. If an important person or institution, or someone close to the author owned the book at some point, that may make the book more attractive to collectors.
Speaking to an experienced book dealer is the best way to determine the value of your book. RareBookBuyer has been in the industry for over thirty years, and is happy to offer a free appraisal. You can contact us through our contact page, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 646-469-1851.
Our thanks to Rare Book Buyer for this excellent article. We welcome any comments below and you see their contact information above if you need to contact them.