2. What makes a book important? books are generally more sought after,
Your Old Books People value books either because of including all books printed before 1501,
their contents or because of their physi- English books printed before 1641, books
• cal characteristics. First editions of im- printed in the Americas before 1801, and
A guide sponsored by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section portant literary or historical works and books printed west of the Mississippi be-
of the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ initial reports of scientific discoveries or fore 1850.
Association of America, and the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia inventions are prime examples of books
• that are important because of their con- 5. What is the difference between a rare
tents. Illustrated books that give a new book and a second-hand book?
This guide addresses some frequently 11. Are old letters, scrapbooks, photo- interpretation of a text or are the work of A second-hand or used book is a previ-
asked questions about rare and older graphs, and documents valuable? an esteemed artist are also valued. Books ously owned book that is neither an im-
books and their values. The answers are 12. Might someone want my single vol- that were suppressed or censored may portant edition nor has special physical
meant only as general responses to these ume to complete a set? be both important and scarce, since few characteristics, such as binding, inscrip-
questions, and many possible exceptions 13. How can I keep my books in good copies may have survived. Physical char- tion, or association with important pre-
are not described. No attempt has been condition? acteristics, such as a special binding, an vious owners. Market prices for second-
made to identify or to evaluate individ- 14. Should I have my books rebound? early use of a new printing process, or an hand books are typically modest.
ual books, nor does RBMS have the re- 15. Do I need to insure my books? autograph, inscription, or marginal an-
sources to respond to such requests. The 16. How do I describe my books? notations of a famous person, may also 6. What is meant by a book’s condition,
online appendix to this document lists 17. Should I have my books appraised? contribute to a book’s importance and its and how does that affect a book’s value?
other resources for more information on 18. Where can I find an appraiser? market price. Condition refers to a book’s physical
the questions covered. 19. How can I sell my books? appearance and the completeness of its
A version of this document with links 20. How can I ascertain a fair price? 3. Does scarcity increase a book’s value? contents. In general, the better a book’s
to additional resources and information 21. Can I sell or give my old books to a A book known to exist in only a few physical condition, the more it will be
is available at http://www.rbms.info/yob. library? copies may have significant monetary worth. Terms that might be used to de-
shtml. 22. Who else might accept my old books value if collectors and libraries prize it. scribe old books include (from best
as a donation? Searching the Internet using services like condition to worst condition) “As New,”
Questions covered: 23. Where can I go for more information abaa.org, addall.com, or vialibri.com can “Fine” (no defects), “Very Good,” “Good,”
1. What makes a book rare? on old and rare books, book collecting, give you an idea of how many copies of a “Fair” (worn but includes complete text),
2. What makes a book important? and evaluating books? book are currently being offered for sale. and “Poor” (very worn, but readable).
3. Does scarcity increase a book’s value? For information about how many copies Missing or mutilated covers, pages, or il-
4. Are all old books valuable? 1. What makes a book rare? are held by libraries, your local librarian lustrations must be noted and are major
5. What is the difference between a rare Millions of books, pamphlets, magazines, can help you access databases such as faults that will severely compromise the
book and a second-hand book? newspapers, and broadsides have been OCLC’s WorldCat. Regardless of scar- book’s value.
6. What is meant by a book’s condition, published since the invention of printing city, a book without important text or
and how does that affect a book’s value? more than five hundred years ago. Only distinguishing physical characteristics is 7. Where are rare books found?
7. Where are rare books found? a small portion of these pieces, however, likely to have little market value. Because books are portable and durable,
8. What kinds of books are usually not would be considered “rare” by specialists. rare books can turn up anywhere, from
rare? In simple terms, books achieve a degree 4. Are all old books valuable? well-ordered private libraries to attics,
9. What is the difference between a first of rarity only when demand exceeds sup- Age by itself is not enough to make a book basements, garage sales, and increasingly
and a limited edition? ply. Unfortunately, there are no easy for- valuable. The importance of the text, the on Internet bookseller and auction sites.
10. Is a book signed or marked up by a mulas for determining rarity. condition of the book, and demand for Books considered rare by collectors and
previous owner, or autographed by the it will determine the valuation of an old librarians may be found together with
author, more valuable? book. However, certain categories of more common books. Experience and
specialized knowledge are often needed C ollected E ditions of an R eprints and Facsimiles page at the beginning or end of the vol-
to discriminate among them. Au thor’s Work Reprinting important texts in typo- ume. The limitation statement gives the
When authors become popular and well graphic or photographic facsimile is a total number of copies, sometimes with
8. What kinds of books are usually not established, publishers often issue col- common and inexpensive means of pro- a breakdown of how many copies were
rare? lected editions of their works. Such edi- ducing a previously printed text. Such printed on a certain type of paper, or
tions may be offered in special bindings facsimiles are generally not rare and are bound in a certain kind of binding, or re-
Bibles and may even be limited and signed, but valued as used books. Extremely high- served or withheld from sale. The num-
No single work has been printed more they are seldom rare. Exceptions include quality reproductions of medieval and ber of the specific copy is often printed
often than the Bible. Because they are so editions published by fine presses or Renaissance manuscripts and early print- or added by hand (as in “no. 46 of 500”),
common, most Bibles have no significant those with historically significant edi- ed books, however, can be quite expen- sometimes with the autograph of the
monetary value. Certain important edi- tors, which may be valued by collectors sive. Color facsimiles published during author(s), publisher, or other contribu-
tions of the Bible, however, are collect- or libraries for that reason. the nineteenth century are also valued by tor. The size of an edition, whether ex-
able: the earliest printed Bibles dating collectors when they were produced us- plicitly limited or not, does not by itself
from the fifteenth and sixteenth centu- E ncycl opedias ing innovative printing techniques such determine a book’s rarity or value.
ries; the 1611 printings of the first autho- Since encyclopedias are published and as collotype or chromolithography.
rized English (King James) version; and purchased for the currency of their in- 10. Is a book signed or marked up by a
a variety of sixteenth- and seventeenth- formation, obsolete editions of modern 9. What is the difference between a first previous owner, or autographed by the
century oddities such as the “Breeches” encyclopedias have little monetary value, and a limited edition? author, more valuable?
Bible, the “Vinegar” Bible, and the whatever the historical interest of their An “edition” of a work is the total num- The association of a book with a previous
“Wicked” Bible, which have some mis- articles. The eleventh edition (1911) of the ber of copies of a book printed from the owner can add to its value, if that person
print or peculiar wording. Most Bibles Encyclopædia Britannica may be one ex- same setting of type (be it metal type, is important or famous. Autographs, in-
that contain handwritten genealogical ception. Complete sets of encyclopedias phototype, or by digital means). If a scriptions or dedications, manuscript an-
or other family information do not have published before 1800 also have some book proves popular, the edition may be notations, bookplates or stamps, or other
market value, unless the families or indi- market value, and single volumes pro- reprinted from the same setting of type, distinctive markings may all be forged,
viduals were famous. portionately less. with no or minimal changes. This is gen- so they need to be authenticated before
erally known as a “printing.” Information a positive statement of association can be
Sermons and R eligious Textb o oks about editions and printings is some- made.
Instruction Old schoolbooks and college textbooks times included on the title page of a book Contemporary authors routinely
Like Bibles, many other types of religious fall into the category of second-hand or on the back (verso) of the title page. If sign many copies of their books at pub-
books, such as hymnals and other wor- books with a few exceptions. There is a no information is provided, determining licity events organized to promote sales.
ship books, collections of sermons, and market for early American primers (for the edition or printing usually requires Because they are common, such auto-
books of religious instruction were in- example, the Eclectic Reader of William research using specialized bibliogra- graphs typically add little to the market
tended for wide circulation. Great quan- Holmes McGuffey), although prices vary phies. Intensive collecting of true “first value of the book. Authors also sign books
tities were printed as cheaply as possible, considerably depending on the edition editions” of important modern literary on other occasions, and they sometimes
making them both less scarce and less and condition. Illustrated textbooks works over the past few decades has sub- inscribe and present them to important
attractive to collectors. There are some printed before 1850 are also sought after, stantially raised the market value of cop- associates and friends. Such “presenta-
exceptions. Early Shaker tracts, for ex- as are early examples that instructed stu- ies in fine condition. tion” or “association” copies may com-
ample, are considered important and dents about topics now studied, such as The term “limited edition” is reserved mand a premium. Expert knowledge of
may be quite rare, resulting in greater the place of African Americans, women, for editions in which copies contain an the current market is needed in order
demand and higher prices. or immigrant groups in society. explicit “limitation statement,” usually on to determine the value of a particular
the back of the title page or on a separate signed or inscribed copy.
11. Are old letters, scrapbooks, photo- books where they will be exposed to other household items. If you own valu- deciding whether you need to have your
graphs, and documents valuable? direct sunlight. Do not wrap books in able books, consult with your agent to be books appraised is whether your collec-
Collectors and librarians often compete newspaper or plastic or store them in sure they are adequately covered. Make tion is worth enough to warrant the ex-
for the letters, cards, documents, pho- cardboard boxes. Acid in the cardboard a list of your books, and store it in a safe pense. An experienced appraiser should
tographs, and manuscripts of famous and in newsprint will damage books. place so that you will have a record in be able to give you an estimate of the cost
people, creating a market for them. The Plastic wrappers, because they restrict case of theft, loss, or damage. Your agent in advance if you provide an adequate
market value of such materials, like that air circulation, can promote the growth may also suggest that you have your preliminary description of your books.
of printed books, depends on perceived of mold or mildew. Furthermore, some books professionally appraised to docu- Other documentation can be used to
importance and condition, scarcity of plastics degrade over time and fuse to the ment their replacement value. establish the value of your books. If you
comparable material, and actual condi- materials they are touching. Store large bought them, you can use your invoices
tion. Similar materials created by people books, such as atlases, bound newspa- 16. How do I describe my books? or receipts. If you inherited them, any
who are not famous may be of interest pers, or art folios, flat on shelves rather That depends on your purpose in listing legal or fiscal documents that describe
to librarians if they document a par- than standing vertically. Never use adhe- your books and the kind of books you the transfer of property may contain in-
ticular place, era, or segment of society. sive tape to repair torn pages or a binding own. For insurance purposes or in order formation about their value. If you wish
For more information, you might con- because it yellows with age and leaves a to sell your books, digital photographs of to take a tax deduction for donating
sult the Guide to Donating Your Personal nasty residue. You can buy various types the binding and dust jacket (if any), as them, and their combined value is less
or Family Papers to a Repository on the of protective enclosures for storing older well as the title page and any other publi- than $5,000, such documentation and/
Society of American Archivists Web site, or fragile books. See question fourteen cation information, will be helpful. If you or copies of recent sale records of com-
http://www.archivists.org/publications/ below, and the Web site appendix, for cannot provide photographs, you should parable items may be sufficient evidence.
donating-familyrecs.asp. suggestions on further reading and con- make a complete transcription of the Donations of books with a value exceed-
tact information for distributors of archi- main title page and any other publica- ing $5,000 require professional apprais-
12. Might someone want my single vol- val supplies. tion information given at the beginning al. Consult the freely downloadable IRS
ume to complete a set? or end of the volume, as well as a descrip- Publication 561 entitled Determining the
Because the chance of finding a buyer 14. Should I have my books rebound? tion of its binding, indicating wear or Value of Donated Property or a tax advi-
with a set lacking the exact volume or It is best to consult an expert before re- damage, and other physical features. sor for details.
volumes is remote, single volumes or binding. Rebinding can lessen the value
incomplete sets of multivolume works of some books, and in other cases, the cost 17. Should I have my books appraised? 18. Where can I find an appraiser?
generally have little appeal to booksell- of the work will greatly exceed the mon- A professional appraisal of your books is Many booksellers perform appraisals as
ers, collectors, or librarians. Exceptions etary value of the book. Conservators the surest way to establish their value for part of their business. The Antiquarian
include books considered rare because will often recommend a less drastic ap- the purpose of insuring them, preparing Booksellers’ Association of America has
of their age and scarce early volumes of proach. Properly fitted boxes or wrap- them for sale, or reporting their donation a membership directory on its Web site
magazines or newspapers. pers can often be alternatives to repair- as a charitable tax deduction. However, (http://www.abaa.org) that allows you to
ing or replacing the binding and can appraisals can be expensive and are of- search for qualified booksellers by geo-
13. How can I keep my books in good help to preserve the item in its original ten unnecessary. Qualified appraisers graphical region or by their fields of spe-
condition? form. For further advice on conservation are experts in their areas of specialty cialty. Your local yellow pages directory
Books are damaged by light and by fluc- treatments, please consult the American and charge hourly fees for their labor. may also contain the names of “used,”
tuations and extremes in temperature Institute of Conservation’s Guidelines for An appraiser will need to inspect your “rare,” or “antiquarian” booksellers in
and humidity. It is best to store them in Selecting a Conservator at http://aic.stan- books personally and then research his your area. Because the range of rare books
a cool, comfortably dry, stable environ- ford.edu/public/select.html. or her findings in specialized bibliogra- is vast, you should seek an appraiser who
ment with low or indirect lighting. Most phies and published sale records in order is knowledgeable about the particular
basements, garages, and attics are too 15. Do I need to insure my books? to determine values. Depending on the type of books you have. Ask for referenc-
hot, too damp, or too variable to provide Most homeowner’s and renter’s insur- size of your collection, this may require es and referrals until you are satisfied that
good storage conditions. Avoid shelving ance policies cover the loss of books, like many billable hours. Thus, one factor in you have found the right person. Other
sources for finding appraisers include the Many individuals who wish to sell Many academic and research libraries are Oxfam, the Salvation Army, churches,
Appraisers Association of America and their books are unsure of their worth interested in acquiring rare and unique synagogues, and other charitable institu-
the International Society of Appraisers. and so must depend to a great extent materials. School libraries, especially in tions will welcome your donated books.
on the trustworthiness and profession- impoverished areas, may welcome dona-
19. How can I sell my books? al behavior of the dealer. Booksellers tions of used or older books. If the item 23. Where can I go for more information
You can sell your books to a bookseller, who are members of the Antiquarian does not fit its collection profile, the li- on old and rare books, book collecting,
through a professional auction house, or Booksellers’ Association of America or brary may refuse the gift. Most libraries and evaluating books?
on your own through an online auction the International League of Antiquarian will also refuse donations that include The Web version of this document,
or other means of direct sale. Which is Booksellers must abide by a strict code restrictions on the use or disposition of which is available at http://www.rbms.
best for you will depend on the rarity and of ethics designed to protect their cus- the donated books. info/yob.shtml, includes links to addi-
value of your books, your location, how tomers. When selecting booksellers with tional resources and information. The
quickly you need to sell them, and the whom to do business, ask whether they 22. Who else might accept my old books Web site of the Antiquarian Booksellers’
time you are willing to spend marketing belong to these organizations or have as a donation? Association of America (ABAA) (http://
them. If you simply have a few second- other verifiable credentials attesting to Many organizations welcome donations abaa.org) also features a variety of help-
hand books to clear off your shelves, a their integrity. of second-hand or used books, either ful information for book collectors, such
good option will be to find a local used If you decide to sell your books to because it is part of their mission to pro- as a glossary of terms, a list of frequently
book shop willing to buy the lot from a bookseller, keep in mind that it costs vide reading materials to others, or be- asked questions, resources on book col-
you. If your books are rare or valuable, booksellers money to run their busi- cause they can sell them to raise money lecting, and a searchable directory of
then finding a bookseller that specializes nesses. In order to cover their overhead to support charitable causes. Goodwill, ABAA member booksellers.
in the particular kind of books you have costs and turn a fair profit, they must of-
may be your best option. Directories fer you less for your books than they will
published on the Web by the Antiquarian sell them for—often a good deal less. Sp on s or s of T h i s P ub l i c at i on
Booksellers’ Association of America or If you decide to sell your books your-
the International League of Antiquarian self through an auction service, setting a
Booksellers can help identify qualified reserve limit will ensure that you do not
merchants. If the first dealer you contact have to accept a bid for less than a certain
cannot help you, ask for a referral. minimum amount.
20. How can I ascertain a fair price? 21. Can I sell or give my old books to a
Many booksellers now have searchable library?
catalogs and databases on the World All libraries buy books, but they gener-
Wide Web. These resources can be very ally find the administrative overhead
helpful in determining an approximate involved in buying from private indi-
retail value of your books because they viduals costly and difficult, and thus may
can be used to find recent prices asked refuse your offer on that basis alone. If
for similar copies. When comparing your the library is willing to consider buying
book to a description in such a database, a book from you, be prepared to provide
be careful to find as close a match as pos- a full description and state a reasonable
sible, not only in terms of publication price.
details, but also in terms of condition, Libraries will welcome donations if
binding, and other unique features. You the donated books fit their collection pro-
can also search some auction sites to find file. Most public libraries focus on popu-
prices realized in recent sales. lar publications that circulate frequently.