Tips on Collecting Old Books

A good way to learn the art of purchasing “old things with class” is by building a stirring book collection. Rows and rows of “Reader’s Digest Condensed Books” is not my idea of interesting library. Condensed soup and condensed orange juice are fine products. Condensed books, however, should not be stored on your most prominent shelves. Put there instead, writings representative of your interests.

Be it Tarzan or Tolstoy, in addition to being a ready source of reference and quiet pleasure, a handsome library is often a stimulant for absorbing conversation. Most of my old/used book purchases are under $10. Therefore, I don’t make many costly mistakes. I’m also aware that many volumes purchased for a few dollars turn out to have great value.  So, in addition to buying what I like, I look for books with good upside potential. Here’s a few tips for building your library.

* Buy books in good condition. Incomplete, torn, soiled, marked, dog eared books are not sought after, unless they are great rarities. Original dust jackets are a big plus.

* “First editions,” garner the premium prices. This is especially true on later books. Experts identify early book runs by comparing title page dates and other “points” (little details distinguishing a first printing from a later) with criteria identified in various “bibliographies.” When not buying through a trusted book dealer, you can improve your long-shot odds of ferreting out a first edition by inspecting the title page for; “1, First Edition, First Printing, First Impression,” etc., (all of which are no guarantees). Additionally, you can eschew books that are obvious later runs like, “The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe,” or a copy of “Gone With the Wind” dated later than 1936.

* Purchase works falling within your favorite book collecting categories, including: first edition, famous author, artist signed or inscribed, early printed books, bibles and other holy books, finely bound books, fine artistic content/illustrator, art, photo and picture books, sporting, spy, science fiction, fantasy, children’s books, nature and natural history, geographic and atlases, scientific, medical, technological, architectural, performing arts, biographies, Americana, cooking, etc..

* Look for books that made a difference. Here’s a few examples including approximate value for 1st editions in good condition. “The Origin of Species,” by Charles Darwin, 1859-$14,000, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” by Frank Baum, 1900-$9,000, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (2 vols.), by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852-$7,500, “A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay,” (the first published account of the settlement of Australia) by Captain Watkin Tench, 1789-$2,700. “Casino Royal,” (Ian Flemming’s first James Bond novel), 1953-$900

* Add to your antique reference library. Look for scholarly, out-of-print, books on specific subjects instead of price guides. Expensive at auctions, etc., such books can be found cheap when they are out of their antique element.

Benjamin Franklin said, “write things worth the reading, or do things worth the writing.”  Keep author and content in mind when you build your library. Young Franklin was so found of books he assumed the trade of printer. In his twilight years, he referred to himself as a Printer first, before inventor, or patriot, or statesman. Quality antique furnishings and accessories are scarce these days. Many of my buying trips would have been dull failures, if not for those piles of old books priced at a buck a piece. You’ll find attic-fresh old books nearly every place you shop. Take advantage of it. Those piles won’t be around forever. They’ll make your antique hunting trips more fruitful and fun.

This was taken from which is a site about collecting all kinds of things, but has a section on books