Almost everyone owns a book, and many of us may be very proud of how many we have accumulated. But are they collectible? Consider the following criteria:
Generally Not Collectible – The vast majority of books, especially paperbacks, book club editions and mass printings of hardcovers. The latest Stephen King horror novel is, by definition of its popularity, not a collectible. Also (in general!) most encyclopedias, textbooks, dictionaries, popular fiction without dust jackets, Reader’s Digest condensed books, romance, magazines after 1960, “family bibles” and non-illustrated Bibles (after 1790) are not collectable.
Author – Try getting a copy of A Handbook for Booklovers: A Survey of Collectible Authors, Books, and Values
Condition – The lesser the condition, the less collectible and valuable it will be.
Prize Winners – Prize-winning books have been voted as the best books in a given field. This gives them a stamp of quality. The first edition (which came out before the awards were decided) will not have Blah Blah Award Winner on the cover. Well known prizes include: Pulitzer, National Book Award, PEN/Faulkner, Hugo or Nebula (sci-fi) and the Booker Prize (British).
Age – An old book isn’t necessarily valuable. However there are some rough guidelines that indicate when a book might be worth something:
All books printed before 1501
English books printed before 1641
American books printed before 1801
American books (west of the Mississippi) printed before 1850
First Edition – Most books are only ever printed as a first edition, and most of those only have one print run. With books that have muliple editions, the first edition will usually be the most valuable. First editions usually say “First Edition” or “First Printing” on the page after the title page. A second edition will contain different content to the first edition. Different printings of the same edition will usually be exact replicas, except for the print date. Check dates to be sure of a first printing of a first edition.
First Books – These can be obscure tomes that just didn’t sell, yet gained curiousity value when the author’s subsequent books did do well. The combination of a small print run and future fame of the author can make these books especially valuable.
Collections – Single volumes of sets or incomplete sets are not usually worth much.
Limited Editions – Sometimes, a book will have a deliberately small print run, usually less than 1500 copies. They are better than regular editions. They are often signed by the author.
Signed – Of course any book signed by the author is more valuable than one that isn’t. Understand though, that signatures can be forged, and that the signature of a notoriously reclusive writer will be worth more than one who does in-store book-signings every other day. If the book is Inscribed with a hand-written note by the author it becomes more collectable. If the note is addressed to another famous person, it will be extremely collectable.
This is really difficult. Each publisher will have their own codes and ways of indicating a first edition. Be wary of any simple “rules” you may read, for they will just be generalisations that won’t always work. There are 3 ways of finding out:
* Compare the book with those listed online as first editions. Often the dealer’s description will contain a lot of detail.
* Get an appraisal from a dealer
* Consult a book on the topic, such as:
Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions (a cheap general guide)
Points of Issue : A Compendium of Points of Issue of Books by 19th-20th Century Authors ( lists specific books)
First Editions : A Guide to Identification (authorative)