Your Old Books: Determining Their Worth and Value

All Articles   |   Items in bidorbuy  »  Books & Education

How to Determine the Value of Your Old Books

A good book has no ending. (R.D. Cumming)

Good books are treasures. Rare books are even more precious. If you're an inveterate bibliophile with an extensive book collection, here is a list of FAQs about rare books and what to do with them:

What makes a book rare?

A book does not have to be expensive or ancient to be considered ‘rare’. A book  should be scarce (in relation to its demand) to be rare but it should also have something more than that. To be considered rare, a book should have some additional significance, for example: in terms of historical importance, edition, age, condition, binding, aesthetic properties, or seminal/revolutionary subject matter. Importantly, rarity is subjective. A book considered rare for a personal collection may not be deemed rare for a university library collection.

Where are rare books found?

From Web specials, private libraries, quaint book stores and antique stores to book dealer catalogues, garage sales and online auctions, rare books can be found almost anywhere. They make for delightful discoveries and should enjoy pride of place on your bookshelf. 

What makes a book important?

If a book made a significant advancement in human knowledge, it is considered important. First editions of old books are usually regarded as important, as are books written by legendary authors of yesteryears. If a book is almost impossible to replace, it is likely that it would be considered important even if it costs very little. The subject matter of a book can also determine its importance.

Does scarcity imply rarity?

Not necessarily. Although a book’s demand does need to be greater than its supply for it to be considered rare, it should also have some additional special features such as the signature of the author, some sort of path breaking idea, a famous previous owner, special typography and so on.
Are all old books rare?

There are millions of old books that have been printed in the last five centuries but only a tiny fraction of those are considered rare. However, the age and imprint of a book are indeed a very important factor in determining its rarity. Books printed before the 16th century, for example, are considered rare, as are English language books printed before the mid 17th century.

What is meant by a book's condition and how does it affect its value?

Usually, a book’s condition is a reference to its physical properties and whether its contents are intact. Factors such as original binding, extent of damage or wear and tear, quality of pages, missing pages, missing illustrations and markings on the spine are inspected to judge the quality of a rare book. Obviously, a rare book of good quality will be more valuable than a rare book in a poor condition.

Is a book signed or marked  by a noteworthy previous owner, or autographed by the author, more valuable?

Possibly, but signatures needs to be examined by experts for authenticity. If a rare book is very old and is genuinely signed by a famous author or a well-known previous owner, its value might appreciate significantly. However, this is not true for more recent authors and their books since book signing has become a common sales promotion strategy.

Do I need to have my books appraised?

It’s usually a good idea to have your books appraised especially if you're planning to sell them, donate them, or have them insured. However, professional book appraisals are costly, time consuming and often times unnecessary if you do not intend to part with or insure your collection.


Featured Items in Books & Education

View more featured items in Books & Education