Determining the value of a book collection is a tricky proposition. Not only do many people have large quantities of books, but libraries and collections can have widely varying characteristics. First, let’s decide what kind of a library you have. Take a look at these three major types of collections.
Rare Book Collection
This group of books was methodically assembled by a book lover with a plan. A rare book collection is formed with intention. The books are in very good condition. They are rare, first editions, early, or signed by the author. They represent important milestones, or quirky and interesting anomalies. From whatever source the collector’s interest springs, each book is valuable on its own; brought together as a collection, the value is increased and concentrated.
A Scholarly Library is a working set of books containing important theoretical and reference books, usually assembled by an academic, and functioning as a master craftsman’s toolset. Such a library can have potential value, but only if it contains first editions or belonged to a prominent scholar who made important contributions to his or her field and was associated with other well-known people. Think Charles Darwin’s library, or Stephen Hawking’s. Books a high school math teacher might own for reference, or the working library of a doctor or lawyer, are typically not going to have significant monetary value.
The vast majority of book collections fall into this category. This is the general home library that most of us own. It consists of our books from college, some novels we’ve read, cookbooks, children’s books, coffee table books, encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, and any other general material inherited from ancestors and accumulated through an inquisitive life. Random accumulations generally do not hold much value. A car collector is interested in a mint condition Jaguar E-Type, not a Honda Civic. The same is true of a book collector. To appeal to collectors, books must have special qualities that make them valuable.
4 Steps to Determine the Value of Rare Books
Perhaps you have a random accumulation, but believe that some valuable books may be lurking on the shelves. Or you have a high school math teacher’s scholarly library, but think it may contain first editions. Or maybe you’re dealing with a rare book collection, and you’re not sure how to proceed. With a few simple steps, anyone can get started.
If you’d like a rare book appraiser or auction house to evaluate your collection, we’ll need the following information first.
1. Take a look at your books. Starting with a collection that contains hundreds or thousands of books can be daunting. What stands out? Pick out a few books that look interesting or hold special meaning for you, and start with these.
2. Look at the title page, and gather the following information: title, author, place of publication, printer’s name, and date. If the title does not have a date, turn the page and see if there’s a copyright date on the back.
3. Check the book’s value online. A website like www.addall.com/Used/ will help you gather some basic preliminary data on how much the book is currently selling for. Pay attention to the edition of the comparisons you find, and look at the mid-range and low prices – not just the highest ones.
4. Talk to a book appraiser. If your book is indeed valuable, and you’re interested in selling, auction could be a good choice for you. Take a photograph of the title page, or create a spreadsheet with the title page information, and send it to a book appraiser. You can contact me using our online auction evaluation form.
If you find treasures on your shelves, we’ll be happy to help you take the next step. In the meantime, stay positive and keep an eye out for the next great book.