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Too Many Books, Too Little Time: What are Old Books Worth?

What are Old Books Worth? The Triall of Witchcraft, Auctioned for $1,960

Cotta, John. The Triall of Witchcraft
Auctioned for $1,960

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.

Scholarly Library

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.

Random Accumulation

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.

What are Old Books Worth? The Question of Witchcraft Debated, Auctioned for $1,347.50

Wagstaffe, John (1633-1677) The Question of Witchcraft Debated, Auctioned for $1,347.50

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.

24 thoughts on “Too Many Books, Too Little Time: What are Old Books Worth?

  1. Pingback: Selling Antique Books | How to Determine Rare Book Values

  2. Pingback: Antique Books Value Guide

  3. Very helpful and useful article. I do disagree somewhat on your point about scholarly books, having bought several collections from both known and unknown scholars. Generally these collections can be a bit large, but the core parts of these collections, say 1500-2000 books, can have a value in the high 5 figures, esp. in the areas of history, esoteric studies, music, and archaeology. A good number of more recent works (10 – 30 years) are surprisingly specific, scarce and important, and can sell in the hundreds.

    I also would hesitate to call the library of a working doctor or lawyer scholarly, unless they are serious researchers or historians in their field. Likewise the math teacher. But even working libraries can be surprising, such as a focused collection of books on lace-making or artistic carpentry.

  4. I have old book or magazines called “leisure hour library” and the author on all of them that i have is Charles Dicken dating back to 1889 would like to know if they are worth any money. mary reyolds

  5. I like old cookbooks and just picked one up entitled: Great Economical Tea Co Cook Book written by Mrs Jane Warren published by Hurst and Company no date. I’d like to know more about the author and the ‘Great Economical Tea Co.’ but am having no luck, any suggestions? Thank you for your time.

  6. I have a leather-bound book of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

    It has a Library of Congress number.

    Could it have value?

  7. I have two rare books…Hiawatha by Henry w. Longfellow copyright 1909 and the shepherd god by Joseph Howard gray copyright 1943. I’m trying to find out the value of these books.

    • Tina,
      Copyright dates are identical in every edition. In order to evaluate your books, I would need the date of imprint, found on the title page. If no date is found on the title, it is quite likely that your edition is a much later reprint, and therefore not collected as a rare book. The first edition of Joseph Howard Gray’s The Shepherd God has a high retail value $25. A first edition of Longfellow’s Hiawatha, printed in 1855 has a good value. When was yours printed?

  8. Thank you for the guidance, it is helpful. Can you talk a little about the best way to sort a group of 300-400 books that belonged to someone else? I first divided it into first edition and non-first edition, This is a single collection which I purchased at auction). It is a random collection, but over half are first editions and include some gems). They are in very good condition. I do not recognize most of them but do enjoy researching them. The problem is that I have not found a dud yet ( a factory sealed “The Best of Nash Buckingham, first edition; several C.S. Forester, all first editions, etc.) but research is time consuming for me. After pulling out the first editions, I need to focus on one book at a time, but it is a challenge. Any tips are greatly appreciated.

  9. hello i have a book [YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY THE LEGAL EXPERT OF THE BEDFORD TRANSPORT PRICE SIXPENCE] published by vauxhall moters ltd. luton. have i to sell or not and if sell what price if you can help please thank you hollin

  10. I have a couple books that I would like to sell, I have a very sick child and don’t have anyone local that can assist me… The books are:
    1)A Wonder Book For Boys and Girls/ Copyright 1913/ By Nathaniel Hawthorne/ Illustrated by Milo Winter
    2)Just So Stories/ Copyright 1912/ By Rvdyard Kipling
    3) A Crown of Flowers being Poems and Pictvres collected from the pages of The Girl’s Own Paper/Edited By Charles Peters/ London: Printed By E Pottiswoode and Co. New Street Square and Parliament Street/ I883 is written in the front cover
    4)Mother Home and Heaven/ Edited By Mrs. J.P. Newman with an Introduction of Bishop John P. Newman, D.D., LL. D./ Copyright 1889 By N. D. Thompson Publishing Co./
    Thank you!

  11. I have 5 small hardcover books by William Lee Popham
    1. Love’s Rainbow Dream
    2. The Valley of Love
    3. The Village By The Sea
    4. She Dared To Win
    5. A Tramp’s Love
    On the title page, all 5 books have the title, then beneath that it says Price 50 cents, then below that a design of some kind and then by on the next line and then the authors name–on the following page it has Copyright 1910 by William Lee Popham, then ***** and then The Author’s Other Books. with a listing of 7 different titles- no publishing company info. at all–on the next page the book begins–although I have found some of his books listed at the sites you recommend, I find none with these titles, and all have a publishing company listed–can you give me an idea of value and/or where else to search? Thank you!

  12. I own the “Works of Edgar Allan Poe” published by “Standard Book Company Ltd, New York and London” 1933 “`but the spines do not match any of the books I have found online (with the exception of one in Thailand)

    Each book has a page that reads: “Harper & Brothers MCMXXVI, Centenary Edition, Orsamus Turner Harris 1933, Printed in the United States of America”

    They have a leaf vine diagnally down the spine

    I hav volumes 1, 3, 4, 7 & 8

  13. Sam Bullaro

    Have you given a reply to The following?

    I have the same books.

    Vjoanna hatch
    on April 4, 2017 at 11:58 pm said:
    I own the “Works of Edgar Allan Poe” published by “Standard Book Company Ltd, New York and London” 1933 “`but the spines do not match any of the books I have found online (with the exception of one in Thailand)

    Each book has a page that reads: “Harper & Brothers MCMXXVI, Centenary Edition, Orsamus Turner Harris 1933, Printed in the United States of America”

    They have a leaf vine diagnally down the spine

    I hav volumes 1, 3, 4, 7 & 8

  14. I have to agree with the valid points you make in your article because I see things like you. Additionally, your content is interesting and really good reading material. Thank you for sharing your talent.

  15. Are “vintage” gardening or horticulture books collectable? I find some very interesting books on these subjects when wandering through estate sales and wondered about the value of such books. Thank you for all your tips and educating us book lovers on what to for on our travels.

    • Hi Patricia,

      The answer is it depends. All of the information regarding value as described in the blogs applies.

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