Invest in Rare Books


What Determines the Value of a Book
The valuation of books is largely a function of supply and demand. Demand alone would not drive valuation, nor would supply, but rather how demand and supply interact is what ultimately determines the valuation of a book.

  • For example, a book in high demand but with a large print run (quantity available) will have comparatively little value.
  • Alternatively, a book may be extremely old or rare (short supply), but if few people want it, then it will have relatively little value.
  • It is the combination of the two that create the market and the valuation of a book.

High demand for a particular book can be created because the book (or its author) may have been popular or made a significant contribution to history or literature; the book was made into a successful film; or it may have very fine illustrations or a highly sought after binding.

Supply of a specific book can be affected by the limited quantity that may have been published and the availability to find the book in attractive condition. Events such as small print runs, fires, floods, age, poor storage, or excessive wear and tear (as in children’s books), all limit the availability of a particular title.

A great example of this is a more recent book, The Philosopher’s Stone, which is the first book in the Harry Potter series and was published only 15 years ago. Age was not a determinant of value, as noted this is a recently published book. However, the intial print run of The Philosopher’s Stone was quite small with most being paper back issues. Only about 500 hard back issues were printed with most going to libraries (ultimately becoming heavily used and damaged). Valuation of this book was not only driven by the limited quantity of attractive condition books, but also by the rising popularity of the author J.K. Rowling and the later success of the Harry Potter movies. Therefore copies of this book in great condition are extremely scarce and demand is very high, resulting in valuations in excess of $25,000.

As discussed above, book valuations are largely determined by the interaction of demand and supply, however the particular edition of a book also influences its value. Valuable books tend to be first editions, or very early printings, or perhaps a later important printing due to the additions of illustrations.

What Is A First Edition
The First edition is the very first printing of a book by a publisher. It is usually referred to as the first printing or first print run, by the first publisher of that title. Additional print runs are referred to as a second printing, third printing, and so on.

  • For books translated into different languages, there are first editions for each language and country of publication. It is possible that either the first printing in the original language can be more valuable than translations, or alternatively that the translated first printing is more valuable than the original language first edition. For Anglo-Saxon books, the more valuable first printing resides with the original publisher.
  • First printings can have minor variations of either the text or the dust jacket, which are referred to as “states”. In instances where a first edition was produced in multiple states, it is usually the first state that is the most collectible and will hold the greater value. Later states of a first edition are still considered to be ‘first editions’ and collectible, but may be priced at a discount to the first state. These discounts will vary from book to book and will often depend on the scarcity of the first state.
  • There also may be first illustrated editions which can often be of value (and even sometimes of higher value than the original printing), especially if the first edition was later republished with lavish illustrations. These editions are often called first illustrated editions.
  • In addition to first editions, there maye be limited editions or special limited editions, many signed by the authors which are quite collectible.

Collecting Later Editions and Reprints
Generally speaking, the first edition, first state of a particular title is the most valuable. However, as mentioned above, first illustrated editions can be highly valuable and as collectible as the first editions (and sometimes even surpass the value of the original first edition). Having said that, most of the time the second and later printings are far less valuable than the first editions. In cases where the first edition has reached an exorbitant price, reprints have reached attractive valuations and become highly collectible. The Hobbit is a good example, where the true first edition in jacket can command a price of $75,000, and as a result the reprints also have become quite expensive, with the earliest reprint holding the most value and subsequent reprints becoming more and more affordable.

Dust Jacket History and Valuation
Starting in the late 1800’s, dust jackets were introduced with the purpose of protecting the books and acting as advertisements for the publisher or the author. People would remove and discard the dust jackets following purchase of the books because the jackets tore easily and would look unattractive. As a result, early dust wrappers have become quite scarce. In addition, the condition of early dust jackets was affected by color inks and papers that were highly sensitive to temperature and sunlight, often becoming brittle or faded. Because of the scarcity and poor condition of the early dust jackets relative to the books, most of these dust jacket are more valuable than the actual first editon books. In some cases, this relatonship between valuation of dust jacket and book can be quite dramatic, with the dust jackets for King Kong or The Great Gatsby (as examples) being worth ten to forty times the price of the actual book!

How To Care For And Preserve Your Books
In order to protect your investent in rare books, it is important to follow a few, simple guidelines that will aid in preserving your collectible books.

  • Books should be stored on a shelf, upright (and not leaning) and surrounded by other books (but not packed too tightly). Not doing so could result in sqewed bindings (spine lean).
  • Books should be stored in a neutral temperature environment without extreme temperature changes. Heat can dry out the books and excessive humidity can create mold.
  • Both books and dust jackets should not be exposed to direct sunlight as this will fade the spine cloth and dust jacket colors. Dust jacket are best preserved in clear archival covers to avoid wear and tear. Most book dealers today will sell their books with protective dust jacket covers.

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