The Essentials of Book Collecting

An Essay in Parts

by Robert F. Lucas

Part   1 - Introduction
Part   2 - Importance of priority relative to book collecting
Part   3 - Jargon - Reading a catalog description
Part   4 - Jargon - Condition and its importance
Part   5 - Bibliographies and other useful references
Part   6 - Rarity & scarcity and supply & demand
Part   7 - Ephemera - what is it and is it part of book collecting
Part   8 - Understanding book values & pricing
Part   9 - Some physical aspects of the book - bindings & paper
Part 10 - Book illustrations - variety of & illustrators
Part 11 - Investing in Antiquarian Books

Part 8 - Understanding book values & pricing

How do you as a collector know whether you are paying a fair price for a book, buying the book at a bargain, or paying five times as much as other collectors? This question is somewhat difficult to answer because there is no established, agreed-upon price for every book — in fact, there really are no established, uniform price standards that are accepted by all for any books. BUT there are ways of determining price or value ranges for individual books and you, a beginning collector should become familiar with book values.

You should know what is available for price guides, annual compilations of auction records, on-line pricing methods, and antiquarian bookseller catalogues. And you should understand how to use these tools.

You should also understand that there is no price guide or set of auction records which will include all books — in some cases, after hours of searching through various price guides, on-line catalogues, etc. you still may not find your book listed, but with some diligence you will determine the value of most items.

Before we discuss use of price guides, auction records, etc. there are a few general rules of thumb that you should know.

Condition & Supply & Demand Relative to Value

A common book in fair condition usually has little or no value — one can easily find a very good or fine copy of a common book. Even a common book in considerable demand will still have a low monetary value. When one considers the lesser supply of an uncommon or a scarce book, it is easy to understand that there might be a market for a good copy, maybe even a fair copy and even in these lesser conditions the book now has some value.

In the case of an uncommon book, the value of a good copy would probably be only 20 to 50% of the value of a fine copy of the same book when there is demand for the book. A very good copy of the same book might bring 50 to 90% of the fine copy. These percentages are just used as rough examples.

In the field of modern first literary books, if a desirable title lacks a dust jacket the value fall off a precipice. If such a volume in fine condition with a fine dust jacket is selling for $500, the same volume lacking the dust jacket is probably available in the $50 to $100 price range. (This means the dust jacket is worth $400 of the $500). If the volume not only lacks the dust jacket but also is only a very good copy, the price is likely in the $25 to $50 price range. These are only examples — not steadfast rules — every book has a different level of supply and a different level of demand.

In the field of Americana, the lack of a dust jacket on a $500 book in fine condition might mean a price of $400 to $450 (the dust jacket is worth a lot less than in the case of a modern first edition). If the book is in very good condition instead of fine, it might sell for $400. Again these are only examples to provide a rough guide.

Supply and demand and condition are the most important factors in determining the value of a book.


Part   1 - Introduction
Part   2 - Importance of priority relative to book collecting
Part   3 - Jargon - Reading a catalog description
Part   4 - Jargon - Condition and its importance
Part   5 - Bibliographies and other useful references
Part   6 - Rarity & scarcity and supply & demand
Part   7 - Ephemera - what is it and is it part of book collecting
Part   8 - Understanding book values & pricing
Part   9 - Some physical aspects of the book - bindings & paper
Part 10 - Book illustrations - variety of & illustrators
Part 11 - Investing in Antiquarian Books

Books and Book Collecting