Category Archives: Manuscripts

Antique Books, Vintage & Values?


To most people, books are a bit of a mystery as far a value goes. We did through piles of them every time we hear of some rare novel selling for the price of a new Mercedes after lying undiscovered in Aunt Winifred’s bedside table drawer since 1952.  But the truth is less exciting, many books that are more than a 100 years old often sell for under than the cost of  a Starbucks coffee. That’s right,  the vast majority of turn of the 19th Century books are often only worth a couple of dollars apiece. At auction today, most 19th- to early 20th-century hardcover books often go as  boxed lots for $20.

So,  the question is how do you get an idea of what Grandma’s trunk of old books are worth? Is it really worth researching or having a Book Dealer examine them?  We always strongly suggest to any of our clients that if they are not sure is if an item is rare, valuable or not, a call to the experts is a good plan, but there are some basic guidelines to determine what you have, such if your book is a “First Edition”.

There are many ways that publishers identify books as a first edition, the examples one is most likely to run into are  as follows and can be found in most books on the publishing and copyright page, generally found on the first few pages of the book. One should look for the following:

• First if the rule of “firsts”—look for words such as “First Printing,” “First Published,” “First Impression” or “First Edition.”
• A line of numbers like this: “9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1” (the number one missing would indicates a second edition).
• There is no listing of later printings on the copyright page.

If you find something like what’s listed above on the copyright pages, it could very well indicate it is a first edition and is worth looking into its value. Even with first editions, there are basic guidelines for value that hold true for all books.  With books both rare , antique or 20th century “Firsts” , it’s always about “author, inscription and condition*,” meaning that values for signed, first editions of a book in very good condition by a famous author trump most other factors.

Bibles like this 1886 edition in “Fine” condition can sell for over $500.00 at Auction, but examples in “Fair to Good” condition often go for less than $125.00

The only other factor that would best the first edition guideline for a book, regardless of the printing or edition, would be a provenance to a very famous person, place or event.  A good example would a family bible belonging to the family of famous historical figure, a modern celebrity or a notorious outlaw like Jesse James  (the Bank Robber, not Sandra Bullocks X-Husband ) With a genuine provenance to Jesse Jame’s family, the value of what would normally be an $80 common, mass-printed 19th-Century bible can go to more than $3,000.

A modern example of the first edition “author, inscription and condition” guidelines in action would be, say a signed, first edition of Stephen King’s “Carrie,” published in 1974. In today’s market, many antiquarian book sellers list this one at as much as $7,500, but in comparison, an unsigned 1983 printing in “as new” condition often lists for less than $75. Further down the chain, a “book club” or very late reprint of the same book in good condition can sell for as little as a couple of dollars.

* The various conditions used by Book Sellers to describe books are listed as can be seen below:

As New: Means just that; flawless right from the store.
Fine: Close to the condition “As New,” but not as crisp. Still, there must also be no defects.
Very Good: Describes a used book with some small signs of wear but no rips or tears on either binding or paper. Any defects will be noted in the description.
Good: An average used and worn book that still has all pages or leaves. Any defects will be noted in the description.
Fair: Describes a worn book that has complete text pages including maps or plates, but may be missing end papers. The binding will generally be worn in spots, and any defects will be noted in the description.
Poor: A book that is so worn that its only rates as a reading copy with a complete text, but it could have missing maps or plates, exhibit loose joints or bindings. These examples also tend to be scuffed or stained, and any defects will be noted in the description.
Ex-Library: Former library books must always be listed as such no matter what the condition of the book. Any defects will be noted in the description.
Binding Copy: Is a book in which the pages are perfect, but there could be damage to the binding or the binding could be missing
Book Club Editions are always listed as such regardless of the condition of the book.


Mike Wilcox

Wilcox & Hall Appraisers