Some antique books are very valuable.  But just the fact that a book is 100+ years old does not mean that it is worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Today, the interest level in antique books is high, possibly due to The Antique Road Show. Many people are looking for old books in their grandparent’s attic, at estate sales and at garage sales. Once they find antique books, they want to know what they are worth.

Difficulties in Valuing Antique Books

Books from the 1800s and earlier didn’t have dust jackets. They have often been read many times and are usually worn and torn and stained. Often they have been repaired – usually the spines are replaced. If all the pages are intact and the boards and spine are in relatively good condition there may be some value in an antique book.

But many books were reprinted many times and are relatively abundant and common. Until the 19th century, printing books required manual labor. The printing presses were operated by hand … book production was a laborious and expensive enterprise. That changed with the invention of the steam engine which automated printing presses in the early 1800s.

By the mid to late 1800s the cost of printing had gone down and the speed had gone up dramatically. Books were now available to everyone. The most popular author’s books were reprinted many times. Inexpensive copies of the books of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and many others were readily available. Many of these reprints have survived until today.

Antique books with the highest value will nearly always be first editions. A book search or books on the subject can help you determine this. Or you may want to get guidance from a book dealer who specializes in antique or rare books.

Ways To Determine the Value of Your Books

One good source of antique book  information is Advanced Book Exchange (www.abebooks.com) which is the largest used book website. You can also visit wikipedia.org for bibliographies of authors.

Also, if you have enough interest, time and money there is a Rare Book School at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. It has been at that location since 1992. It offers five-day courses on various topics on rare and old books. There are courses for booksellers, book collectors, librarians, bookbinders and teachers.

The courses have required reading before you attend. Here are some titles that are frequently recommended:

Short History of the Printed Word by Warren Chappell

Five Hundred Years of Printing by H. S. Steinberg

Twelve Centuries of BookBinding, 400-1600 by Paul Needham

The History of Cartography edited by Mark Monmonier

Nabokov’s Butterfly & Other Stories of Great Authors and Rare Books by Rick Gekoski

Also, books by Nicolas Basbanes are excellent sources of information on rare and collectible books.

My Brother-in-law’s Collection

My brother-in-law has a few hundred antique books that he collected mostly in the 1980s and 1990s on the west coast.  They were inexpensive then.  (Three are shown on this page.)

He has shown me his books.   Most aren’t very impressive at first glance until you see the year and the author and know a little about the background of the book.

So if you have an interest in collecting antique books or need to know what they are worth … read about them, do your homework and talk to the experts (like those at Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America or ABAA) before making a purchase or sale.



7 Comments on What Are Your Antique Books Worth?

  1. Maria says:

    Do you have any information regarding 1918 Windston Readers, 2nd readers, Firman & Maltby.

  2. Tracy Tharp says:

    I was wondering if this book is of any value. It is “Brief Notes for Temperance Teachers” by Benjamin Wade Richarson M.D., F.R.S. There is a date of November, 1883.

  3. Stacey Smith says:

    I have come in contact with 3 old and rare books and was wanting to know if they are in fact rare and worth anything. I have listed the following information on all 3 books. Any help or guidance you can give would be great.
    BLACK BEAUTY
    by Anna Sewell
    M.A. Donahue & Company
    there is no copyright date or any dates printed in this book. A date of December 2, 1920 was written hand written in the book.

    HUCKLEBERRY FINN trip by raft down the Mississippi River
    by Mark Twain
    Copyright 1951

    2 Book set in original box of:
    ALICES’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND & THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
    by Lewis Carroll
    Special edition published by Random House 1946

    Thank you
    Stacey Smith

    • Bob Morse says:

      Stacey-
      These books are reprints of books that were first published in the 1800s or early 1900s. Collectors value and purchase only first editions – the first few thousand books that were printed of a work. Millions of these books were printed years after the first editions so they will likely not be worth much over $50. You can search for similar books on http://www.abebooks.com.

      Thanks for the question,
      Bob

  4. cflackt@yahoo.com says:

    I submitted an old book for an estimated appraisal was wondering how do I find that part of your website to check if the appraisal was done?

    • Bob Morse says:

      I will be sending you an appraisal shortly by e-mail and then will post it under the Antique Book Section. If you have a picture of the book I’d be glad to post that as well.
      Thanks.

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