The Antiques Roadshow was the first of many programs which convinced people they had hidden treasures buries in their attic. In my day-job as I librarian, I regularly receive calls from people asking how much their old books are worth. They often assume that age alone is enough to make an item valuable, but sadly, this is rarely the case.
I distinctly remember a discussion I had with an elderly man who had a copy of his mother’s Complete Works of Shakespeare, dating from 1890. After doing a bit of research, I was able to inform him that it would sell for around $4. He was stunned, dismayed, and asked to see my supervisor…. who confirmed my findings. Shakespeare is one of the most heavily printed authors in history, so his works are almost never considered “rare,” simply because the market has always been flooded with them.
So how can you determine if your old book is a treasure? Let’s take another highly printed author, Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame. Most of these books will sell for under $10 at a second hand bookstore, but if you have a mint condition, first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) you shouldn’t part with it for less than $110,000.
Now, let’s cut to the chase. There is a great website called Bookfinder where you can enter a title to see how much it is currently selling for at various used and antiquarian markets. I love this site because it is so easy to use, and patrons no longer question my intelligence when I tell them their old book is not worth much.
It is strange what can drive a book to become collectible. Age, condition, importance of the title, and rarity are all important. Many books, such as one of my favorite romances (Laura London’s The Windflower) have become collectible. I paid $3.50 for The Windflower back in 1983, but BookFinder reports it is selling for around $40 in used bookstores. (FYI: The Windflower is a mainstream romance title. Although tame by bodice ripper standards, it would not meet criteria for folks interested primarily in inspirational fiction.)
If you think you have a treasure sitting on your bookshelves, give BookFinder a whirl.