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What Makes a Book Valuable to Collectors?

In a recent blog entry I wrote about how books rarely become more valuable based on age alone.   There are plenty of exceptions to this rule, so I thought I’d write about what makes a book become of interest to collectors.  The Hobbit is a great example of why some books become very valuable.  No one expected this charming little children’s tale to become a smash hit, so only 1,500 copies were printed in 1937.  Collectors who are seeking a first edition of The Hobbit are going to have fierce competition.  As the valuable first edition copies of the book find their way onto collector’s bookshelves, fewer copies are circulating for sale, so the price continues to snowball.  Comic books, which were considered disposable commodities in the early decades, have become valuable for the same reason.  

In 2010 a first edition copy of The Hobbit sold for a staggering $120,800.

The main criteria for causing a book’s value to skyrocket are the following:

A First Edition.  This is probably the biggest factor in making a book valuable.  A first edition of Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1899) with the dust jacket and in good condition will sell for around $35,000.  A second edition printed just a few years later will sell for less than $40.  That first edition is a big deal.

Scarcity.  This is why first editions of book from authors who later went on to achieve great fame are so valuable.  Tamerlane and Other Poems was the first book of poetry by Edgar Allen Poe.  Only twelve copies are believed to be still in existence.  In 2009, a copy of this work sold for $662,500.

Cultural or Historic Importance of the Work.  A landmark book, especially a book that helped shape history, will be extremely valuable. Although hardly a household title, Journey of Discovery to Port Phillip, New South Wales by William Bland sold for almost $700,000 in 2006.  The book is of ground-breaking importance to the discovery and exploration of Australia, and that makes it valuable.  

Condition of the book.  No one likes ratty, stained, or smelly books.  Even collectors shy away from such books, but if you’ve got a rare title in pristine condition, the value will soar.

Signed by a famous author or illustrator.  Get your first edition Elizabeth Camden books signed now before I hit it big!

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    Comments:

    • Kelly Butzer says:

      I have a question on two books that i have. they are both from my grandpa. The first one is called, “The Crisis of Everyday Living” by Gus Hall. It was published in July 1978 by the communist party in America. The second book is “Outlines of Tudor and Stuart Plays”. This one was published in 1947 and is good condition. I was wondering these books were worth anything. Thanks!

      • Hi Kelly! The Tudor play book is not considered rare, and is only worth a couple of bucks. The other title is much more interesting. It looks like Gus Hall wrote tons and tons of communist pamphlets and booklets….most of which now sell for between $5 – $10. So not much value, but I could find NO used copies of the book you mentioned, and only nine copies left in US and European libraries. That makes it rare. “Rare” doesn’t always translate to monetary value…..but it is still an interesting book. If you ever want to donate it to an academic library, let them know how few copies are out there in the library world, and I expect they’ll want it. Finding a buyer will be tough, but libraries love snapping up these rare items. Cheers, Elizabeth

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