4 Questions and 4 Answers for every potential book collector
The first question that probably comes to your mind when thinking about book collecting is What books should I collect? There are a few answers to this question, but I would genuinely advise that you start with the books you love. You may say: Alright, but I love a lot of books of different genres, written by various authors from different eras. How should I know where to start? In this article we’ll try to help you with these essential questions.
If you are thinking about forming a collection you should narrow your search to a specific author or a literary group, different editions of your favorite title, genre, era or signed copies and first editions. Every one of these ways are ideal, you just need to stick to one of them. You need to put some research into it and determine whether the book you are interested in was widely circulated or if it maybe has some specific characteristics that make it special. If you manage to find such a copy, than you could say that you found yourself a rare book.
The next question you may ask yourself is Can I make money from collecting rare books? Yes, but in order to make any profit from book collecting you really need to put a lot of effort, time and knowledge into it. You need to know the situation in the market and to identify the books that will become valuable over time. Collecting books for financial gain is not easy. That’s why making money should not be your priority from the start.
To have a nice collection of books that may become valuable you need to have passion and love for the copies you collect. Many collectors began their collections with different editions of their favorite book. Quite often those are the books that marked their childhood. First editions are usually the most valuable. For example, the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from 1997 by JK Rowling is nowadays valued up to $35,000. Signed copies can also be very valuable, but be careful- some writers are generous signers of their copies and prices for these copies are not very high. Salman Rushdie is one of the most prolific signers and price for his signed books begin at around $15.
On the other hand, some authors have a reclusive status and you will pay a premium price for a signed copy. For example, a signed first edition of The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger is currently valued around $50, 000.
Another question that will probably pop in your mind is Where can I find rare books? Nowadays, you have a lot of choices on the internet- you can find many online rare books stores, or you can find and contact different rare books sellers. It’s important to get to know your local sellers and rare books stores. You may also find rare and valuable books on some less expected places, such as flea markets.
The fourth and final essential question that every potential book collector should ask himself is How much money should I spend on a collection? Nowadays, it’s easy to spend even over $50,000 on a single copy. What you need to do is to set a budget and stick to it. If you have rather limited budget, be smart: spread it into library and charity sales, or thrift shops. Learn to spot undervalued copies and snap them up.
Cornerstones of book collecting
First editions and signed copies are two cornerstones of book collecting. But, once you enter the world of used books, you must remember to always pay attention to the most important thing: condition. The difference in financial value between a first edition that’s been gently read once and a heavily worn first edition with a torn, price-clipped dust jacket can be enormous.
For modern first editions, the presence of a dust jacket is vital in itself. Dust jackets were commonly thrown away by owners in the early 20th century, so books with dust wrapper became a rarity. The most significant example of how a dust jacket can affect value is the first edition of The Great Gatsby – with a dust jacket, the book is worth more than $100,000. A first edition lacking its jacket is worth less than $10,000.
A basic principle is that a book’s value increases with the demand from its buyers, but copies are scarce. There can be many other influencing factors, such as the literary or social significance of the book, interest in the author, awards or controversy.
Those would be the essential things that you need to consider if you are planning to begin collecting rare books. Stay tuned for more articles concerning this beautiful hobby.
Photos taken from abebooks and private collection.