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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Value of Old Books

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 1, 2012

The value of old books is a question posed to the library frequently.


In my 40 years of working in a library, I have often encountered an excited person with old book in-hand, ready to take a vacation on what they will get from the sale of their rare book.


Usually, the person will leave disappointed and surprised that their book is only yard sale material.


Research and review is necessary to determine if your old book is worth something, but there are several general considerations when evaluating your old book.


First, condition is everything.  An old book must be in at least good condition to have value, any water damage or mold erases the value in an antiquarian market.  Markings of any kind will diminish value, and any binding damage will negatively impact value.


Secondly, the age of the book does not increase value.  There are many factors impacting whether an old book is valuable.


There is a difference in the value of an old book in the antiquarian marketplace, and the value placed on a book by its owner with the family history of the ownership of the book.


General categories of age importance are any book printed before 1501, English books printed before 1641, books printed in the Americas before 1801, and anything west of the Mississippi River before 1850.


Relating to book categories, various editions of the Bible have little value because they are commonly produced, except for specific works and editions.  Family Bibles may contain genealogical pages of interest, but the text is not likely to be of value.


Collected editions of an author’s work, sometimes with a “limited edition” statement are seldom rare editions.  There were commonly produced between 1880-1920.


Encyclopedias have no value as they were meant to become obsolete with time.


Textbooks have little value as well, except those produced prior to 1850 that remain in good physical condition.  “McGuffey Readers” are often assumed to be valuable, but only the earliest editions that survived without student’s scribbling on the pages will bring a good price.


A “first edition” of a book is the most valuable of a title, but separating those editions from later printings or “limited editions” will require an expert.


An author’ signature will add value if the signature can be authenticated.  A secretary and even booksellers add forged signatures to attempt to add value.


If you feel that you have valuable books, they can be appraised by professionals belonging to the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America.


You can also look online for general guidance at and to see what similar book titles are selling for in the marketplace.


Of course, these are retail prices, and are a higher price that you would get for selling your book to a vendor or auction house.


The library has copies of “Your old books” which is produced by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries; and contains good information on the topic.


Old books are meant to be used and enjoyed, and if the presence of the book brings you pleasure, then the value shouldn’t be a prime concern.


I have many old books whose value is absolutely zero, but their beautiful bindings and printing bring me great joy.