A question that patrons ask librarians a lot is “What is the value of this old book?” or “What can I get for selling this book?” Here’s a version of my standard response.
When Is An Old Book Worth Money?
What I’d suggest as a first line of effort is to check the titles through Amazon or Alibris or Abebooks. In most cases old books aren’t worth a lot a money, a few dollars at most. The exceptions are the ones book collectors want (which in all but the rarest circumstances have to be in nearly pristine condition and a true first edition or signed by someone very famous and long dead) or the ones that are somehow related to what someone collects (I mean they don’t collect books as objects, in and of themselves, but because they collect something – an author, a celebrity, World’s Fairs, coin banks, soap operas, etc. – that has some connection to particular books), or that the book is a childhood memory for middle aged people who have money, remember it, and now want it, but it is out of print. If it doesn’t fall into one of these 3 categories, it’s usually just an old book as a quick search online will tell them.
An Example of How This Process Works
Just as an example of how this works, original Harpers Editions of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books go for a couple of hundred dollars because book collectors are competing with Laura collectors. Cadmus editions of the “Little House” series from the same years and struck with the EXACT same physical plates that printed the Harper edition are about $12-20 because book collectors don’t want them (and they fall into the second category above). Despite the fact they may have been used hard and usually have library stamps they are also in a superior binding to the Harpers version, but that doesn’t make any difference. I sometimes think you have to have a warped mind to be a true book collector, as opposed to someone who just has a lot of books.
Want to Go Further To Make Sure You Don’t Have A Valuable Book?
If that doesn’t satisfy you, there are two other options. You can get a used book seller to go through the collection. Book sellers normally expect to be able to buy some of the books for their trouble and will most likely cherry pick the collection, not take all of it. That is fair because they have the knowledge of the market that is definitely work to keep up. The knowledge level will differ between booksellers.
Another way is to hire a true appraiser. True appraisers normally charge for the work they do and give you a report, condition, values, etc. in exchange. They are NOT cheap and normally they do not buy, although they may direct you to the best place to sell your collection. If you are still willing to go that route, most respected appraisers are registered with their national organization by specialty.
UPDATE: This is another one of my most popular posts that I’m updating and re-blogging. It’s one that I often send people to because the question comes up frequently. A few old books appraised for a lot of money on shows like the Antique Roadshow and Pawn Stars and now people think every old book is that valuable. Added to that advertising and the fact it’s still the general trend in our culture to value books, it’s hard to believe that old books aren’t worth money to somebody. I hope that my advice in this post has been of help and while I don’t really have an update, I can say that the likelihood of any particular book being worth money has decreased since I originally published this due to three years of economic conditions that has convinced a lot of people to stop adding big ticket items to their collections. That doesn’t mean buying has stopped, but it has driven people out of the market and a smaller market for anything means that even those who still want to buy something expect to pay less for it. Hopefully this trend will change, but it’s a bad time to be trying to sell collectibles and it’s hard to know when the market for them will recover.
UPDATED April 15 2016: I was sending this on again and decided to read it through. This was one of the first posts I updated and I’m being more rigorous now so I edited it again. This time I broke a big paragraph in two, added the headings and the links at the top, and added a couple of reworked sentences to the text. Finally I’ve added my current signature block below.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales striving to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.