Frequently Asked Questions
What should I collect?
Collect what you love! If your passion is true crime, then collect true crime. If it's fantasy, then collect fantasy. There will always be a market for books of all genres, so stick with what you love and come to know best. From there, the value is sure to follow.
What makes a book collectible and what determines it's value?
Of course, there are many factors that influence a book's collectibility and value. including:
- Age - Was the book published in the 19th century or 21st century?
- Scarcity - How many copies were printed?
- Edition - Is it a first edition, first printing or a later edition? (See editions and printings)
- Manufacturing - How was the book made? Is it leather bound, hand-sewn or slipcased?
- Condition - Is the book in fine condition or just good condition?
- History - Is there any historical significance or other interesting circumstance related to the book?
You should attempt to find out the answers to all of these questions before you make a purchase. If you're purchasing online, be sure to read the book's listing in detail and view all photographic images of the book provided. If an image is not provided, there may be a reason for it. Finally, always be sure the book's condition as represented in its listing is guaranteed by the seller, so that you may return it if you are not satisfied upon receipt.
What is a first edition?
A first edition, as it is known in the antiquarian book selling and collecting community, is the very first printing of a book from a single set of plates in the publisher's first print run. Reference to the term "first edition" refers to the publisher's first edition, first printing of the book. A first edition, second printing is not considered a "first" by either booksellers or collectors. A "first" can only be the first printing of the first edition.
Why do many collector's primarily buy "firsts"?
Many collectors mainly concern themselves with the first edition, first printing of a book because it is the most valuable and collectible presentation of the book. Historically, first editions tend to appreciate substantially faster and higher than any other edition of the same book. This is for several reasons. First, it is a matter of economics. The first printing generally will have the smallest print run. Whereas, subsequent printings become necessary as a book's popularity increases, and hence it's print runs will. Furthermore, a first edition, by it's very nature, is the closest representation of the author's original manuscript and therefore best represents what the author wanted to convey. Subsequent printings of the book may stray slightly from the author's original intention or vision. In general, first editions will increase over time, or at a minimum, usually hold their value; whereas later editions and printings may not exceed their original value ever, and may even decrease in value over time.
Looking for additional information on first editions and book collecting, in general? Check out the following invaluable reference sources: Book Collecting 2000 by Allen and Patricia Ahearn (Putnam, 2000), and ABC for Book Collectors, 8th Edition by John Carter and Nicolas Barker (Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2006). These superb volumes are an asset to every collector's library.
What is the difference between an edition, printing, issue and state?
An edition refers to copies of a book printed from the same plates in a publisher's print run. The first edition, first printing comes from the original, single set of plates and is, therefore, the first public appearance of the book to be sold. Each edition of a book can have multiple printings; each printing includes all of the copies of a book printed from the same plates at a given time. For example, an edition may include 5,000 copies of a book, 1,000 of which were printed initially, and 4,000 of which were printed six months later from the same plates. When corrections, additions, deletions or alterations occur in the printing process of a book after its initial publication, copies of these altered books will indiscriminately go on sale. An issue occurs when such alterations are intentionally made by the publisher for treatment as a separate, discrete unit. The result can be referred to as a separate issue of that edition. A state occurs when a portion of a particular printing, issue or impression, differs from other copies within the same printing, and for which the publisher does not wish to treat as a separate or distinct unit (or bring to the attention of the public).
Do later editions or printings ever become valuable?
The quick answer is, sometimes. For collectors, first edition, first printings are preferred because they tend to hold greater value. However, there are cases where later editions and printings of a book come to garner great value as well. This can be particularly true in the case of historical works (including travel and exploration narratives), where subsequent additions may come to include updated, improved and/or additional information, including maps, illustrations and other important materials not contained in preceding editions.
Some subsequent editions of fictional works may also increase in value over time, though this occurs with less frequency than works of non-fiction. An example of this phenomenon can be said to have occurred with the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, all of which sold sluggishly for the initial decades following their publication but exploded in sales during the 1960s as a result of growing popular interest in social trends and fantasy fiction. By the end of the 1960s, The Hobbit, for example, had already gone through fifteen print runs and two distinct editions, and all of them were collectible.
How do you identify a first edition, first printing?
Without a publishing industry standard, identifying first editions is often a process of elimination. Here are some basic guidelines that you can use to identify many first editions:
- Familiarize yourself with how specific publishers identify their editions and printings. Do they always note "First Edition" or "First Printing" on the copyright page? Do they utilize number lines? Do they follow both practices?
- Look for the words, "First Edition" on the copyright page. But be careful. Many publishers will continue to carry these notations forward, beyond first edition, first printings.
- The appearance of a number line on the copyright page (such as 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1) can serve as a great indicator as to the printing number of a book. If a number line is present and it includes the number "1" in it, you can feel confident that what you are holding in your hands is a first edition, first printing. Subsequent printings of a book will be signified by the lowest number in the number line. For example, in the following number line 2 3 4 9 8 7 6 5, the number "2" is the lowest number. This means that what you have is a second printing copy of the book.
- If there is no price stated on the jacket, if the ISBN number bar code is missing, if there is an embossment on the lower back cover, and/or if there is no number line in an edition of a book that you have seen a number line in before, than you can be fairly confident that what you are holding a book club edition. Book Club Editions (BCE's) traditionally hold very little value, as they were not printed by the publisher, but were instead printed under license by the book club in question. Collectors tend to avoid BCE's at all costs.
For some excellent and more specific information on how to identify first editions and states by publisher, pick up a copy of First Editions: A Guide to Identification, Fourth Edition edited by Edward N. Zempel and Linda A. Verkler (The Spoon River Press, 2001), as well as A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions and Points of Issue, both compiled by Bill McBride (McBride/Publisher). No collector should be without at least one of these invaluable assets. /p>
A book that is signed versus inscribed?
What is the difference between a book that is signed and a book that is inscribed? Which is more collectible? When an author signs his name to a book, usually in his own hand, the book is said to be "signed" by the author. A book that is "inscribed" by the author, refers to the signing of a book by the author to another person. For example, "Dear Elizabeth, Best Wishes, Dr. Henry Jekyll."
In general, the author's signature by itself tends to bring greater value to a book than an author's inscription because the personal nature of an inscription does not hold retain its appeal with subsequent owners of the book. Exceptions do occur, however; particularly in the case of author inscriptions to well known figures, personalities, other authors and the like. Or if there is a strong connection between the author and the recipient. Exceptions may also occur when an inscription states something unique, different or out of character for an author, or if a small sketch or drawing accompanies the inscription.
Does a film make a book more collectible?
For some authors, adapting their work into film means the transition from little known writer to mainstream popularity. Philip K. Dick was hailed by his peers but received little public recognition until several of his books were adapted into film, including Blade Runner based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Minority Report loosely based on the short story of the same name, and Total Recall, based on the short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.
For other authors, the adaptation of their book into film can mean big bucks. More than ten years after the release of Philip Pullman's controversial His Dark Materials trilogy, the first book (Northern Lights) was translated into the film entitled, The Golden Compass. Sales of the book nearly quadrupled after the film's release, making Pullman one of the largest grossing authors in history. For Stephen King, the making of Carrie into a film starring Sissy Spacek as the title character brought him critical acclaim and garnered Spacek an Oscar nomination, making Carrie one of only a handful of horror films to ever receive such an honor and starting King down a road of novel-to-film stardom, both in terms of dollars and fame. Although he had only received a nominal $2,500 advance for the hardcover release, he would go on to receive half of the $400,000 advance for the paperback rights sold by Doubleday to New American Library. Meanwhile, a few years later, the film’s final U.S. gross for 1976 would top $33 million (over $100 million in 2007 dollars, adjusting for inflation), more than 18 times its budget of $1.8 million!
Other well known books based on or written concurrently with a film can likely attribute their rising value today to the popularity of the film, particularly if it became a cult classic or was successful enough to spawn a sequel. Examples of this phenomenon may include the Stanley Kubrick films A Clockwork Orange (based on the book by Anthony Burgess) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (written by Arthur C. Clarke concurrently with the film). Another example may include Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes which spawned the original film and countless sequels.
How important is condition?
To an avid collector, condition is everything! This is because the condition of the book, and its dust jacket, contribute significantly to its collectibility and value, particularly the more rare it is or becomes. For books that are less rare, but still sought after, condition may be the difference between the value of your copy and the 40 other copies that exist.
How do I care for my books?
Of course, books are meant to be handled and read. But with the proper care, they can also last for many years. Take the following steps and precautions in caring for and preserving your books and their condition:
- Always clean your hands before handling your books. Or better still, wear clean, white cotton gloves. Either will prevent the oils from your fingers, and anything else you may be carrying on your fingers, from penetrating the book and its jacket.
- Always provide adequate support to the book you are handling. Cradle it in your palms or purchase a book cradle if you prefer.
- Never insert anything inside a book that may damage its spine or leave residue on its pages, including sticky notes, thick bookmarks, etc.
- Never dog-ear pages or place your book face down.
- Treat the dust jacket with the utmost of care.
The dust jacket (also known as the dust wrapper or dust cover), in and of itself, represents a large portion of the book's value, when well-preserved. So take considerable care in protecting and preserving it. The best way to do is to store it in an archival mylar (acid-free) sleeve protector. You can purchase these protectors from the following resellers:
Storing your books
The two greatest enemies of books are sunlight and water. Be sure to keep your books away from direct sunlight and in relatively temperature and humidity controlled areas. Too much heat will increase the acidity of the paper causing it degrade over time, while too much direct sunlight will cause fading of the jacket and page block, will destroy leather bindings and eventually degrade the by drying it out and making it brittle.
Moisture caused by high humidity and water may eventually degrade a book beyond repair. Too much humidity will also encourage mold and mildew growth which can eventually destroy a book. Keep books away from water sources and use a hygrometer to measure humidity. Control moisture levels with a humidifier or dehumidifier, as they case may be.
The recommended temperature for book storage is between 65°F to 75°F. The recommended humidity level is between 40% to 55%.
For shelving, consider metal shelving bookcases with a baked enamel finish. If you are using wood shelving, be sure there is adequate venting between your placement of the books and the rear of the bookcase unit.
Generally, books should be shelved at a 90° angle and supported with other books or bookends in order to avoid spine damage. Do not shelve too many books on the same shelf as this could also cause damage to the spine. When retrieving a book from the shelf, never pull it from the top of the spine as this will cause the binding to detach from the book.
What about insurance?
Generally, your homeowner's insurance policy may cover your books. It is highly recommended that you talk with your insurance agent to be sure. Blanket coverage may be adequate while certain titles may require an appraisal and special coverage in order to be covered for their replacement value. There are also insurance companies that specialize in collectibles, for those who have large collections.
Collecting Resources - Books
Ahearn, Allen & Patricia. Collected Books: The Guide to Values 2002. New York: Putnam. 2001.
Ashley, Michael. Who's Who in Horror and Fantasy Fiction. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1978.
Barron, Neil (editor). Anatomy of Wonder: Science Fiction. New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1976. An invaluable classic in the field.
Bleiler, Everett F. (editor). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Press, 1948. A bibliography of science fiction and fantasy titles published in English prior to 1948.
Burgess, Michael and Lisa R. Bartle. Reference Guide to Science FIction, Fantasy and Horror (Second Edition). Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2002.
Carter, John and Nicholas Barker (editors). ABC for Book Collectors, 8th Edition. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2004. Invaluable resource for novice and advanced collectors.
Clute, John and Peter Nicholls (editors). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993. Another excellent, comprehensive resource.
Clute, John and Peter Nicholls (editors). The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997. Another excellent, comprehensive resource.
Currey, L.W. Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors: A Bibliography of First Printings of their Fiction and Selected Non-Fiction. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1979.
Ellis, Ian C. Book Finds, 3rd Edition: How to Find, Buy and Sell Used and Rare Books. New York: Perigee Trade. 2006.
Jaffery, Sheldon. Horrors and Unpleasantries: A Bibliographical History & Collector's Price Guide to Arkham House. Bowling Green, KY: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1982.
Joshi, S.T. Sixty Years of Arkham House. Sauk City: Arkham House Publishers, 1999.
McBride, Bill. A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions (Sixth Revised Edition). West Hartford, CT: McBride/Publisher, 2001.
McBride, Bill. Points of Issue: A Compendium of Points of Issue of Books by 19th-20th Century Authors (3rd Edition). West Hartford, CT: McBride/Publisher, 1996.
Porter, Catherine. Miller's: Collecting Modern Books. London: Mitchell Beazley. 2003.
Reginald, R. (editor). Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature: Volumes 1 & 2. Detroit: Gale Research Co. 1979. Comprehensive science fiction and Fantasy reference books.
Tannen, Jack. How to Identify and Collect American First Editions: A Guide Book. New York: ARCO Publishing Company, 1976.
Wilson, Robert A. Modern Book Collecting. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press. 1992.
Zempel, Edward N. First Editions: A Guide to Identifictation (4th Edition). Peoria: Spoon River Press, 2001.
Collecting Resources - Internet
Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America: ABAA
BookThink: Links to Sources BookThink
Caring for Your Books: Stanford University: Stanford University
Fine Books & Collections Magazine: For the Fine Book Aficionado
Firsts Magazine: The Book Collector’s Magazine
Illustrated Guide to Book Care: Oxford University’s Bodleian Library
International League of Antiquarian Booksellers: ILAB
Smithsonian Institution Archives: Smithsonian Archives