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Collecting Rare Books

Updated on June 14, 2016
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Buying and Collecting Old Books

Collecting old books is a fun hobby and can be easy and inexpensive. Scouring garage sales, poking around in thrift stores and library book sales can be very exciting, especially when you come across a rare find, there's nothing more thrilling. If you like to buy and sell books, it can also be a profitable hobby.

Antique rare books are fascinating, from their beautiful endpapers, to the dusty smell of them. Many of them have an interesting history behind them as well. Whether you collect books all by the same author, collect books on a specific subject or interest, or a group of books from a series, they'll provide you with hours of enjoyment. See more collectible books on Amazon if you love looking at old books!


How to Start Collecting

What Kind of Books to Collect

Usually people start collecting something because they love it, so it's really not necessary to set any parameters around what books you decide to collect. Just collect what you love. You can have a collection of priceless rare books or a well used collection of old books. Both can give you hours of enjoyment.

Collecting antique rare books has been made easier by the internet. It's quick and easy to find out what a books costs just by Googling it or looking it up on eBay. You don't have to worry much anymore about overpaying for a book because there is so much competition out there. Just make sure you do your homework and you'll get good value. If you are serious collector that is considering liquidating in the future you will always want to buy the highest quality of book that you can afford.

Owning a fine leather bound book that is beautifully illustrated with color lithographs is a pleasure. As long as your collection gives you satisfaction you won't regret any money spent in building your collection. When you are considering buying and selling old books for a profit you are moving into book trading which is more of a business than a hobby.

What to Look for When Purchasing Old Books

Condition is King

The overall condition of a book is the single most important quality to consider. If the pages are torn and falling out, or the cover is missing, chances are it won't be too collectible. Books are much like coins and stamps and are valued by their condition. A book that is in pristine condition will fetch much more than the same title that is damaged. Books are often graded according to condition.

For the more modern books that have a dust jacket, the dust jacket accounts for about 90% of the value of the book. For example if the inside cover is clipped where the price used to be the book drops in value by about 75%.

As a rule hardcovers are more valuable than a paperback version and first editions are many times more valuable than second or third editions. A copy that has been signed by the author can also add value.

jdurham | morgueFile
jdurham | morgueFile

When is a Book "Rare"?

How to Determine Rarity

A book is considered rare when it is almost impossible to find. If you are looking for a book and finding that there are many copies of it around, it is not considered a rare book. Be cautious if someone is touting a book as being rare, look around and see if you can find other copies of it so you can compare the prices. Obviously if you can't find many copies then the book truly deserves to be called rare.

Rare books aren't necessarily old since what makes a book rare is it's availability as well as it's desirability. Typically the first edition is printed in small quantities so this is the reason the first edition of books are the most valuable. Books can become rare if they become popular with collectors and the first printing was small.

Does Scarcity Increase Value?

Sometimes But Not Always

You would think that if a book is scarce that it would be worth a lot of money. Usually that is true. However if the book is scarce, but collectors and libraries aren't interested in it, then it is virtually worthless. It's the law of supply and demand. The more demand there is then the more money people are willing to pay for it.

grafixar | morgueFile
grafixar | morgueFile

Is Every Old Book Valuable?

Not Always

Just because a book is old doesn't mean it's valuable. Value is determined by demand for the title. If no one is interested in it then the book has no value. Spend time researching to determine a book's value. Remember even if it's old and a sought after title, it's condition will play a part in it's value. A very old book, in rough condition will fetch only a few dollars, even if collectors are looking for it. Don't disregard sentimental value when collecting for yourself. If you are not looking at selling your collection then you may not be so concerned about the condition and may just be pleased that you found an unlikely treasure.

Out of Print Children's Books

What's the Difference Between a First Edition and Limited Edition?

How to Know the Difference

The very first printing of a book is called the first edition. The term edition means the total print run from the original typeset copy. If the book is a success then subsequent editions are published. Generally the first edition of a book is the most valuable.

A limited edition means the book was printed with a set number of copies. Usually this is noted within the book. Sometimes a book publisher may print a condensed version or one with a different cover and call it a limited edition. Just because it's a limited edition does not make it more valuable. Whether or not the limited edition is valuable is determined by how much demand there is for it. As a rule the first edition of a book will always be more valuable than the limited edition.

Evaluating the condition of books

If you love to read and collect old books you are a bibliophile

Do you collect old books? - Or just leave a note to say you stopped by

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    • karMALZEKE profile image


      4 years ago

      YES! I love books and I really love the old and rare. Finding a treasure is fun! Nice lens. Very informative.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I have a few, I'd love to get more!

    • profile image

      Echo Phoenix 

      5 years ago

      I can spend hours in old book shops... love the books, the smell, the old wisdom tucked away... I think old books are seductive in a way and my daughter shares this love, my granddaughter is headed this way:) Squidtastic!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I love to collect old book, this sight is very informative. I have only started collecting over the past year, but have managed to find what could be valuable books.

    • delia-delia profile image


      6 years ago

      Great informative lens! I have a collection of vintage books, something I have done since my youth..I have three French Revolution Diaries published in the mid 1700's

      ~d-artist Squid Angel Blessing~

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      6 years ago from Central Florida

      Vintage books fascinate me and my idea of a fun time is to wander around a used bookstore for hours.

      Great topic!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Love all kinds of books. I was in a bookstore in London about 22 years ago and it was just a beautiful store with rare first editions. I got one for my dad who collects first editions. I seem to be gathering books with the authors signature, quite by accident really. I live in a college town and people tour through sometimes, that and I have at least one friend who has written a book.

      Anyways nice lens :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I love old books, can't get enough of them!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very informative and fun (from a bookworm's point of view) lens. Well done!

      Li Li

    • writergrey profile image


      6 years ago

      I don't really collect books so much as have a working and reading library - just reading copies plus a few curiosities and a few almost accidentally valuable books This is a really helpful Lens!.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      6 years ago

      I learned a lot from this lens, and really appreciated it. Pinned to my board Books worth Reading. Enjoyed the Abe's video. I thought the Abe Books video on the parts of a book was interesting.

    • Steve Dizmon profile image

      Steve Dizmon 

      6 years ago from Nashville, TN

      I think we share a love for Antiquarian Books. May the "Book Gods" bless you for your interest. Love all your Old Book Resources. Many Thanks.

    • Coreena Jolene profile image

      Coreena Jolene 

      6 years ago

      Lots of good tips here for buying antique books. My brother picked up a couple on ebay on ancient medicine with herbs and another one with crazy old wives tales. Boy some of those classics really bring in the bux on ebay. Best of luck to you.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I work in the book department of the Oakland Museum White Elephant sale.. I LOVE books! Every year I end up bringing far too many home. I collect signed books from my favorite authors.

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 

      6 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I love old books! It doesn't matter if they are rare or not as long as they grab me. For another resource, I've found some wonderful finds at our library sales! :)

    • MariaMontgomery profile image


      6 years ago from Central Florida, USA

      Beautiful lens, and so informative. I love books. My books are like my children, so I take very good care of them. One can never have too many books.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have a few book collectors in my fam, this is a great selection of rare books to find, thank you indeed for the write up.


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