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Become A Book Hound: Collecting Antique Books

Updated on April 23, 2011

Love Antique Books? Become a Book Hound

Antique Book collecting, or book hounding, as it is also known (hence the term "book hounds"), is an increasingly popular hobby/passion. There are a lot of great reference materials on antique books, and becoming a book hound is something that anyone can learn how to become by using reference books and looking around for online resources. This might sound intimidating to some people, but it actually is not difficult to learn how to become a book hound, and there are many really good books, carefully illustrated, that can teach you step by step everything you need to know about identifying, locating, buying, and selling antique books...or maybe keeping a few personal favorites off to the side. Local auctions, flea markets, book fairs, antique book stores, and even eBay are all places where there are opportunities to find valuable books being sold well under value and buy them only to turn around and sell them for a tidy profit.

I've been an amateur book hound for about three years now, as this was a natural hobby for me since it combined an interest of antiques (I'm from a family of "Antique Roadshow" fans and pack rats), literature, and history. A major part of my interest came ironically because I mistook Sinclair Lewis for Upton Sinclair when studying for a college course.

After finding some cheap Sinclair Lewis novels, and realizing one I bought for $2 at a garage sale was actually worth $300 or thereabouts, I was hooked. For me being a book hound is a hobby, but even though it's "only" a hobby, that doesn't make me any less passionate about finding great books to collect. Antique books are amazing, and just the feel, the paper, the smell of a book from the 1920's is amazing.

Antique book collecting is a great hobby, and one that can occasionally be very lucrative as well. I once bought a true 1st edition of Sinclair Lewis's The Innocents for $50 from eBay, it was in very good condition, and I turned around and sold it for $785 plus shipping. That was my best sale to date, but you can believe I always keep my eyes open as I continue with antique book collecting.

Antique Book Fair: Where Book Hounds and Antique Book Sellers Meet

Book Collecting: How to Identify True First Editions

Book Hounds: Learn to Identify Condition of Antique Books

Book Hounds Know: Antique Books Vs. Old Books

If you're interested in collecting antique books and joining the legions of book hounds out there, one of the first things you will need to learn is the difference between old books and antique books. Not every old book is going to be worth something. There are many books from around 1900 that aren't worth anything, even if they are uncommon. On the other hand, there are paperbacks from the 1960s an 1970s that are worth a couple hundred bucks each (see Richard Bachman, or one of Dean Koontz's dozen pennames).

When collecting antique books, the popularity of the author or the book does make a difference in how much it is worth. This is in addition to how many copies of a book are estimated to be left. Many great collectible books, especially the most valuable, are first editions of books by famous authors that were written before the author became famous. This is why books like Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, and The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway are great first edition books, but worth far less than nearly unheard of early books by these authors like:

  • Hike and the Aeroplane
  • Cup of Gold
  • In Our Time

These latter three books are worth $12,000-$60,000 for true first editions, in strong part due to the fact that these were some of the earliest works by these authors who were all unknown at the time, so not only are they by famous authors, but they're rare, as well.  It's that combinaion that makes antiquarian book collecting profitable.

Collecting Books: How to Get Started as a Book Hound

The good news is that if you love antique books, or old things of any kind, it's not hard to get started as a book hound. It doesn't take classes or schooling, though if you have a mentor, by all means take advantage of that situation. There are several first steps you will want to take to get started as a book hound. First of all:

  • Get some resource books. There is a lot of great information to study online, and by all means, study it, but you will want to start building a library of resources to have on hand.
  • Start attending local events. Get used to looking for deals. Visit used book stores, small town auctions, real estate auctions, garage sales, or library book sales. Make scanning books a second nature instinct.
  • Find some "starter authors." By this I mean find some collectible books that are first editions and valuable, but cheaper. Sinclair Lewis was a good one for me, because there were a lot of good books in the $40-$100 range and I could learn my craft.
  • Have a Sales Plan. Early on your major goal might be just to collect books for a couple years, or you may want to get some returns early. You can get income by opening an online bookstore at or by selling the books to ABAA dealers. Have at least a basic idea of your plan, even if it is general like, "Collect books for two years then open online store."

These are some of the first and most basic steps in learning how to collect antique books and learning to become a book hound. Familiarize yourself with the ABAA, as they are as close to a "governing body" as there is in the world of antique books. If your final goal is opening a large antique book store, you will want to be affiliated with this group.

Being a book hound can be an extremely rewarding experience, and it really opens your eyes to the many valuable items out there that many people aren't even aware of. If you love books, history, antiques, or any combination of these three (or if you're just a good old fashioned pack rat), then this hobby and passion might be for you. Whatever the reasons, I strongly recommend to anyone looking to get started to buy a few good price and indentification guides and start to collect old books today!

Any Fellow Book Hounds Out There?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I am so glad I stumbled upon this article. I have collected books for years, but never knew a structured way of looking at it.

    • Life and Luxury profile image

      Life and Luxury 

      6 years ago from South Beach, FL

      I loved this hub. I am a book hound myself. I don't sell, but that would be a lovely profession. I have some odd old books myself that were given to me from an old collection - a 200 year-old book on witchcraft, for example.

    • jonihnj profile image


      7 years ago from Metro New York

      This was interesting, especially as I've been delving into more expensive books lately. I wanted to point out that I was able to find several coveted books are reasonable cost through ABE Books - I think they're based in London.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for a very interesting hub.

      I love my old books partly because they aren't valuable--so I can handle them as much as I like and not have to insure them specially.

      But you have tweaked my interest in learning about rare books and perhaps even buying and selling them.

      Dorothy L. Sayers' character Lord Peter Wimsey is a rare book collector. While reading one of her stories about him I have fantasized that I had the expertise and money to buy ancient classics as he does. But if I can get into this at affordable prices, a modest version might become a reality for me, as it is for you.

    • Jerry G2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerry G2 

      8 years ago from Cedar Rapids, IA

      Hi Linda. I would take a look for online resources to find antique book dealers in or around your area. Also, take the time to buy a couple of rare book guides to learn a little bit about what books are valuable, what to look for, and to get a better sense of what collectors are looking for. Many old books are extremely valuable, but there are also many that have very little to no value (monetarily speaking). Looking online for some experts to consult ad doing some homework can give you a much better sense of what your aunt has and what she should expect for them price wise. Another option would be to go public auction, but unless the word gets out and there are many serious collectors there, this could lead to you receiving far less compensation than you should.

    • profile image

      Linda D. 

      8 years ago

      My aunt has a room full of old books dating back to the early 1900's and would like to get rid of them. Any ideas?

    • profile image

      Carrie King 

      8 years ago

      I found this site by accident and I really enjoyed reading all about book collecting. I realise I am so unfamiliar with American Writers. Shame on me! I am an avid collecter of books, it's so nice to read about your experiences!

    • Jerry G2 profile imageAUTHOR

      Jerry G2 

      9 years ago from Cedar Rapids, IA

      Thanks for the comments. I love old books, which is why becoming a book hound and collecting antique books seems like such a natural fit for me. Also, I love the feeling of holding living history in my hands. Thanks for the comments on my antique book collecting hub!

    • LondonGirl profile image


      9 years ago from London

      Old books are lovely in the home - my favouritre is one my Dad gave me when I was doing A level history, an 18th century copy of Foxe's Book of Martyers.

    • profile image


      9 years ago



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