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What Is an Old Book Worth?

Updated on May 11, 2015
Virginia Allain profile image

A librarian through and through, Virginia Allain writes about book topics, research, and information for library users and librarians.

Classic children's books from my bookshelf.
Classic children's books from my bookshelf. | Source

The Value of Old Books - Is Yours Worth Anything?

Do you have an old book that you think is worth a lot?

Quite often, a person would came into the public library to ask the librarian about the value of an old book they owned. I handled this question many times in my thirty years as a librarian. Often I had to disappoint the person when I researched what the price was for their vintage book. Not all old books are collector's items or are even wanted by book buyers. (photo on left by Virginia Allain)

Of course, librarians are not book appraisers, but I found a number of useful tools to help someone figure out the value of their old book. Check below to determine what price someone would pay for that old book you have. I've taken several old books through the process of estimating the value so you can see how it works.

An autographed book that I sold for over $200.
An autographed book that I sold for over $200. | Source

Is the Book Signed by the Author?

The author's signature inside a book does not guarantee that it is worth a lot of money. Autographs from very famous people get devalued if they signed massive numbers of books. A personalized signature to a significant person does increase the value of the book. Look at the name of the book owner if it is written in the front of the book or if the name is mentioned in the book inscription by the author. If it is someone important enough, it can enhance the value of the book.

Old Books Price Guide That Lists 25,000 Books and Their Values

Huxfords Old Book Value Guide (Huxford's Old Book Value Guide, 13th ed)
Huxfords Old Book Value Guide (Huxford's Old Book Value Guide, 13th ed)
This lists books compiled from book sellers' price lists. Excellent for seeing what the experts out there think a book is worth. It includes 25,000 titles. There's also a great list of book buyers, telling what they are looking for and giving their contact information.

Hot Auctions for Old Books on eBay - Examples of Desirable Books Selling Online

Take a look at these auctions and it will give you an idea of what book buyers are looking for. If you are planning to sell some old books that you have, check eBay to see what your competition is. If quite a few sellers have the same book, you are unlikely to get much for your copy.


Start with Bookfinder to Determine the Price for the Book

Bookfinder connects you to the descriptions and prices of over 150 million books for sale from booksellers all over the world, including Amazon and rare book dealers.

It includes new, used, rare. out of print. international. and textbooks.

Just enter the book's title and author or on newer books the ISBN number (found on the book jacket or on the back of the title page). Match your book as closely as possible by date, description, edition and condition to the ones listed. Remember that condition makes a huge difference in value for used and rare books.

(graphic courtesy of

Books about Book Collecting - Learn all about it

You can borrow some of these from the public library, but I'm guessing you'll want one or two for your home reference shelf.

Beautiful Old Bindings

I love the old leather bound books or ones with gilt lettering.
I love the old leather bound books or ones with gilt lettering. | Source

Condition Flaws That Affect the Value of an Old Book

This video discusses the outside condition of the book, but interior problems like a loose binding or foxing (spots on the pages) lower the price as well.

After watching this video, browse the related video topics on the right side of the screen. Those explore the things you need to know about condition affecting book value. This video on the Inside Condition of an Old Book is important to watch.

Evaluating the Condition of Your Book (video tutorial)

Example: An Old Book in Poor Condition

The 88th Division in the World War
The 88th Division in the World War | Source

Why the Book Above Has Little Monetary Value

This book belonged to my great-uncle who served in WWI. Although it dates back to 1918, it has little resale value due to the damage it shows. The family values it because it lists our great-uncle in it.

A copy in good condition might sell for $40 to $80. One can buy a reprint of the book in paperback or even on Kindle.

Some Books Are Sought After Even If They Aren't Old

Does a rare book lurk in this stack? Most of the ones in this batch have little value for resale. They are too common.
Does a rare book lurk in this stack? Most of the ones in this batch have little value for resale. They are too common. | Source

Price Guide for Old Books - Get one for your bookshelf

The Official Price Guide to Collecting Books, 6th Edition
The Official Price Guide to Collecting Books, 6th Edition
If you want to know what prices certain titles have brought at auction, check this guide.

Even Paperback Books Can Be Valuable - Check this price guide for collectible paperbacks

Collectable Paperback Books: A New Vintage Paperback Price Reference Second Edition
Collectable Paperback Books: A New Vintage Paperback Price Reference Second Edition
Vintage paperback books can be tricky. My sister sells these on Amazon sometimes for as much as $50. You just have to find the right ones.

Tell Me about Your Interest in Old Book Values

Vote in the Poll

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Selling Used Books on Amazon

How to Sell Used Books on Amazon: The Stay at Home Mom's Secret Guide to Selling Books on Amazon
How to Sell Used Books on Amazon: The Stay at Home Mom's Secret Guide to Selling Books on Amazon
Once you've determined that you have a valuable book, one place to sell it is on Amazon. Actually looking up the book on Amazon is a way to check the number of copies available for people to buy and what prices they are asking for those copies.

Example - A Popular Schoolgirl

We'll follow one book through the process of determining its value.


A Popular Schoolgirl Book Cover Post Card by friendlyspirit
Available from Zazzle on a Postcard

When you look up this title on Bookfinder, you'll see 156 copies for sale by book dealers. Some have a publication date of 2008, so the book has been reprinted. Several copies from the 1920s are listed around $150 each. These all have paper dust jackets but our copy does not.

One 1920 copy is listed for $589. I would discount this as a seller putting it out just on speculation. The other copies are much lower in price.

One book listed for $44 seems like a good match for our copy. Here's the description: "Publisher: Blackie London, 1920

Good hardback in grey cloth with blue, black & yellow. Illus by Balliol Salmon Ed.not stated. Inscrip (1920) on ffep; feps browned; some foxing; spine a little browned, with wear to cloth at head and foot. 6 B&W illus, all present. Appears to be First edition of 1920 - gift inscrip dated Christmas 1920; 'A Popular Schoolgirl' is at the top of the list of 21 titles on verso of half-title page and all other 20 books listed were published in 1920 or earlier."

This book cover has been turned into a poster that is available on Zazzle.

Dream & Fate Book Cover ~ Poster. Merchant's Gargling Oil Almanac ~ Dream & Fate Book 1886. Wonderful vintage book cover. Image of a woman in a long flowing gown and an owl seated on a crescent moon.

(graphic credit: Dream & Fate Book Cover Poster by VintageFactor)

Looking up The Dream and Fate Book on Bookfinder

There was only one listing on Bookfinder. The book was described as:

"Lockport, N.Y., Merchant's Gargling Oil Company, 1885. 18 x 12 cm. Orig. decorated wrappers. Illustrated. Attractive colorful covers with on the rear an illustration of a horse tended by two orientals with gargling oil. A few minor defects. With punched hole for hanging string.* Advertising booklet for a cure-all medicine. With an almanac for 1886, moon phases, 'unlucky days', jokes and other amusement."

The price listed was $42.47 which included the shipping cost. This is for a book published in 1885, not 1886. Close enough that we can consider our book to be worth a similar amount. Possibly it was an annual publication by the Gargling Oil Company.

© 2010 Virginia Allain


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