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How Can You Tell What A Book Is Worth?

Posted: Sun Mar 02, 2008 6:54 pm
by Randall Flagg

As early as possible, new collectors should acquire the skill to evaluate their books; to determine what a particular book is worth. This is very important since books can be worth a great deal of money. They can also be worth no money at all. Most lie somewhere in between. What must be remembered is none of the factors leading to these evaluations are hard and fast. Sometimes a book that should be worth a great deal isn't because of condition. Sometimes a book that shouldn't be worth a great deal is because of desirability. Confusing? Well, yes, so let's take this opportunity to define what makes a book valuable and how you can go about using that information in building your collection.

1. DESIRABILITY - This is the primary indicator of a book's worth - how desirable is it? How much do people want it? The greater the desire, the greater the value of the book. Do not confuse scarcity with desirability - they are not the same thing. It does not matter if it is the absolute last copy in the world if no one wants it.

2. CONDITION - This one is fairly simple - the better the condition, the more valuable the book. A book may fulfill the desirability requirement but still lose value because of it's physical condition. Missing dust jackets, torn pages, broken hinges, scuffed and foxed boards are all things that can conspire to decrease a books value. Of course, the ideal condition is that of a new book regardless of the books actual age.

3. RARITY - Assuming that a book has desirability and condition, the next thing it needs for increased value is rarity. Rarity is based on a books supply relative to it's demand. In other words, how obtainable is it? Was it published in a print run of eighty thousand or a limited run of eighty? Why is it rare? Were editions suppressed and/or destroyed for some reason? Was it a large run and all the copies are in institutions, or is it just the lack of copies in really fine condition?

4. ASSOCIATION - The final element that influences the value of a book is previous ownership. By this we mean the association of the book with a famous person. A book with the bookplate or signature of a well known individual can increase the value of the book even if the signer is not the author.

These are the major criteria for judging a book's worth. In order to help judge it's purely physical appearance, we have put together the following industry standard scale for the beginning collector.

MINT (AS NEW) - The term is only used when a book is in the same condition it was when it was published. There are no defects of any kind. The dust jacket is perfect, without any tears or chips. On a scale of 1 to 10, Mint is a 10.

FINE - One small step below Mint, There still aren't any defects, but the item may not be as crisp and unused as Mint. If the dust jacket has even a small tear or any wear, it should be noted. On the 10 scale, Fine is a 9.

VERY GOOD - A Very Good book is bright and tight with no significant defects in appearance, binding, or content. The contents are complete and the book has probably been read with reasonable care. It should be noted that books in less than Very Good condition are normally not considered collectible. On a scale of 10, Very Good is a 7 or 8.

GOOD - Good describes the average used book. The contents are complete and it has probably been read several times. Some defects are allowed, but there is no great soiling, staining, or discoloration. On a scale of 10, Good is a 5 or 6.

FAIR - Fair is a clearly worn book, but one with all its contents present, including any bound-in maps, plates, and all pages with printing on them. The binding is probably soiled, possibly fading, and it may be loose, but no pages or signatures are separated or in serious danger of separating. On a scale of 10, Fair is a 4.

POOR - The book has complete text. Pages or signatures may be separating. Book is probably soiled and discolored with loose joints and/or hinges. On a scale of 10, Poor is a 3.

Two points need to be made about condition. The first is that the scale outlined above is not relative. "It's in very good condition for a 100 year old children's book" is a polite way of saying that the book is falling apart. If a book is falling apart it is not "very good" it is "poor". "Very good" means it meets the description above regardless of its age or genre. The second point is that, all other things being equal, a book's price moves geometrically in relation to its condition. A given book in "very good" (the normal benchmark) condition may be worth $100.00 while the same book may be worth only $50.00 in "good" condition, $10.00 in "fair" condition, and worthless in "poor" condition. Note also that the same book might be worth $250.00 in "fine" condition, and $700.00 or even more in flawless MINT condition. This is especially true of top author's (Stephen King for example) fiction works, and to a lesser but significant extent to non-fiction books.

Once these indicators have been observed and the previous criteria taken into account, the preliminary work of evaluation is done. Now it is time to take into account the more specialized indicators. This includes such things as whether or not the book is a first edition, whether or not it is autographed, who the illustrator is and all the other questions that an informed and knowledgeable collector should be able to answer.

Taken from Book Collecting: A Primer, edited by Thomas C. Hamm

Re: How Can You Tell What A Book Is Worth?

Posted: Sun Mar 02, 2008 7:27 pm
by jemaher

Re: How Can You Tell What A Book Is Worth?

Posted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 4:13 am
by Clacke
Thank you, Randall, for taking the time and effort to put together that post - invaluable information for all new collectors. :)

Re: How Can You Tell What A Book Is Worth?

Posted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 5:14 am
by Trashcan Man
A few other points on determining value:

- What are comparable copies selling for in the open market?

- What have others sold for within the past 1-3 months?

Also, a collection of signed or rare books is a personal choice. If you are not too concerned about ROI (return on investment), collect books you enjoy. You may have a book by an author that is signed to you. It may be worthless to everyone else, but it is valuable to you because you enjoy the author and their writing style - you feel good to have it in your possession.

Re: How Can You Tell What A Book Is Worth?

Posted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 10:38 am
by jhanic
Good point, Trashcan man. Sentimental value is important!


Re: How Can You Tell What A Book Is Worth?

Posted: Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:46 am
by Randall Flagg
jhanic wrote:Good point, Trashcan man. Sentimental value is important!

I concur. I have many things on my shelf that would get horse laughed by more than a few collectors.

Unless there is a drastic career change, the BCE 'Night Shift' will remain in its place. :)

Re: How Can You Tell What A Book Is Worth?

Posted: Fri Mar 07, 2008 1:26 pm
by chooch
I whole heartly agree with everyone. Collecting is suposed to be A) A Hobbie B) Rewarding when you find " the one you've been looking for" C) Something that may (in time) show a return. I have a signed " Mr Manly" book that I place right on the shelves with some of my other, much more valuable, editions, but I wouldn't sell it ... Hey, Hey, Hey!

Re: How Can You Tell What A Book Is Worth?

Posted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 4:18 am
by Trashcan Man
Here is an article I just posted on the site, concerning book valuation.

It's an interesting read and not too long:

Here is a preview:

Determining the True Value of Collectible Books
Whenever the topic of collectible books comes up in discussion, one of the first questions asked is, “How do you determine a book’s value?” The answer is simpler than you might think..."

Check it out at :

Re: How Can You Tell What A Book Is Worth?

Posted: Tue Aug 12, 2008 2:59 pm
by TheCollector
Keep in mind, however, that not all price guides are created equal, and no one guide should be considered “definitive.” Plus, book values are fluid, and sometimes rise and fall as if with the tides because the market is fairly small; it only takes a single person on the hunt for a rare first edition to spike that book’s price, sometimes quite dramatically. On the other hand, if a handful of owners simultaneously put a specific collectible book up for sale, the price may plummet because there simply won’t be enough people interested in buying it.
Thanks for the article! I you nailed the quote part right on the head, especially with the books that only show up 1-2 times per year.