“We cannot stress enough how important is to understand that the physical condition of a book – how worn or, hopefully, unworn it is – has a large impact on its value. In real estate, it may be ‘location, location, location’; in book collecting it is ‘condition, condition, condition.'" - Allen & Patricia Ahearn – Preface to Collected Books (4th edition, 2011)
The most important thing to remember when estimating the value of your books is that condition is everything.
When it comes to price, a book that might be worth $500 in fine condition can be nearly worthless in fair or poor condition. It’s also important to note that just because a book might be old does not mean it is worth any significant amount. The 150-year-old bible that has been passed down through your family might be a cherished family heirloom (and so it should be) but to a book dealer or collector it will be just another well-thumbed book.
When you do decide to put a value on your collection, you should ask yourself why you are doing this? Is it for fun, to sell the books, or for insurance purposes? There are several different ways find this information.
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The Internet is a powerful tool for the book-buyer. You can browse the offerings of thousands of booksellers from around the world and gain insight into pricing for particular books and editions – and do in seconds. On AbeBooks, the advanced search is a wonderful method for obtaining rough estimates.
However when it comes to placing a value on a book that you own, you should be careful when browsing Internet listings. The most important thing to remember is that when you run a search on AbeBooks (or any other site for that matter) the books you are seeing are those that are on offer but have not been purchased. Just because a book is listed for $4,000 does not necessarily mean that it will eventually sell for that amount.
The Internet marketplaces for rare books are a grand way to obtain a rough estimate. Try to match your copy as accurately as possible to the copy in your collection. Please remember that prices do rise and fall, according to popularity, demand, scarcity, trends within collecting and even the foreign exchange market.
A professional book appraiser is a rare book specialist, probably a bookseller, who is well versed in the pricing of rare books. An appraiser can be hired to deliver an unbiased recommendation as to the expected replacement cost of your book(s) or the fair market value for selling your books. Most often an appraiser is hired to assess the value of a book or collection for insurance, or for tax purposes during probate or judging the value of an estate, or sometimes a collector wants an accurate assessment of what their books are worth. It should be noted that taking your books to a book dealer is not the same as hiring an appraiser. An appraiser is bound to give you their best estimate as to the fair market value rather than what they would pay for said book. AbeBooks has a list of recommended book appraisers.
Catalogs and lists of items sold at auction or sales are published from time to time. For a collector looking to value their books, without the aid of an appraiser, tracking the prices paid for their particular volume over a recent time period is probably the best way to estimate a book’s value. A good online resource for auction lists and a price database is the AmericanaExchange.com which has over 3 million auction records for books and ephemera. Sotheby’s also publishes the selling prices after major auctions.