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Estimating Book Value

Q. For many years, I have collected books of botanical illustrations, signed numbered botanical prints, and books about botanical illustration. I am in the process of donating these volumes to a university library as a special collection. How do I get an estimate of the value of these books?—Lois

How do you become an expert at appraising books? Do you go to school for it? Or is it just something you have to pick up.—Barbara

A Voyage into the Levant

A Voyage into the Levant

A. Lois, it's great that you want to donate your collection to a library, but it's not as simple as it seems. Before making a donation of any books or printed material to a library, make sure that you discuss the donation with the recipient first. Most libraries have a person appointed to work with potential donors. Libraries typically have specific collecting focuses and while your collection might be excellent, it may not be a good fit for all institutions. Adding books and prints - even free ones - to a library is expensive. There are costs for space, cataloging, security, preservation, and conservation. If the library does want your books and you want a tax deduction, you must get a qualified appraisal. The following information is based on US tax law.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS), as of February 2007, has tightened up the regulations for appraisals relating to charitable tax donations to institutions. The IRS requires appraisers to have expertise and experience in the field and discipline of the items being appraised, and the tax agency has created stricter guidelines for appraisers and appraisal reports. The IRS is looking to eliminate bad report writing, improper analysis of comparable values, misinterpretation of the tax laws, and unqualified and fraudulent appraisal reports.

I recommend contacting either the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA) or the American Society of Appraisers (ASA) before making a donation. Both associations have strict ethical and professional guidelines and can provide you with a directory of members by specialty and geographical location.

Remember that all donations of $5,000 or more require that a IRS form 8283 accompany the report. This form must be filled out by the appraiser, donee, and donor.

Barbara, two of the most common reasons for appraisals are, as Lois suggests, to obtain a tax deduction, and for insurance purposes. Both have the potential to land the appraiser in court to defend his or her valuation, and such work cannot be undertaken lightly. Furthermore, to qualify to appraise materials for tax purposes, the IRS requires solid qualifications and plenty of experience. If you are interested in learning to appraise books, consider joining the ASA and attending their educational courses. The ASA requires all members to take extensive courses and tests before receiving an accreditation in a personal property discipline. Five years experience is required to be accredited to the grade of senior member. Each member is required to comply with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice, which requires an additional twenty hours of classes and accreditation. Every ASA member must re-certify their USPAP accreditation every five years with seminar attendance and additional testing, as required.

—Allan Stypeck, host of The Book Guys radio show, a member of both the ABAA and the ASA, and the proprietor of Second Story Books in Rockville, Maryland.


Information About a Family Heirloom

Q. I have a book called Practical Cookery by Mrs Nourse (Teacher of these arts, Edinburgh), which was published in 1813. It says in the front cover that it was printed by John Moir, Royal Bank Close, Edinburgh, and I was wondering if you could give me any information regarding this book and should I insure it. It is a family heirloom that has been passed down through six generations of my family. I would like to find out a little bit more information if possible.—Trevor

A. It sounds like you have quite a family heirloom. I hope you keep passing it down through your family for six more generations. The book is rather scarce - it does not appear in many of the reference books about early cookery books - but it is not in any great demand either. You seem to have the third edition of a book whose complete title is Modern Practical Cookery, Pastry, Confectionary, Pickling, and Preserving: With Other Useful Receipts and Directions. The first edition appeared in 1809, and new editions were released until the 1840s. Last year, a copy of the first edition sold at auction for 172.50 (about $300). Unless there is something extraordinary about your copy, that is probably the upper end of its value, and it would likely fetch less. Regardless of its monetary value, though, its worth as a family relic is priceless.

—Scott Brown, editor of Fine Books & Collections magazine


Signed Harry Potter

Q. Hi, I have a first edition (British), first printing of the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It has been signed by J.K. Rowling (apparently). How can I find out whether or not this is her true signature?—Fiona

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
A. The Harry Potter phenomenon has been unusual in many respects. Harry's magic touched a huge audience of all ages over the world. There are almost 400 million books published in 66 languages, proving that the novel can still be a global mass medium. The last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, broke records with its U.S. 1st printing run of 12 million copies. J. K. Rowling created a dramatic crescendo unlike anything literature has ever seen.

For a serious collector of signed books, this worldwide success has made collecting signed Harry Potter first printings a most daunting task. The unparalleled success of the series created an unusual situation in that with the release of each subsequent title, J. K. Rowling actually did fewer and fewer signings to promote the books, making signed first printings of later titles in the series almost rarer than earlier titles. The sheer volume of fans and collectors alike wanting signed copies made signing events an unmanageable task.

As a result, there's only been one official signing of Deathly Hallows up to this point that I'm personally aware of, and that was the signing held at the Natural History Museum in London on the book's release date on July 21, 2007. Attendance was by lottery only, and 1,700 books were signed. To the best of my knowledge, there was only one official signing for Half-Blood Prince as well, which was at Edinburgh Castle on July 16, 2005. So with the exception of the stray copy here and there that Ms. Rowling may have signed at press events or for friends, almost every signed 1st printing in existence of Books 6 and 7 can be traced back to those two signing events. You have the fifth book in the series, which makes signed copies somewhat more common. Rowling did more signings back then.

With the huge interest in signed Potters, unfortunately, have come the inevitable forgeries. I've always found the signed bookselling industry to be very honorable and have experienced far fewer counterfeit signatures than, for example, in the sports memorabilia world. However, the lofty prices that signed Potters command has brought many unscrupulous people out of the woodwork.

J.K. Rowling has a highly unusual signature that can be imitated, but even a semi-trained eye can quickly spot a forgery. To help combat this problem with Deathly Hallows, Bloomsbury (the U.K. publisher) affixed a hologram to the top right of the book's signing page, authenticating it as an official book from the midnight signing at the Natural History Museum. This is NOT to say that every signed copy of Deathly Hallows that doesn't have this hologram is a forgery, but it does go a long way towards providing peace of mind regarding authenticity. Obviously forged copies of this book and other Potters are rampant on online auction sights right now.

My advice to prospective buyers: Remember provenance is key. I'm a serious collector of the Harry Potter series and have signed U.K. copies of Books 3 to 7. Before I bought each and every one of them, I asked probing questions as to where and when they were signed. A reputable seller should know this information, and not be hesitant to share it with you. Signed Potters did not fall out of the sky-almost each and every one of them can be traced back to a well-documented event. And remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

—Bill Ford, Bill Ford Books, Los Angeles, California, USA. See Bill's signed Harry Potters.


Signed Transit of Venus

Q. My husband's family have all been music teachers, and his father was head of the brass department at the University of Iowa. A book by John Philip Sousa has passed down through the family. It is The Transit of Venus, and I recently heard a short program about Sousa as a writer on PBS. My copy of The Transit of Venus is inscribed by Sousa to Philip Greeley Clapp, who was head of the University of Iowa Music Department. Would it have any value?—Nina

A. In addition to writing his famous marches, John Philip Sousa wrote a bestselling novel called The Fifth String in 1902. The Transit of Venus was his third, and least successful novel, published in 1920 and soon forgotten. In it the members of the Alimony Club - a group of men who are all paying alimony - set out on a two-month voyage to get away from women and to observe the transit of Venus, a rare astronomical event. It's a very scarce book today. It is impossible to provide valuations for books without seeing them in person. Their condition matters greatly, as does the presence or absence of a dust jacket. Julian, of Julian's Books in New York City, has a copy of Sousa's second novel, Pipetown Sandy, inscribed to a member of Sousa's band and priced at $1,000. He says of your copy of The Transit of Venus: "The book certainly has some value that is enhanced by the signature. I would estimate $500 or higher—but there is no fixed price." And condition is of the utmost importance.

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