Rare Books
Book collecting guide

Collecting signed books

Photo of signed copy of James and the Giant Peach

Books are good but signed books are better. An autograph from your favorite author can turn a book into a collectible item and increase its value and desirability. Many collectors based their collections around signed books and they are a staple of the rare book business.

Signing a book is probably the simplest form of marketing that an author can perform. It’s instant personalisation of a mass produced item and very gratifying for the owner of the book.

The simplest way to get a signed book is to take your copy and meet your favorite author. Authors often tour in order to promote a new book and those events usually include book signings and readings. The more famous the author the longer the signing line will be.

Touring authors usually appear in bookshops and event details can be found in your local media. Tour details are listed on author and publisher websites. You will also find authors conducting signings at book fairs and literary festivals. It’s a great skill to spot an up-and-coming author and get them to sign a book before they hit the big time and the lines for signed books become very long.

Buying signed books without meeting the author is easy. You can find them in rare bookshops and their catalogs, on the internet and at rare book fairs.

When buying signed books, it’s important to know a couple things about bookseller terminology:

  • The term "inscribed" means that the author has written a short note in addition to their signature;
  • The term "flat signed" means the author has written their name and nothing else on the page;
  • In the bookselling world, the term "autographed" does not mean signed but means that the document in question has been hand-written.  So an "autographed manuscript" is a manuscript hand-written by the author.

Some authors tour regularly and sign huge numbers of books (Salman Rushdie and Ken Follett are both prolific signers), so their signed copies become very affordable on the rare book market. Other authors tour much less after becoming hugely successful so signed books can become scarcer. Obviously the supply of signed copies comes to a halt with the death of an author.

If you are in doubt about the authenticity of a signature in a book, steer towards books listed for sale by members of respected bookselling associations like ILAB, the ABAA, the ABA, the ABAC, IOBA and so on.