Where Can I Sell My Rare Book?
Thomas Jefferson said “a room without books is like a life without meaning,” demonstrating our founding father’s fondness for the written word. Avid readers and book collectors alike share Jefferson’s sentiment today, but there is another oft-repeated quote that carries significant relevance in the book world: “money talks.” This is especially true for rare books, which can command high prices from eager collectors in the book market. If you have a rare book on your shelf, you might be interested in learning where you can sell it for the highest price. The following details how and where you can sell your rare and expensive book.
How much are rare books worth?
The most valuable rare books carry significance beyond rarity. They often have historical or religious influence, or they’re first editions, inscribed by supremely popular authors or otherwise noteworthy. The table below depicts auction prices paid for some of the rarest books in the world as well as a few books you might have hiding on your bookshelf.
Leonardo da Vinci’s original 16th century manuscript
John James Audubon’s illustrated masterpiece, one of only 13 still in the hands of private owners
One of 48 surviving copies originally printed by Joann Gutenberg. Adjusted for inflation, the price tag would be more than $12 million today
One of 12 known copies of Edgar Allan Poe’s first book
One of seven originals handwritten by J.K. Rowling. Another sold at a charity auction for $3.98 million
First edition of Ernest Hemingway’s short story collection
First edition, inscribed by J.R.R. Tolkien
First edition, signed and inscribed by F. Scott Fitzgerald
500 copies originally printed with mistakes, including a misspelled title on the back cover
Inscribed copy of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel
First limited edition
Second edition inscribed by Jack Kerouac
Know what your book is worth
The first step toward successfully selling your rare book at the highest price is to know what you have. Knowledge is power, and when you know what your book is worth you’ll know whether potential buyers are making good offers. Start by conducting your own research to find out what your book is worth; then, you can consider taking your book to an appraiser to verify your conclusion. Book values are determined by the following criteria:
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Rarity and demand – Just because a book is old doesn’t mean it is rare, and just because it is rare doesn’t mean it is in high demand.
Importance – Well-known works in science and literature command higher prices than lesser-known volumes.
Edition – First printings are typically worth more than other editions (though there can be exceptions, such as when a printing error is made in a subsequent edition).
Dust jacket – A well-preserved dust jacket can easily double or triple a rare book’s value. Some circumstances can be extreme; for example, Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers reports that a first edition printing of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Tender is the Night” with dust jacket could fetch $6,000, while a copy without the dust jacket is only worth around $300.
Location of publication – If a book is published in two places at once (for example, New York and London), the location that distributes to booksellers first is considered to be the origin of the “true” first edition. “True” first editions can be more valuable.
Author – If the author is well-known to have historical or literary significance, your book will be worth more. If it features an authentic author signature, it will be worth even more.
Famous ownership – If a book is documented to have been owned by a famous person, it can be worth more – especially if that person wrote in the book.
Autographs – Autographed books are rarer and often more valuable, especially if they’re signed or inscribed by famous authors, celebrities and artists.
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Binding – Binding can influence price, particularly when it is a premium cloth or leather bound edition.
Errors – If your book features a well-known yet rare printing error, it can be more valuable.
Condition – The condition of your book will undoubtedly have a major impact on price. Book appraisers use standard terminology to grade a book’s condition.
The following are standard terms for book condition grades:
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● Very Fine or As New (VF): The highest grade describes a book that is just as it left the publisher
● Fine (F): A fine book has no visible flaws, yet has aged
● Very Good (VG): The most common collectible grade refers to a book that has minimal signs of wear
● Good (G): Despite its name, “good” isn’t considered good in the rare book market. A good book is whole, but may have a major flow such as a liquid stain
● Fair (F): A book in fair condition has significant wear, ink marks, stamps, or even torn or missing pages (but not text pages)
● Poor/Reading Copy (P): A book in poor condition has all its text pages but is otherwise damaged. Reading copies, such as those with library card holders, are considered to be in poor condition
Keep in mind that even though the condition of your book will affect its price, even books in poor condition could be valuable. An exceedingly rare copy of a world-changing work could command a high price no matter its condition.
Researching book values
Once you’ve determined your book’s condition and other features, you can research its value by comparing what similar books have sold for.
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- Both Flipsy.com and Direct Textbook let you instantly compare book prices from more than 200 reputable online vendors, including Amazon.com, eBay, and Abe Books
- Sites such as Abe Books and Biblio feature rare book search engines, though results could include non-rare editions
- Paid services like RareBookHub and American Book Prices Current provide rare book auction data, which makes it easy to see what similar books have sold for
- You can enlist the services of a book appraiser for a more definitive valuation. Find an appraiser registered with the Appraisers Association of America, the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, the American Society of Appraisers or the International Society of Appraisers. A professional appraisal could cost anywhere between $25 and $100 per hour
- You can also contact auction houses directly. If your book is valuable, they might want to represent you at auction and can give you a good idea for how much it’s worth. Sotheby’s, for example, offers a complementary online auction estimate
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Where to sell your rare and expensive book
Armed with the knowledge of what your book is worth, you’ll be able to set your price and find the highest available offer. There are three main ways you can sell your rare book: to booksellers, via auction houses, and to private collectors.
Selling rare books to booksellers
You can sell your rare book to a bookseller, but keep in mind that booksellers are operating a business and have to cover their expenses as well as earn a profit from reselling your book. That means a bookseller will most likely only offer 40 to 50 percent of your book’s actual “retail” value. Many booksellers are also appraisers; you never sell your book to the same person who appraised it. Ethical booksellers won’t allow such a conflict of interest.
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Selling rare books via auction houses
Auction houses are popular sales outlets for many rare books. A good auction house knows how to properly market your rare book and attract the most relevant bidders. In some cases, an auction house will be able to command a higher price for your book than you will be able to on your own; however, auction houses also charge high commissions ranging from 0 to 25 percent. Some auction houses might large listing fees. Fees are always negotiable, and a given auction house might consider reducing their commission rate in order to auction an item expected to command a large fee. After paying commission, you might or might not make more than you would selling your rare book to private collectors.
Selling rare books to private collectors
You have the most control over your final sale price when you sell your rare books to private collectors. Moreover, you might be able to engage private collectors in a “bidding war” without having to go through an auction house, thereby commanding the highest possible price without sharing commission. If you have a set price, list your book where collectors will see them; if your price is appropriate and your book is in demand, you shouldn’t have much trouble selling it. Online outlets provide the most convenient resources for selling your rare books.
Where to sell your rare book online
- Flipsy.com – Sell your book on Flipsy
- Direct Textbook – Get the best price offer for your book
- Ebay – Run your own book auction
- Amazon.com – Sell your rare book on Amazon
- Abe Books – Look up individual book buyers
- Auction houses: Skinner Inc., Sotheby’s and Heritage Auctions are three auction houses that represent rare books
- Private booksellers and consigners – You can sell your rare books to private booksellers and consigners. Contact members of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America for leads, conduct an online search for “rare book buyers” to find local bookstores; or, check out these online options:
- Bauman Rare Books
- We Buy Old Books
- Rare Americana
- Rare Book Buyer
- Between The Covers
- Regency Antique Books
For some, parting with a rare and expensive book is a bittersweet experience; they mourn the loss of a great work, but are happy to know someone else who appreciates it will get to enjoy it. For others, money talks. Regardless of your reason to sell your rare and expensive book, if you first ascertain its value and then make an informed decision about where to sell it, you’ll be able to maximize your selling price and rest assured your rare book will end up in good hands.
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