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Are My Encyclopedias Worth Anything?

While the digital age has revolutionized how information is shared and digested, it has also rendered longstanding reference tools obsolete. Encyclopedias, once considered indispensable tomes for higher education, have largely gone the way of the dodo: extinct.

The print encyclopedia format simply cannot compete with online resources in terms of information accessibility, volume, price and date relevance.

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Thus, many U.S. households are left with old encyclopedias that do little more than collect dust. If yours is one such households, you might be interested in selling your encyclopedias on the collectibles market; but first, you need to find out what your encyclopedias are worth. Here’s how to find the value of your encyclopedias.

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What Are My Encyclopedias Worth?

At Flipsy we often field questions like: “I have a complete set of 1958 World Book Encyclopedias. Are they worth anything?”

Determining the value of a set of encyclopedias or even a single volume isn’t exceedingly difficult, but there is market variation. As one bookseller puts it, the value of a book is whatever someone will pay for it.

That oversimplified explanation, however, doesn’t help the average person put a value on their encyclopedias. And the fact is, most encyclopedia sets aren’t worth much at all.

James Beattie, of Books Appraised, has been a professional book appraiser for 33 years. He says the vast majority of encyclopedia sets carry retail values of less than $75. Single volumes (the “D” from a set of Britannicas, for example) sell for proportionately less.

Beattie’s advice for would-be encyclopedia sellers?

“I would initially assume they’re not worth very much,” he says. “Check sites like Abe Books to see if there are any for sale and at what price.”

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“As many of my colleagues will tell you, most older sets are quickly outdated. There is little demand for them, and they are very expensive to pack and ship in this world of online book sales,” he says.

The problem, explains Lynn Roundtree, is that encyclopedias have no inherent value. Roundtree, who has more than 25 years of book appraisal experience, is the owner of Armadillo Books & Appraisals, based in Chapel Hill, NC.

So, that 1958 set of World Books isn’t going to pay off your car loan, but it might bring in enough to enjoy a dinner for two – or sign up for an annual reference website subscription. If you can find a buyer and negotiate packing and shipping fees that still allow for a reasonable profit, it might be worth selling your encyclopedias. Other factors to consider are condition, edition, supply and demand, and, of course, the time investment required to find a buyer.

Search for your encyclopedias on sites such as Direct Textbook, Flipsy, Abe Books, Amazon, Ebay, and Craigslist to see what they’re currently selling for, then set your price accordingly. These sites also serve as vehicles for selling your encyclopedias, in addition to garage sales and flea markets.

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What Are The Most Valuable Encyclopedias?

Though a lack of relevance renders most complete encyclopedia set values at less than $75, there are some rare editions that have historical value. Perhaps the most notable is a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica 11th Edition, published in 1910 and 1911.

Considered the “grandaddy of all encyclopedias,” the 11th Edition is historic not only because it was one of the most in-depth references to-date, but also because it is, as The Guardian puts it, “all the knowledge of a world on the brink of deep and everlasting change.”

The set was published before the horrors of World Wars and was written in the context of a “worldview lost forever.” Today, it is highly prized by collectors.

How prized? According to Beattie, 9th and 11th Britannica Editions can sell for as much as $300 to $400 per set, if in good, clean condition. And Roundtree says a fine set of 11th Edition Britannicas can command as much as $3,000.

Older sets of encyclopedias can carry excellent value as well, especially if they’re in good condition. Encyclopedia sets and single volumes printed in 1870 or prior and those that contain woodcarvings, full page engravings, full page illustrations, and lithographs are typically more valuable than contemporary encyclopedias editions.

Should I Sell My Encyclopedias?

If you want to sell your encyclopedias, start by determining whether your specific edition or volume is currently being sold on the market – and for how much.

Then, determine how much packing and shipping will cost if you do sell it (and who will pay for it: buyer, seller, or split).

Finally, you’ll be able to determine whether it is worth the time and effort to sell your encyclopedias.

If you don’t have an exceptionally valuable set, you might want to simply get rid of your old encyclopedias. Rather than toss them in the trash, you can seek opportunities to make money (or at least get rid of them for free) by donating your old encyclopedias.

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And, of course, there is a third option: you can hold on to your encyclopedias in the hopes they’ll become more collectible and valuable over time. Your great-great-great grandchildren might thank you for it.

Book values continually change depending on a number of market-driven factors. While it is impossible to list every possible encyclopedia value in a single article, knowing that most encyclopedias carry little value, how to spot those that do, and how to research current market prices can help you determine how much your encyclopedias are worth today. Armed with that information, you can decide what to do with your old encyclopedias.

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