Buyers Guide to Books

In Pride and Prejudice, Miss Caroline Bingley exclaims to her audience in the drawing room of Netherfield Park, “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book.” Although said with a hearty dose of contempt by the discontented aristocrat, this pithy statement from the pen of Jane Austen encapsulates the sentiments which many people have truthfully felt towards books and reading for centuries.

Books, Maps & Manuscripts

Ever since papyrus was used by the Ancient Egyptians to craft paper, mankind has been devoted to the act of writing, and has, perhaps, even been a little dependent on the opportunity reading provides to escape from the mundane realities of life.  Recently, books have been consumed in vast quantities owing to the rapid increase in literacy since the Victorian era, and life in the present day is never too far away from a paperback. However, before the expansion of the publishing industry, books were a rare and valuable commodity.

Richly decorated and sumptuously encased in gems, the illuminated manuscripts of the Renaissance possessed astonishing value and were the showpieces of their kingly owners. In earlier times, books were coveted as receptacles of knowledge, and knowledge was power. The municipality of Alexandria in the 3rd Century BC imposed a ‘book tax’ on ships docking in the ports of Egypt, stating that the vessels must surrender any works of literature they had on board, so that they might be inspected, copied, and studied by the poet-scholars of the city’s Royal Library. 

Books possess this enduring prestige today. Rare books are popular with antiques collectors and enthusiasts, forming worthwhile investments which frequently provide a premium upon resale. 

Have you been thinking about investing in a rare book, or starting your own collection? Here are some recommendations from ValueMyStuff on things to consider when acquiring your rare books:

When embarking on your book-collecting odyssey, make sure you thoroughly research items which interest you before purchase. A good knowledge of individual history of the book, of the life of its author, of the publishing house that produced it and of its previous owners, is most useful in helping you make an informed decision about investing in the book, and, importantly, as to how much it may be worth in years to come. This information is also an excellent guarantee of the item’s authenticity.

This research could also be a fantastic opportunity for you to discover which areas interest you. Countless works have been published over the last few centuries, but many of the greatest collections of books, past and present, are uniquely tailored to the personalities of their owners. Your library could be a reflection of your own character!  

Condition is, by far, the most important factor to consider when purchasing a rare book. It is often the antiquity of many tomes which grant them their value, but equally the effect of age which can severely impact on the price of a book. A book in the best possible condition is likely to retain its decent state for longer, increasing the likelihood of a return on the investment.

Books which were produced at a greater expense during their publication are particularly good investments to watch out for. The materials with which these high-end editions have been constructed tend to be of better and more durable materials, and indeed their greater value at the time of their original sale ensures that they have generally been preserved with greater care and concern.  

The rarity of a book is generally more indicative of its worth that its popularity. This is especially the case if the book has fallen out-of-print, limiting the number of copies in circulation, making each edition a more sought-after copy.

Books which have the strongest connection with their auction and those which show evidence of this contact are of particularly high value and make for a lucrative investment.  Association copies, those editions of novels and works which were exchanged between authors, publishers, and various other people are especially in demand. These copies were among the first versions of the book to be produced and possess that trace of contact which brings their owner closer to the person and genius of the author. These editions therefore possess a particular sentimental attraction. Book plates from the author’s library, or dedications from the author to friends and family members act as evidence of this personal contact.

Since much of the value of a book emanates from the connection it has with its original context, restored copies fetch considerably less money than an original copy, even if this copy is worse for wear.

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