Q & A with ValueMyStuff's Books specialist

ValueMyStuff sat down with our books specialist, Tom Joyce, for a Q & A. Learn more about why Tom continues to love rare books and get insight into a specialist's valuation.

Books, Maps & Manuscripts

How did you become an expert in Books?

I became interested in first editions while in high school. While completing a master's degree in English literature, I was offered a job managing a rare book shop in Chicago. Two years later, I opened my own business, knowing that I would have to work hard and study hard to be better than my competitors.

What do you love about this collecting category?

The field of rare books and paper goes back to the first valentine Adam gave to Eve. It is far too vast to ever be mastered by an individual or a team of individuals. And every day more are created, spreading knowledge, wisdom, and beauty, to which people respond.

What can make a book valuable?

Essentially any element of a book may make it valuable: the author, the illustrator, the edition, the binding, the paper, the previous owner, a variation in the text, and so on. People regularly ask me to value old bibles. “Why,” I ask them, “would anybody pay to own a bible? Bible societies will give you a bible for free, so why would you pay for one? “ But people do pay for them, because there are elements of a particular copy that they want to have, whether that is a particular translation, or the illustrations, or the printer, or a handsome binding, people are willing to buy.

How important is age in terms of an items value?

Historically, any book printed before the year 1501 A.D./C.E. was valuable because was made in the first half-century of printing. There was always a buyer for one of those. After 1501, something more had to apply ( a printed sermon by a long-forgotten preacher is a real challenge to sell). In my lifetime however, the supply of such books has diminished with sales to institutions. As a result, it is now possible to sell books from the 16th and 17th centuries just because they are old sometimes.

Do signatures always make a book more valuable?

No. My signature in a book does not make it more valuable. Just the opposite. Today many buyers – wrongfully, I think – refuse to buy a copy of a book that has anything more than just the author's signature in it. I think that part of the charm of a book is knowing something about its history, who owned it, why they bought it, how it may have traveled from one locale to another.

What are the most sought after pieces on the market today?

A hundred years ago, Charles Dickens, then Arthur Conan Doyle were hugely sought after in Britain. Doyle was displaced by his friend, P. G. Wodehouse as the most popular. Wodehouse, I read, was replaced by Terry Pratchett, but he likely has been replaced by J. K. Rowling. Of course, if you could get them, The Gutenberg Bible and the First Folio of Shakespeare, and Audubon's Birds Of America are always in demand.

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