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Pre-Conference 2008: What is a Book Worth? Determining the Value of a Book

Posted By TSRT Communication and Web Coordinator, Monday, October 20, 2008
Updated: Tuesday, June 16, 2015

[Guest writer: unidentified]

I could be considered prejudiced, but this was a very informative session. Dr. Sidney Berger, director of the library at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, describes himself as a “lunatic collector.” Or maybe that was his wife describing him.

It’s no easy task assigning a value to a book. There isn’t a checklist of items to look for with any book in a box of donations, or on your shelves. There are two primary criteria for determining value: supply and demand, and condition. Age has practically no bearing on the value. A first edition is not necessarily a valuable item, and there is the question of printing run, impression, and state. Condition can range from pristine to fine plus, fine, fine minus, good plus, good, good minus, reading copy (no longer a collector’s copy), poor copy of a scarce book, etc. . . . . Seriously, these are all accepted levels of condition.

Other considerations include author, illustrator, publisher, binder, binding, provenance, and other features. You really have to know what you have, or at least where to find out what you have.

There are paper-based guides to determining a value, but their limitation is lack of currency. The Web abounds with information; some search terms are, book appraisal, book collecting, collecting [subject], book price guides, bookselling. Sample sites are Alibris (now merged with Interloc and Bibliocity), Amazon, Bookfinder (formerly MX Bookfinder), ABEBooks (Advanced Book Exchange), AddAll, and Bibliofind. You have to identify which version/printing/publisher/issue/state/date/points (those identifiers which make your volume different) are applicable to your copy and/or the one on the web. Check out the entries on ABEBooks for Golden Child, Notice the name of the bookseller and the bookseller’s rating. The description may include a commercial for the seller.

Booksellers set their own prices, and they can vary widely. Many vary without any reason. You’ll need to know the pricing history. As with any merchandise, a book is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. Appraisers will set a higher price than a book buyer will pay; expect a bookseller to offer 40%-50% of the appraised value.

That family Bible you have? It has no value outside of your family. The Bible is the most frequently reprinted volume. Even that family history doesn’t make it special.

We had intended to cap enrollment at 40, but we squeezed in 43. In the evaluation, those responding were overwhelmingly satisified with the presentation, although many commented that Dr. Berger skipped around in his outline. There were several requests to have him return for another presentation.

Tags:  conference  conference & meeting reports  tsrt  updates 

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