February 7, 2023

I’ve always acim. I followed my brother-in-law around used bookstores for years. He started collecting books in the ’80s when he was out on the west coast.

Though I liked browsing for books I didn’t know anything about what made a book collectible. I didn’t understand back then why my brother-in-law was interested in picking up Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses for a few dollars in a used book store … but I do now!

In the late 1990s when the internet arrived … my brother-in-law showed me how to look up the prices of books using Advanced Book Exchange (abebooks.com) and eBay. He gave me many other book collecting tips.

So … in 1998 I decided to begin book collecting.

Here are the book collecting tips I’ve learned since then:

1) For a book to be collectible, it must be a first edition (also called first printing)

How can you tell? Well, open the book up to about the third page – usually the page after the title page – the copyright page.

Look near the bottom the page. There will normally be a line with numbers from one to 10. (i.e., 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0)

If you see a number line with a “1” in it then it is a first edition.

Nearly 80% of modern publishers have standardized on the use of a number line to denote the printing number.

If there is no number line then look for the words “first edition” or “first Printing” or “first published”. For older books, it is best to consult one of the many books on first edition identification.

2) Book condition has a big impact on its value

Condition is critical to the value of a book. Just reading a book once can result in stains, tears, or rubbing that may reduce its value by 30-50% or more. The highest grades of a book are called Very Fine (essentially flawless) or Fine. The dust jacket condition these days is very important as the dust jacket can attribute up to 75% of a book’s value.

I always try to buy books where the book and the dust jacket look essentially new (these are described as fine/fine).

3) An author’s first book will usually be the most valuable book she or he writes

The publisher is taking a chance on a new untested author. So only a small number of books … possibly only a few thousand books may be printed. If the author gets favorable reviews and sells out the first printing… the publisher may call for a second printing with more books. And sign the author up for a second book.

The author’s next book will probably have a print run in its first printing of … two to three times that of the author’s first book. You can see due to supply and demand the first book’s value will be higher … perhaps much higher than the second book!

4) Collect hardcover books

The trade edition hardcover is usually the first book sold. It will have a much greater longevity than the paperback which will turn yellow over time and the pages will become brittle. Paperbacks may come out six months to a year later. Paperbacks are made to be read. Some may choose to collect them but I don’t. The same goes for book club editions. These books are shorter, thinner and don’t have a price on the dust jacket.

I buy paperbacks for reading … not collecting!

5) Select books from these book genres: Literature, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Mystery

What does genre (pronounced zhahn’-ruh) mean? It is a category or style that can refer to movies (for example horror films), music or books. Books in other genres such as history or biographies can be very collectible, too. But they may not reach the heights of value that the fiction genres can.

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