Book Collecting Guide

A Brief Introduction to Book Collecting

You know that feeling you sometimes get where you come to the last page of a really great book and you can’t quite believe that it’s over? You want it to keep going. You want something more. That’s the first symptom of a burgeoning addiction to book collecting.

There isn’t one type of book collector. If you’ve ever kept a copy of a book that you had already finished reading, you’ve already started in collecting books. If you’ve ever bought a hardcover copy to replace the paperback, you are getting deep into addiction.

How to get started

  1. Buy what you like.

    Although your book collection may go up in value over time, it’s never guaranteed. If you focus your collection on books that you know that you love, you will always be surrounded with a collection that reflects your love.

  2. Find a theme.

    The focus of your collection may be a specific author, subject, binding style, series. You may want to collect rare works by classic authors, or you may collect paperback editions of golden era science fiction with their arresting cover illustrations. Collections are as diverse as their owners.

  3. Start slowly.

    One of the easiest ways to get started is to find a specific book that you love and buy a really nice copy of that book. It doesn’t need to be cost prohibitive to start. If, for example, one of your favorite books is For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, you may be ready to spend a few hundred or a few thousand on a really lovely first edition, first issue with all the right points (what are points of issue?), but you can also buy a facsimile of the first edition, published by the First Edition Library, for only a few dollars.

Collecting as an investment

No one can know the future market value of a book anymore than they can predict stock prices, but just like investing in stocks, you can make some informed decisions about what you are buying.

  1. Buy Low, Sell High

    The best time to buy a book is before it goes up in value. Just like the people who invested in IBM stock decades ago, you can get in on the ground floor of a future collectible. Sometimes known as hyper-modern firsts, buying a first edition of a book soon after it is first published can be a great way to get in early before the price goes up. Published in 2008, the first edition of the English language edition of Steig Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are already going for more than a thousand dollars!

  2. Investing in the classics

    Just like blue chip stocks, buying an established work or author can be a safe way to preserve your initial investment, even if you don’t realize huge profit margins. The value of a work of incunabula isn’t likely to plummet anytime soon.

The Basics

No matter what you collect, a few basics apply.

  1. Supply and demand:

    The value of a book is directly correlated to the market demand. Every book has a first edition, but the value of the first edition as a collectible is a matter of the number of copies available and the number of people looking for them.

  2. Condition, condition, condition.

    The value of a collectible book is based on the condition of a book. The most desirable copy of any book is a perfect copy. Each flaw takes away from a book’s value. When buying a collectible book, make sure and read the description carefully, and pay attention to the condition of the book and the dust jacket.

  3. Jackets required

    For the most part, any book of fiction, and the majority of non-fiction published since around World War I was sold with a dust jacket. The dust jacket of a collectible book can be the most valuable part of the book, since it is the most fragile. A dust jacket on a rare collectible book can be 80% of the book’s value.

  4. The earlier the better.

    In general, the earliest works by an author are the most valuable. This is due to a couple of reasons:

    • Very early works by an author tend to not sell as many copies. Readers don’t know the author’s works yet, so they tend to not run out and buy their books as soon as they are published. Since publishers know that tendency in readers, they often won’t print as many copies of the first edition, making the supply of first editions scarcer.
    • In part, the goal of collecting first editions is to go back to the source. If the first edition of the book is the closest to the original version of that work, the author’s first published work is one step closer to the author. A signed manuscript is possibly the closest to the original source, and thus can bring the highest prices.
  5. A first edition means the First Printing.

    The First Edition of a book, for the purposes of collecting modern books, is the first printing of that book. The term “first thus” is used when describing a first printing of a later edition.

Have fun!

The goal of book collecting is to express your love of books. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do that.