Friday, April 23, 2010

Old books vs GOOD old books

Back in the days when I was working in an open shop, many a time would I greet a customer bringing in books and then have the customer - so excited - tell me that they had some OLD books to sell and they had to be worth lots of money.

After all -- they were OLD.  Antique. Rare.

And I, being the one to delve into the boxes of books (many of which had never been cleaned, dusted or checked for bugs before being dropped into the box), would pull the books out and have the pleasure (not) of telling this excited customer that his / her books were not all that rare or uncommon, or ... unfortunately, worth much at all.

I hated being the bad guy.

But, then again, it was an opportunity to begin the process of education regarding the history of books (very brief and very much cursory).

The Crack of Doom by Hugh Edwards - 1934 - First American Edition

So what is it that makes one book more valuable than another?  Huh - that could take volumes to answer.
The quick and dirty answer is two-fold (well, actually, more folded than that):

1.) The book HAS to be desired.  If no one is looking for the book, then who cares? No price in the world (high, or low) will induce a buyer to something if it isn't wanted.

2.) rarity: IE: how many copies of the book are available?   If there are only 10 copies known to exist of Edgar Allan Poe's first published book (Tamerlane) and people eagerly collect all of Edgar Allan Poe's works, then this book will have some real value based on the difficulty in obtaining a copy.

3.) See -- more folds unfold.  Condition. Condition counts for a HUGE amount of the value of a collectable book. A book in perfect, as new condition (even if it's 300 years old) will have a higher price than a 300 year old, duct-taped, pages missing, crayoned-in, fire singed copy.  Age here, isn't the biggest factor.  In fact, age is rarely a factor in the book world until you get Wayyyy back into the 1400's (at least for material from the New World - don't even ask me about books, etc from the Orient).

The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain (illustrated by N. C. Wyeth)
1924 printing (originally published 1916)

The pictures throughout this blog entry are all around the same time period (well, within a 35 year period, lets go with that). So all of them are pretty equal when it comes to age. But these books are NOT all equal.

Forbidden Wine by Frederic Arnold Kummer - 1931 - First Edition

Why is it, then, that they are not equal?

Again, desirability first.

Oh, here's another:

4.) Something special about the book that makes it more desirable. IE: illustrator, subject matter, binding (in the case of find bindings), etc.

Arizona by Clarence Budington Kelland - c1940
Grosset & Dunlap reprint with stills from the Columbia Pictures Movie Extravaganza

Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail by Borden Chase - 1948
First Edition with the rarely seen dust jacket.

One of the books pictured here is priced at $3,000.00.  The others range in price from $30.00 to $150.00

The difference in price has to do with scarcity, edition, condition and desirabilty.

In my next post I'll try and give a bit of information about each of these books and explain the differences in price. 

In the mean time, make your own guesses :  the prices (in no particular order) for the books are: $30.00, $30.00, $100.00, $150.00 and $3,000.00.

I'd love to hear some guesses.

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