Knowing whether a book is collectible, or rare, or even valuable is not always easy. In fact it can be downright confusing to know what it is that you’re looking at, and whether it’s worth anything. There are guides available floating around this massive cloud of information that people sometimes call the internet, my professional life is almost entirely dependent on the unlimited potential at your fingertips and I sometimes still have no idea what the hell I’m even looking for, let alone how to find it. In a search engine a single word can mean the difference between unlocking a library of vast and limitless knowledge and power, and staring at cat videos for ten hours. Where does the time go?
My bookstore is a collection of new, used, remainder, rare, and collectible books, I will mention that at any given moment, with every conceivable opportunity that I find to do so. “New, used, remainder, rare, and collectible books.” The extent of what I offer might, to some people be obvious, while most of you may have a general idea of what it is that I mean by new, used, remainder, rare, and collectible. To be honest, it’s actually fairly confusing, I know that a lot of you don’t know exactly what it is that I have, let alone what it is that I am offering. The type of bookstore that I maintain is so much less difficult to describe if you can actually see and touch something right in front of you, if you can smell it, and speak to me face-to-face you’ll have one of those “Ah-Ha!” moments that will open an entire world up to you. Just yesterday I was talking to my mother and she asked me, again, “What type of bookstore do you have? I mean, can you get a book for me, that’s about to come out?” “Yes, mom, of course I can, I use the same book distributer as Barnes&Noble” “Really? So you can get that one book, hold on let me look it up, Russian something…Russian Roulette?” “Yup, do you have a preference between a hardcopy an eBook a digital book?” “Get a hardcopy so you father can read it to.” “Alright.”
I am Barnes&Noble online but with the added benefit of you being able to communicate directly with the owner, the book buyer, the bookseller, the inventory manager, and the shipper. Imagine your own personal Barnes&Noble: yup, that’s me. And yet, I still, also, offer used books, and yes I can order used books for you! And, I can likely even get used books for you for a better price and in better condition than Amazon.com. How? You might ask, well I’ve been working in this industry for most of my life: I started as a bookseller at Borders Books, Music & Café, I’ve worked as a manager at Hastings Entertainment, I worked as a manager at the Barnes&Noble on 86th and Lex on the Upper East Side in New York City, and if you were to have walked into Op. Cit. Books in Santa Fe, New Mexico while it was at the Sanbusco Center anytime between 11:00AM and 8:00PM Monday through Friday I’m the guy you spoke with, because there was no one else there, I started Wardrobe Books inside the Boerne Emporium in Boerne, Texas, and I’ve been selling books online through Abebooks.com and Amazon.com for years (before starting my own website), and I’m an avid reader and book collector, and I am a freelance writer, and book reviewer. I know the industry better than most people you will talk to at any Barnes&Noble or Amazon store or through any customer service hotline. I cannot speak for other bibliophiles and bookstore owners, but I can guarantee you that I will get the best price for the book you’re looking for anywhere online.
I will also help you to understand what it is that you have. I do book appraisals. I will offer free estimates, and for an in-depth appraisal I charge $100 an hour, visit my page for more detail.
However the purpose of this entry is to offer to you a better idea of what selling new, used, remainder, rare, and collectible books means, and how to spot a rare or collectible book, to the best of your ability, because it is not always easy to spot a first edition—or first printing, as they are more traditional referred to—most people seem to think that if you find the words “First Edition” somewhere on the copyright page then whatever it is that you’re looking at must, in fact, be a true First Edition, but that is not always the case, and, unfortunately, with as many publishers as there are, and because most of them do things a little differently, unless you know what you’re looking for you’re probably not going to find it.
Fortunately, if the book is a stated “First Edition” it is, in every case, always a First Edition, but whether the book is a true First Edition or if it’s a First Edition/Later (Second, Third, Fourth…34th, etc.) Printing as opposed to a Second Edition/First Printing et c., because, yes, it would seem that some publishers enjoy throwing people off by printing First Editions with a number of Printings, which means that if your book specifies that it is first edition and is followed by a series of printings that does not specifically say First Printing, than your book is not a true First Edition.
If you’re holding a book and somewhere on the copyright page it reads: First Edition, and there is no Number Line, or Letter Line, and it doesn’t specifically indicate whether there are printings first or otherwise, then the book you’re holding is a true First Edition. Like I mentioned different publishers like to indicate Editions/Printings differently. For example, if the book states First Edition and includes a number or letter line then you should disregard the stating of First Edition (in the sense that if your book is not a First Edition AND a First Printing collectors do not accept that as a true First Edition)—just like you would if your book has a later printing (anything other than a First Printing)—and focus, instead, on the number or letter line. A Number Line or Letter Line often looks like a line of scattered seemingly nonsensical numbers, however, with most books if there is a number 1 or the letter A anywhere on the line then the book IS a First Printing. If there is not a number 1 or the letter A then you would look for the next lowest number or letter. For example: if the book is a stated First Edition with a number line and the lowest number you can find is a 3, then you’re looking at a First Edition/Third Printing. Or if the book is a stated First Edition with the letter E, it’s a First Edition/Fifth Printing.
Now, here’s where it gets even more confusing…
Not every book is a stated First Edition, however if it still has a number, or letter line and the number 1, or letter A is listed than the book is still a First Edition/First Printing, unless otherwise stated. And it might otherwise be stated by saying: Reprint or Anniversary Edition or “This book has been printed x number of times.” With the case of Anniversary Editions that are stated, or otherwise First Printings, those books still might have market value. I have a VIKING printed Fiftieth Anniversary Edition of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath that has a number line, with the number 1 indicated, and so it is a First Edition/First Printing Fiftieth Anniversary Edition and the value is still right around $50—imagine what a 1939 First Edition/First Printing of The Grapes of Wrath would be worth? (It goes for as high as $17,500, but I can get it for under a $1,000 so, you know, don’t be fooled).
And, it can get more confusing still…
Random House, sometimes, lists a First Edition/First Printing by stating First Edition and leaving the number of THAT Specific Printing OFF of the number line: so if the book is a stated First Edition and the only number that is missing is a 1, then that book is a true First Edition, or a First Edition/First Printing. If the book is a stated First Edition, and the lowest number is a 4, then that book is a First Edition/Third Printing. But, again, it’s challenging because Random House does not always do this.
Now there are other publishers, and books that were published before a certain year (depending on the publisher) that will only include the date. The book will not necessarily have the words First Edition printed anywhere on the copyright page, there will be no number, or letter line, and you may be left with the words—for example—“copyright 1955,” only. In this case you need to find out what year that book was printed. More often than not if that particular book is not a true First Edition, it will have a list of copyright dates indicating later printings—but not always.
You know what another fun game that publishers and authors like to play is? Some authors had both the cloth and paperback copy of their books published at exactly the same time, in the same year! Of course, the edition/printing will, likely, still be stated on both the hardback and paperback copies, but nevertheless, for collectors, that’s an interesting thing to come across. Thomas Pynchon, for example, printed Gravity’s Rainbow—“A screaming comes across the sky.”—in both formats, simultaneously.
I bet you didn’t know it could be so complicated! Having a signed book, too, can be more complicated than you might have thought. A number of collectors prefer signed books that are, what the industry considers, Flat Signed: which means that the author, when signing, only wrote his/her signature. Most collectors prefer this to an inscription (but that, too, will depend on the book, and how difficult it is to find). Occasionally you’ll find a book signed by the author, and inscribed to someone, for example:
To: Roberto, Thanks For All the Wisdom
& Advice. You Are a great Friend.
Keep on Keeping On!
AKA. LA CHUPACABRA!
Above is the inscription in a copy of The Da Vinci Code I have, inscribed by Dan Brown. Personally I like to collect books inscribed by authors, if for no other reason that you come across something like THAT: cool inside jokes between people, or nice connections between two people.
When I state that I sell New Books there is sometimes a misunderstanding of what exactly that means. New means that the book has never been read before, and it has never been owned, that could mean a book titled that was released fifty years ago that is still being printed, new, and books that came out this week. I have both new books available, and am able to get any book you might be interested ‘new’ or old.
Remainder Books, however, are also new books. These books have never been read before, and they have never been owned, at least by anyone other than a bookseller. Remainder books are books that have been printed in excess, and have been liquated and resold. I have a large inventory of remainder books, and am able to get almost any book on remainder. If you, as a client, request me to find you a new book, with your permission, I will always look to find it as a remainder first, because I am able to price Remainder books below 50% there list price.
So, the world of book buying and collecting can obviously be difficult, and determining whether a book is a First Edition/First Printing can be exceptionally difficult, and confusing, and it takes a wealth of knowledge, and experience in order to do so, but having a general idea of what you’re looking at can be helpful, so I hope this helps, otherwise feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!
I am a freelance author, writer, critic, artist, and entrepreneur living in the Heart of the Texas Hill Country.