Collectible Old and Antique Books - A Beginners Guide to Book Collecting - History & Resources

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Collecting Old and Antique Books

  Antique & Old Books



Don't be too QUICK to just hand over that box of old books you found in Granny's attic !!


The simple basics of collectible old and antique books can be found right here at Antique Central.  Antique book collecting is, without a doubt, a hobby for anyone and everyone, for there are millions of books that have been published on an expansive list of subjects, to meet the needs and interests of all collectors.  Our site has a wealth of information and resources to get you started on the road to collectible books.

What are Grandma's old books worth?

Happening upon a tattered old treatise that very few collectors are aware of, or an inconspicuous corner full of several choice volumes is a book collector's dream. And, as the collector builds and expands his collection of difficult to find or rare books, he will find that not only has he built a treasury of history, and memories and stories of the victorious hunts, but also a collection of remarkable value. So, don't be too quick to just hand over that box of old books you found in granny's attic to the local charity or sell them for pennies at a garage sale. Take the time to do a little research, and you may find yourself loving granny's treasured old books as much as she did, as well as sitting on a nice little nest egg!

It doesn't take much to begin collecting old and collectible books. Perhaps the most difficult decision is determining with what subject or author to specialize your collecting. Many collectors begin by accumulating books by one particularly favored author, perhaps Hemingway, or Longfellow, while some select a favored subject matter, such as military stories, old science fiction books, English poems, Bibles, children's books or presidential autobiographies. Some of the more popular subject areas of book collecting are Early American books, medical books, old books by what many considered to be the great classic authors, and comic book collection.  All book collectors will eventually experience the thrill of discovering that first edition book he or she has been whole-heartedly searching for, or that special volume of historical significance that gives the collector a peek into the past as if experiencing it himself. 

Helpful hints on determining "first edition" in old books and antique books.......

Prior to 1800 ..........

As technology has advanced and the methods of book printing have changed, so have some uses of book terminology changed.  Prior to 1800, in order to print old books the typesetter had to carefully arrange individual metal letters for a complete page, run it through the press, and then, disassemble the metal letters back into individual drawers. This process was costly, therefore, first and second editions prior to 1800 are valuable because it took so much time and effort to reprint the second edition. But, often mistakes or omissions occurred in second editions, making them less true of what the author intended to say. 

After 1800 ...............
Now, in regard to antique books after about 1800, publishers began saving the complete page forms to be used again for future printings. The second editions were printed from the same forms as the first edition, so are also considered to be first editions, but not TRUE firsts. The first press copies printed from the page form will be more valuable because they are TRUE first editions. Pictures printed from the first printing will be clearer and sharper than those of the second, just as an original painting is sharper and 
more valuable than its copies.

Today's first edition .............
Only the TRUE first edition of the book is considered to be a first edition throughout the antique book collecting community, and any book listed as first edition at auction or in catalog is considered a TRUE first.

What to look for in Collectible Books ..............

Generally, in regard to collectible books, first is always best!! Price of an antique book is most often determined by the edition of the book. The first editions of collectible books are most prized over any of the subsequent editions. However, a later edition of a popular title with a personal note or signature by the author may well be more valuable. For example, one antique book collector happened upon a volume of poetry by Edna St. Vincent Milay while rummaging through a box of books. The book itself was not necessarily valuable, but since he had been collecting books and researching book collecting and authors for several years, he was able to spot the signature of Nancy Boyd in the front of the book as the pseudonym Milay used in her prose work. This signature, and its rarity among collectible books, of course, made that old book much more interesting and considerably more valuable. Some authors have ten or more pseudonyms.

If the printing plates for the book were set and run through the press several times, but upon editing an error was found in the text, the correction would have been made to the plates and printing continued, thus creating copies different than the "first" run, and theoretically, a second edition of the book. So, upon careful analysis by the collector of two copies of an old book that appear to be the same, may very well be quite different in value.

Another method of antique book edition identification used by avid book collectors is in identification of the binding used. After careful research and knowledge gained there are many idiosyncrasies of antique books, especially prior to 1800, that become recognizable in discerning age. Cardboard book covers and binders of old and antique books were usually covered in a cloth. If one bolt of cloth was not large enough to complete an entire run of book copies, then the cloth would have to be changed to finish the edition. In this case, the subsequent cloth would be slightly different in color than the original, resulting in a change in book appearance of the copies bound in this cloth. Therefore, these copies would be considered second edition, although part of the first edition printing.

When attempting to determine the date of an old book or antique book there are a few areas that the collector should be familiar with. The colophon, also known as a printers mark, is often found at the back of an old book and the reverse of the title page in later collectible books. Although many modern books are easily identified by the publishers inclusion of the markings first or second edition, early first edition books are often more difficult to identify, particularly fiction antique books since many editions are generally printed of them. Look for possible edition identification on the copyright page of the book. It may be necessary to do research to determine when the first copy was published, and then compare that date with the date in the book that is being considered. 

Fortunately, with the advance of technology and millions of library catalogs available today online, it is generally easy to locate historical information on a particular book. Also, bibliographies on particular authors are also excellent aids in gathering history and detailed information of their works. Although some discrepancies may be found among bibliographies, the dates of publication are usually accurate, and these references are used frequently as a source of reference for antique book collectibles. In fact, it is advised that one of the first purchases a beginning collector should make is bibliographies that reference the author or works he or she is interested in collecting. Collectible book dealers specializing in a particular author or subject are also invaluable sources for the beginning collector.

The value of a collectible book may also be determined by collecting trends. The popularity of subject matter, editions, and authors will vary from one decade or generation to the next. The death or cultural resurgence of an author may spur interest in a particular area of book collecting, although historically classic authors will always be in demand.

As is the case with most all collectible antiques condition is of utmost consideration; an unkempt, worn and torn copy will cultivate little, if any, interest. A collector should always aim to acquire the best condition copy he or she is capable of acquiring, and relinquish to upgrade upon the discovery of a better and more valuable copy, for good condition collectible books will more readily increase in value, whereas poor copies will decrease.






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