Buying and selling books, though it may seem redundant in the modern-day world, can actually be a rather lucrative business opportunity. However, in order for you too, as a collector, bibliophile, or simply someone with an interest, to earn some serious cash, you’d have to be dealing with special kinds of books.
Books that are antique, and on top of that rare, of limited series, or special in any way, can make a serious buck. But, what kind of books are those exactly, and where does one even start selling such books? Thanks to the Internet and the experience of professional antique and rare book collectors and sellers, we’re equipped with top-of-the-line information, ready to share everything with our readers. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in!
What Is Exactly An Antique Book?
Many refer to antique books as ‘old books’ and they would be generally right to do so. Antique books are indeed predominately old books, hopefully, written a long time ago; specifically prior to the 21st and 20th centuries. Now, old books are all those books simply written back in the day; for example, a book published in 1925 is an old book, but it’s no antique. Nevertheless, both types of books, antique and old, can be highly valuable and are often highly appreciated by book collectors and sellers respectively; if nothing, because of that distinct old-book smell upon opening it.
The term ‘old book’ nowadays can also denote basically any rare book, regardless of its value. Books that aren’t usually found in traditional libraries are also considered antique books, as well as those books that can be found in antiquarian bookshops. Of course, there are specific factors that determine whether a book is an antique or not, which makes this whole process and understanding that much easier. But, it doesn’t take a professional to see whether or not a book is old and special in one way or the other.
What Makes a Book Antique and Rare?
Because we’re here to help out any future booksellers, and we want to see you earn some serious money, here’s a paragraph about the things that really matter in this realm of books; antique and rare books. This combination is a guarantee to attract buyers’ attention and get them to spend their money on your books. So, what makes a book both antique and rare? Let’s take a look;
- Year of publication – as we mentioned, not all old books are antique books, but all antique books are super old. The year of publication determines whether a book is antique, or simply old. Any book that is over a hundred years old is considered an antique publication. Some go as far as to say that antique books are those made prior to the 20th century; it all depends on the interpretation of what constitutes an antique book.
- Number of copies – the fewer copies of the book available on the market, or in general, the higher the rarity points. Books that are ‘everywhere’ don’t really translate that sense of scarcity, uniqueness, and rarity that people year and look for. A saturated market means many copies; a scarce, high-in-demand market means fewer copies, but definitely higher prices.
- Edition – when buying antique, rare books, people are mostly interested in only one edition of the book; the first one. The real first edition allows potential book owners or collectors to experience the very book’s emergence and stands for an important cultural moment. First editions of books are usually the closest thing to the author’s intent, and as such are most desirable for an array of reasons.
- Condition – an antique’s book rarity and the first edition isn’t enough to justify a high price; the price of the book depends almost mainly on its condition. Well-preserved, protected books, with hopefully original dust jackets, can be extremely valuable. Even without the dust jacket, the book can still be valuable (but, you’ll get less money for it, for sure).
- Signature – if a fairly rare, antique book comes with the author’s signature, you’ve basically won the bookselling jackpot. Of course, with the appropriate evaluation and proof, a signature can increase the overall book’s value by tens of thousands of dollars (depending on the author, of course). For example, if someone was to sell Shakespeare’s book, with his own signature, they’d be earning around 5 million USD, and instantly become millionaires.
How To Sell Antique Books?
If you’re in possession of rare and antique books, there are two main ways you can sell them and earn good money. Of course, this process isn’t as simple as it may sound, so let’s take a look at your options;
- Selling the book yourself – this was probably your main thought and option; selling the books yourself. And sure, it is a viable option, but you need to be ready to have it fail. Selling antique and rare books on your own will simply result in you waiting, hoping, and finding out that nobody really wants to buy from you. To sell a rare and antique book, you need to have proof that the book is legit. And, the only way to get to that proof is to deal with professionals, like antique book dealers.
- Selling the book online – this falls into the same line as having to sell books on your own. However, instead of having to look for the perfect buyer, you’re basically waiting for the right buyer to come across your book on online auction websites like Amazon, eBay, or even Etsy. This may take time, and it may not necessarily get any sales. Nevertheless, if you’re not into the whole ordeal with antique book dealers, this might be your best option.
- Selling the book through a dealer – this may not sound like a good option, but if you think you’re in possession of a book that’s worth a lot of money (for example, more than several hundred dollars), then this is the way to go. A book dealer can be a middleman between you and a buyer, but the dealer themselves can also provide you with an offer for the book. Either way, a book dealer is well connected within the antique community and they can get your book sold for the right price, and pretty quickly as well.
Powell’s Books: This is a large independent new and used bookstore that buys books directly from owners. You can sell your books to them online or in-store if you live in or near Portland, Oregon.
Strand Bookstore: Strand is a famous independent bookstore in New York City that buys books directly from the public.
Bauman Rare Books: If your books are rare or valuable, Bauman may be interested in purchasing them. They buy and sell rare, first edition, and collectible books.
Second Story Books: They purchase large collections, estates, and individual items of significant value.
Where To Sell Antique Books Online?
If you’re not into the ‘selling the book in person’ type of thing, here are some online options worth exploring (these are reliable online antique bookstores, specialized in selling antique, rare books);
- AbeBooks – this is a website that offers antique books, fine art, and other antique collectibles. They provide a platform for sellers around the world to sell their rare books as well as art and collectibles. Whether you have the very first edition of a book of interest or a used signed copy, you’ll be able to sell it here. If you want to start selling your rare books, you can sign up for a monthly fee of 25 USD per month (the first two months are free).
- Rare Books and Manuscripts Section – this is a professional membership organization that can help you sell your antique and rare books to collectors or for special collections. Via RBMS you can even donate your old books or donate for scholarships in general. The organization is committed to professional and hiring special collector librarians to conduct evaluations, workshops, discussion groups, etc.
- Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America – founded in 1949, this association has promoted interest in rare and antiquarian books for over 70 years now. The members of the association sell, buy, and appraise books and printed matter. The association’s assistants can also help you out with finding a proper bookseller or a book buyer, depending on your needs. All members of the association must follow the Code of Ethics and Conduct. If you’re looking to join the association, make sure to check out the information on becoming a member of ABAA.
- eBay: eBay is a popular platform for selling various items, including antique books. Make sure you take good photos and describe your items accurately to attract potential buyers.
- Biblio: Biblio is an online platform that specializes in books. They cater to independent booksellers and offer services for selling rare and collectible books.
- Alibris: This site also caters to independent sellers. Alibris sells used books, new books, out-of-print books, rare books, and textbooks.
- Amazon Marketplace: Amazon isn’t just for new items. Their marketplace allows you to list used items, including antique books.
- Heritage Auctions: If you have an antique book that’s extremely valuable, you might consider an auction house like Heritage. They specialize in rare and collectible items.
- Bookfinder: This is a price comparison website for books that connects buyers and sellers from various online marketplaces. You can list your antique books here to reach a wider audience.
- PBA Galleries: If you have a rare or valuable book, consider this auction site that specializes in fine and rare books.
How To Determine Antique Book Value?
Sometimes, those old, antique books don’t really look like they’re worth anything, but in reality, they can be worth thousands of dollars if proven to be rare, or special in some way. Here are some ways you can determine the book’s value;
- Book ID – identifying the book is the first step toward valuation. You can always refer to the book’s title page, which often contains all the key information; the author, the title of the book, the date of publication, as well as the copyright registration date. While browsing through the book, make sure to be as gentle as possible so as to not disturb or rip the pages.
- Edition details – always check the date of the book printing (if provided and available within the book). This can help you determine whether the book in your possession is actually a first or limited edition. This can impact the value of the book significantly.
- Online catalog – to be 100% sure that the book in your possession is rare and antique, you need to match the information from the book with the information in an online catalog. You can check out the records in online catalogs like World Cat, or the National Union Catalog.
- Physical condition – determining the condition of an antique book is essential to valuating it. For example, the physical condition of the cover, or dust jacket, as well as the quality of the bookbinding all play a role in assessing the book. If there is no dust jacket, or if the book comes with discoloration, tears, missing pages, creases, or any other small or big defects, the value will almost certainly decrease significantly.
- Provenance and signature – determining the book’s provenance as well as whether it has the author’s original signature can really skyrocket the overall book value. The best thing you can do is check for a bookplate, often with the owner’s name and signature (handwritten). You can even try to track down the documentation proving the book’s history of ownership or lineage.
- Book appraisal – the best way to check the book’s market value is via formal appraisal. You can do this through the aforementioned Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) or the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). You can even check out appraisers in your area, which might be even better since they can examine the physical book. Depending on the feedback and new information, the value of your book might increase even more.
There is just something unique and special when it comes to old or antique books. The distinct smell of the book, and the very idea of people owning the same book dozens, maybe even a hundred years ago is just so fascinating. Not to mention holding the very first edition of a book in itself.
If you are in possession of a rare, antique book, make sure to have it checked out by professionals before selling. And, even after all this information, if you don’t feel comfortable selling the book, you don’t have to. Either way, we hope we’ve provided you with all the essential information needed to start your journey and we wish you the best of luck.