How to determine the value of rare books

Peter McPherson


Determining the value of a book means considering its condition, printing, and rarity. Because there are so many factors to consider, each book needs to be valued individually.

Whether you are looking to sell books from your own collection or from a collection you have acquired, determining the value of books can be a challenging and tedious task. However, there are steps you can follow to make the process easier and possibly make a good deal of money from your collection.


The first step in determining the value of a rare book is looking at its condition. Even with coveted older titles, damage can significantly reduce the value of the book. Most book purchasers and collectors are interested primarily in copies in good or fine condition.

Some signs of wear to look for include:

Cover and binding tears or marks

Missing pages

Stains and water damage

Loose binding or pages

Missing dust jacket

Unfortunately, if you have books with noticeable wear, book buyers may not be interested. However, your best bet is to leave it to the professionals to determine the condition, as exceptions can be made for older books.

Paperbacks are rarely worth a significant amount, unless they are particularly rare.

Is it a first edition?

The value of a book will increase significantly if it is a first edition, particularly if it is also a first printing. Conversely, second printings and later tend to have much lower values.

What does it mean for a book to be a "first edition"? This means it is the first version of the text printed by the publisher. In theory, a first edition should be the very first version of a book that was printed. So what you're really looking for is the first edition, first printing -- the very first version of a book that existed. These often have only one copyright date listed.

To identify a first edition, you should look to the copyright page. Some publishers may state "first edition" or "first printing," often followed by a string of numbers. You are usually looking for something like this:

First edition

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The "1" refers to the printing. If the lowest number is a "2," then this is probably a second printing. To make matters more complicated, many publishers indicate printing and edition differently.

Your best option in determining a first edition is to look up the book you are evaluating to find examples of a first edition copyright page.

Additional things to look for when determining edition

In many cases, determining whether a book is a first edition is far from straightforward. There are a few other factors that can quickly rule out a book as a true first edition.

Book club editions: Some books may have copyright pages that look like the copyright page of first editions. In fact, the book can be identical to a first edition book many ways. Some determining factors include:

"Book club edition" on the inside jacket flap

Any mention of a book club on the copyright page

Slightly smaller size than the true first edition

A dot or other mark on the back cover or spine

Blurbs: If there are any blurbs that sound like they were written post-publication, you know you are not dealing with a first edition. The same goes for any mention of bestseller lists on the cover. Some blurbs may be denoted as "advanced praise," which may not rule out your copy as a first edition.

Advanced proof copies: Some books may be labeled as advanced proofs, which means they were released prior to the publication of the book. These are often paperbacks similar to trade paperbacks, but they may be valuable despite this. In some cases, an advanced proof may even be more valuable than a first edition. You should look up the average selling price of an advanced proof copy before you pass over it.

First editions of new version: In some cases, a publisher will release a new version of a book and include "first edition" on the copyright page. While it may indeed be a first edition of that version, newer editions of books tend to be less valuable than the very first edition.

Other factors that affect value

In the case of most 20th and 21st century books, the condition and printing may be all you need before heading to a book buyer. For older books, the process may be more complicated.

If the book is missing a copyright page, you should look for as much identifying information as you can. This may include:

The author

The publisher

A city of publication

A publication date


If you can identify the exact edition of your book, you may be able to determine its price by finding online sellers with the same edition. Older books will often need to be appraised to determine the value.

Signed editions

If your book is signed by the author, it will generally be more valuable than other books of the same edition. A first edition, first printing that is signed by the author is a book collector's dream and may be worth a significant amount, depending on its rarity.


Peter McPherson is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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