How to Invest in Rare Books: What You Should Know in 2020
May 19, 2019
Literature carries a wealth of knowledge that stretches far beyond the words on the page. Book collectors can range from seasoned collectors with a home collection to expert collectors who actively seek out books to build their collection further. If, for whatever reason, you find yourself in need of additional funds then you might find that taking out a collateral loan against the value of some of the more valuable copies in your collection could get you out of that tight spot. Here at New Bond Street Pawnbrokers, we can provide you with a simple, quick and confidential loan against the value of your goods, a loan which is repayable plus accrued interest, releasing your goods back to your rightful possession.
Identifying whether or not a book holds any value is tricky, but there are certain things that you can look out for to help you in identifying whether or not the books you already hold within your collection are going to land you in a gold-mine or not. Not all books are valuable – there is, of course, a certain knack attached to understanding where the value lies within literature and in literary collections. If you do have a collection of books – old, valuable or else an extensive set that make up a remarkable collection – you could release their potential and use their collateral value to finance any ongoing projects you may need a few extra pennies for.
Collecting books is primarily undertaken for pleasure, but there are some lucrative investments to be made if you know what to look out for. From first editions to limited runs and signed copies, collecting rare books can become a fascinating hobby. There may be a box of books in the attic with treasure hidden within, but how do you know which are worth less than the paper they’re printed on?
Starting a collection
For novice investors, it may seem like a good idea to grab every old book you find, whether they’re from online auctions or second-hand shops. However, a collection will be worth more if it has a focus or a theme. An entire collection of the Bronte sisters’ books will be a better investment than a few single books from various series. Likewise, an entire collection of herbals from the nineteenth century would be of particular interest to certain collectors at auction, so specialising can be a way to make your investment really pay off.
When you have an idea of which books you want to buy, find out from a specialist dealer or website which edition is the most valuable. It’s common sense to think that the first edition is always going to be worth more, but actually later editions can be surprisingly sought after, especially if they contain additional illustrations or amendments. A first edition of William Camden’s Britannia can fetch up to £1,000, but a later edition with maps can be worth up to ten times that amount. Research is everything.
Other tips for novice collectors include having somewhere dry and free of dust to keep your investment. Slipcases can protect books further, and particularly fragile tomes can be rebound by a specialist. Do consult an antiquarian book expert before doing this though, so its value isn’t adversely affected.
What factors affect price?
In 2015, a list called the Rare Book Index was compiled, listing the 30 most valuable 20th-century classics. A first edition of one of these titles can net anywhere between £2,550 and £247,000. The latter is the potential selling price for a first edition of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story itself is as popular as ever, with a feature film having been produced in 2013. The first edition has increased by a staggering 1,372% in value over the past two decades, so a copy in excellent condition could be one to hang on to for now.
The biggest appreciation in value can be seen in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Over 20 years, the value rose over 2,500%: from a mere £190 to £5100. It’s thought that the political themes within the book keep it fresh and relevant for each new generation, adding to its appeal at auction.
Physical factors that affect the price of rare books include the condition of the pages and the dust jackets. Dust jackets are fairly rare these days and even books that were once sold with dust jackets to protect them tend to have lost them over the years. Some were thrown away by the initial purchaser, or even by the cashier as they were sold. Finding a first edition with a dust jacket intact can make a surprising difference to the price. A first edition of Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon can fetch £1,500 at auction. Find a copy with the dust jacket, and you can increase that amount to up to £75,000.
In contrast, a book that has yellowed pages and what is known as ‘foxing’ can actually increase in value. Foxing refers to brown spots on the page; an unavoidable ravage of age that affects most books at some point, even those that are meticulously cared for. Enthusiastic collectors see these natural flaws as confirmation of the age and integrity of the book, and will sometimes pay more than if the copy is pristine and paper-white.
What should I be looking for and what makes a book valuable?
As is the case in most situations, being the first generally pays and primacy is of high importance when valuing books. Books that are known to contain the earliest mentions of particular significant events, characters or concepts carry a great deal of value to collectors – particularly if they are sparse in their number. At the same time, books that are part of the first set of prints are of high value. It’s important to differentiate at this point between the first print of a book and a first edition, as value differs significantly between the two. All books have a first edition, as all books that are published have to have a first run, and the value is found in books that are in the first round of printing. If a book is unexpectedly popular, then a second edition, and then a third, and so on will be printed and that original batch of first prints will rise in value exponentially. This was especially the case with regards to the Harry Potter series, where J.K. Rowling’s debut novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had an initial first print of around 500 copies, 300 of which were given to libraries. These books, because of their scarcity, are particularly rare and recent sales of first prints have sold for around £27,000. The demand for books like this is high, with collectors paying above and beyond to get their hands on their own copy.
With older books, the condition that the book is in can be a determining factor in its value. In more recent publications, where the binding of books has become much more prevalent, then value can be influenced significantly by the condition of the book’s jacket – books that are missing their jackets will lose a large proportion of their value. As an example, a first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, in perfect condition with a dust jacket, reportedly sold at auction for around $400,000, but a similar book lacking its jacket sold for a mere (in comparison) $8000. Books that are as close to their original publishing condition, along with other appealing factors such as the original binding, the year of publication and whether your copy is an original first print edition or not, are much more likely to carry a higher price tag. Often, the age of a book can be determined as simply as looking at the condition of the paper, how it feels and how the text looks against the paper. Binding, and its condition, plays an equally as important role.
If you know for a fact that a book within your possession was previously owned by someone significant or was contained at some point within a specialised library, then it may well have value higher than you would normally expect of it. This is what we refer to as provenance – the history of an object’s ownership. Books that are believed to carry value through provenance normally require proof of authenticity. Having written confirmation of a book’s proof of origin definitely increases the value of the book and also makes the process much simpler if you decide to use your book as collateral against a loan – a lender being aware of its value is one thing, but a lender who has proof of origin that determines a higher value is a whole other kettle of fish and leaves you in a much stronger position as owner. It’s all well and good telling us that a particular book used to be held in a famous figure’s library, but if you have the documentation to back up your claims then it will make it much easier further on down the valuation process line.
Rare books – that is, books that are considered not for their previous owners, or their binding, or their print number, but for the fact that there are very limited copies of the book, or a particular edition of a book, in circulation – is actually considered one of the least important reasons for value in a book. If you find that you are unsure about the value of a particular book, simply bring the book into our shop to arrange for our assessors to take a look at it.
Which titles fetch the most at auction?
Rare books have been known to sell for millions at auction. A copy of US ornithology rarity The Birds of America sold for $11.5 million in 2010. Only 119 copies of this book are known to exist today. The 18th century Traité Des Arbres Fruitiers, a treatise on fruit trees, fetched $4.5 million in 2006, making it one of the most expensive books ever sold. This five-volume set shows the importance of creating themed collections, and the value a specialist collector will place on specific volumes.
Not every book is worth millions, of course. A great example of a good return on an affordable investment is the Penguin paperback classics. These reprints of classics were launched in the 1930s for a few pennies. It’s possible to find them in charity shops or second-hand bookshops for around five pounds, if you’re lucky. They can sell for anything up to £100 each. So, while they’re not bringing in millions, they are a huge return on a very small investment if looked after properly. These Penguins are characterised by their brightly coloured covers, so are easy to spot. Look for bright orange for fiction, crime stories in green, biographies in dark blue and travel books in pink. A whole collection will appreciate in value over time.
What to avoid
Don’t presume that buying online will be better value than visiting your local bookseller or specialist dealer. An item may seem cheaper online, but you can rarely check the genuine condition for yourself, making it a risky purchase. Rare book dealers have a reputation to protect, so will rarely overcharge, and visiting a store or individual in person means you can see and maybe even handle the books before buying. This gives you a much better sense of the condition of the item.
A book in terrible condition, even if it’s a rare first edition, may not be worth very much at all. There’s a difference between a bit of foxing and pages which are crumbling to dust at every touch. Paying a small amount for a rare find is only a good bargain if it’s going to last, intact, until you intend to sell it. Always buy the best condition that you can reasonably afford, as avid collectors will look for the same.
It’s rare to have a huge return on a book purchased very cheaply, but with a bit of knowledge, rare book investment can be a lucrative choice. Find a specialist bookseller who can give you advice on what books are worth something. They will be able to advise you on what to keep and what to sell. Use websites such as AbeBooks and the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association to view a wide range of books and get an idea of the prices they currently go for at auction.
Focus on a theme for your collection, whether it’s classical authors, one favourite writer of your own, or a subject matter that will appeal to specialist collectors. Visit antiquarian bookshops with an idea of what you want and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Book collectors are always happy to find a like-minded soul and are generally happy to share their knowledge.
Visit New Bond Street Pawnbrokers
If you believe that you own a book that you could use as a form of collateral and you have reason to believe that its value is of a significant amount, then that is where New Bond Street Pawnbrokers can help you out. To ensure that you receive the best possible loan from your collateral, our specialised appraisers will scrutinise the item and give it a valuation based on whether or not it possesses any or all of the qualities mentioned above. Our team has over 25 years’ worth of experience and we collaborate with a number of informed and experienced experts within the industry to fully and accurately appraise your collection.
As well as providing you with the money you need, our services will help you to discover more about your collection than you could possibly imagine. Because we use only the most knowledgeable of experts within the field, they will do their utmost to find out as much as possible about the books you offer as collateral and their authors – our skills set us apart from the rest and we are able to put together a timeline of the book based on the materials it is composed of, the binding and other defining features. Combined, these features will allow us to come up with a suitable quote for you that is both respective of their value and fair to you as the owner.
Fine assets are always in big demand as prices at auctions around the world continue to grow every year. You may also want to read our comprehensive articles on most expensive items ever sold on auction for assets like fine wine collections, most expensive jewelry ever sold, expensive Cartier jewelry, luxury handbags, classic cars, diamonds , most expensive watches ever sold and art.