Are old books & manuscripts valuable?

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Mearto Specialist:


Delia has nearly 30 years of experience at regional and international auction houses in the United States, and is also currently the editor of an art and antiques trade publication that tracks market trends, auctions and antiques shows. Delia is a generalist in glass, ceramics, silver and other metals, fine art, textiles, antiquities, wines and spirits, stamps and currency, collectibles and dolls and toys. Additionally, she is a specialist in 15th to 21st Century furniture from around the world. Her extensive professional network of appraisers, curators, dealers and collectors has proven to be an invaluable resource in her work for Mearto.

What is the difference between a book and a manuscript?

A manuscript is the earliest draft of a completed original work that an author submits to an editor or publisher or agency for publication. Before the invention of printing, books and manuscripts were hand-written and hand-illuminated, truly an art in itself. In the world of second-hand and rare books, a manuscript may specifically refer to any author’s work in his/her own hand.

A book, on the other hand, is a number of pages; made of papyrus, parchment, vellum, or paper; bound together and protected by a cover, that depending on the age and origin of the book, could be composed of expensive materials like leather or gemstones.

How are books and manuscripts valued?

There are many reasons for which art collectors and brokers value books. Factors that determine the value of a book are as follows:

  • Demand: This is the first and most important factor. Without demand, a book isn’t valuable and won’t be considered rare (since demand never exceeds supply). The age of the book is also not a factor in its rarity.
  • Availability: This is the next factor that determines if a book is rare, next to demand. If there is a high demand but limited availability for a book, then it is considered rare. Some books may fetch a high value because they have gone out of print i.e. they are no longer being printed but are still sought by readers and collectors alike.
  • Special Features: Some copies of a book are different and more rare than others. These differences are referred to as “points” and can impact the value and scarcity of said book. First Editions or Limited Editions are generally more valuable.
  • Association: If the book contains the original signature or inscription from the author, then it will command a higher price as compared to similar books without the signature.
  • Physical Condition: An old book is worth more if its binding and all its pages/contents are intact. Defaced covers, mutilated pages, or missing illustrations can reduce the price of an antique book.

What is a "rare" book?

When the demand for a book exceeds its supply, it becomes a rare book. However, scarcity is not the only factor determining the value or rarity of a book. It may be easily available in the market but its contents and physical characteristics could make it worth a lot more.

What is a first edition book and how can it be identified?

A first edition is the first version of printing for a certain book’s commercial distribution. The first edition of a book is prized because this is the closest thing that a reader or collector can get to the source of the book. You can identify a first edition book by checking for the words “first edition” on the copyright page or by examining the number line which usually includes the number one.

Are old books and manuscripts currently in high demand?

Book collectors are growing in numbers as books are printed less and produced more in digital copies. Many collectors view book collecting as an investment, which drives demand. The condition and rarity of a book can directly impact its value, making it a noteworthy investment for book collectors.

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I received a response and information regarding my items in less than 48 hours, which I appreciated. The appraiser was very knowledgable.

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