How to Research the Value of Rare Books

Whether you plan on collecting rare books, or if you hope to sell your rare books, it’s important to research the book’s value first. Not all rare books are valuable, and you may be surprised to discover that some very recent book editions have great value. Book collectors divide rare books into three distinct categories: modern first editions, reading copies and antiquarian. Finding the value of your rare book, no matter what category it falls under, requires a little time and patience, but it could mean a big difference in your wallet.


  1. Image titled Research the Value of Rare Books Step 1
    Understand what makes a book both rare and valuable. Look for standard identification points, which are details that most book publishers adhere to when printing first editions. These details, called issue points, include:
    • Codes on the copyright page
    • Binding type
    • Dust jacket particularities
  2. Image titled Research the Value of Rare Books Step 2
    Determine the condition of the book. This is especially important if you are trying to decide if you should purchase a rare book. A book in poor condition, even if it is rare, could have little or no value. Collectors want books that are in new, very fine or pristine condition. If a book is heavily damaged or falling apart, the chances are slim that it will have any real value. Carefully examine the book you are considering purchasing or that you already own, and look for:
    • Foxing—are any of the pages yellowed, stained, torn, warped or spotted? Are there written notations in the margins? Have sentences been underlined?
    • Boards—are the front and back boards of the binding firmly attached or are they loose or unhinged?
    • Plates—are there any plates (pictures) missing or damaged?
    • Pages—are there any missing pages anywhere in the book? This includes the copyright page and any introduction, forward, dedication or epilogue pages.
    • Binding—Does the book have its original binding or has it been repaired? Does the book have its original dust jacket?
  3. Image titled Research the Value of Rare Books Step 3
    Consult a professional book dealer if you don’t feel confident when assessing the condition of a book. You may think your book is in pretty good condition, but a collector can spot imperfections you may not see.
  4. Image titled Research the Value of Rare Books Step 4
    Research the rarity of the book. Determining how many copies of a book actually exist is not an exact science, but you can get a good idea by searching online databases that list the number of copies that reside in libraries and other institutions. It’s impossible to know how many more copies exist in private collections, but an online database will give you a rough idea of how many known copies are around. A rare book in good condition and limited known copies is highly marketable.
  5. Image titled Research the Value of Rare Books Step 5
    Research all the factors that may make your rare book more valuable:
    • First printing of a first edition.
    • Limited edition numbered copies.
    • First printing of first editions that contain a misprint. For example, Cold Mountain, published in 1997, had a typographical error on page 25 in the first printing. This issue point is important because it tells collectors that the copy was among the first printing of a first edition—the error was corrected in subsequent editions. First printing copies of the book without the error have a lesser value.
    • Limited editions with leather bindings.
  6. Image titled Research the Value of Rare Books Step 6
    Enter your book information on a book selling website to get an idea of the book’s worth. You can enter the title, author and publisher to begin your search. When a list of matches comes up, carefully compare the attributes of your book to the attributes of the listed books. Look for as many detail matches as possible; the binding, edition, dust jacket, etc.


  • A book’s value increases if it was once owned by someone famous. Look for proof of previous ownership: a bookplate or a signature, or any documentation that indicates a historical figure or other important person once owned the book. Some book collectors will buy a book based on previous ownership, even if the book is in poor condition.
  • Look for the price of the book on the dust jacket. Book club editions of a book look almost identical to first editions, but there is no cover price printed on the inside flap, and those editions are not valuable or collectible.


  • Don’t assume a recently published book is not rare. John Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill, had a very short initial printing by a little known publisher. Those 300 copies are worth hundreds of dollars to collectors.
  • If you suspect you have a rare and valuable book, get a written appraisal from a reputable book dealer, and have the book insured.

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Categories: Books