What is the difference between an antiquarian and rare book?

Antiquarian refers to collecting old, antique books. Rarity has more to do with the book’s value. Rare books are often old, but other factors apply such as the scarcity and the desirability. For example, although Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is a relatively recent book (published 1997), first editions are quite rare and valuable, as there were only about 500 copies printed, with many of them going to libraries. There are many books with small print runs however, so it is mostly due to the success of the book, the series, and the films that has created a great deal of desirability for this title.

What defines a rare book?

The rarity of a book is determined by several factors, including the printing history and the number of copies printed or sold. The quality of the paper and binding affects the value of the book, but it can also contribute to the book’s longevity: a fragile composition may not maintain fine condition over time. Some categories of books are more prone to destruction than others, and there unlikely preservation may render them more valuable. For example, Bibles, cookbooks, law books, and children’s books are difficult to find intact because they’re often extensively used. Most of all, rarity does not only mean that the book is old and difficult to find. A rare book is important. It often has a legacy of being critically respected, commercially successful, and highly collectible.

How important is a book’s condition?

The condition of a book is unequivocal. Copies in exceptional and “fine” condition are at a premium, and collectors are often wise to obtain the best possible copy that can be afforded. Of course, older books are generally in lesser condition than recent ones.

How can I learn about a book’s condition?

The conditions of our books are described individually on our site or in our catalogues. If in reading the description of a book you encounter terms that you are unfamiliar with, you can read up here in our glossary of terms:

How important is provenance?

Provenance is the specific history of a copy of a book from the time of its publication to present. Some indicators of the book’s history are previous owner signatures and gift inscriptions (usually on the first few pages of the book) and bookplates. Typically, provenance adds mere interest to the book, giving it a fun history for a collector, but occasionally it can add great value if the book belonged to a famous historical figure or was stored in a renowned library.

There are two official terms for how provenance is conveyed. A “presentation” is when the writer gives his book to another with an inscription indicating the exchange, and an “association copy” is a book that is somehow connected to its author. If either type of provenance can be established, the book is attributed greater value.

Regrettably, most books don’t have a traceable provenance. They are bought and sold between owners without record.

What is an edition, and what is a first edition?

An “edition” a series of a book printed from a given setting of type at a given time. For example, an edition may include 500 copies, with 250 printed in March and another 250 printed in November. If an edition is reprinted from the same setting of type, perhaps because of a given edition’s popularity, it may be reprinted with few changes. This produces different “states” and “issues” but not a new edition. A “first edition,” however, is the first public appearance of the text in book form. It is printed from the first setting of type, and the type may be a metal, photo, or digital type.

Occasionally, the term “first edition” is nuanced. “First edition in English” is the first English-language edition of a book that appeared first in another language. This is not to be confused with “first English edition,” which indicates that the book was first published in a different country and this is the first publication in Britain. This is the same for “first American edition.”

And what is an issue and state?

An issue occurs when deletions and additions are intentionally made to a minority of books within a given book printing with the intention of being treated by the publisher as separate from the rest of the printing.

A state occurs when the publisher does not wish to treat these books as separate from the other copies. The publisher, for instance, may not wish to bring these changes to the public’s eye to avoid his affecting his sale.

P. H. Muir summarizes it as follows in Book-Collecting as a Hobby: An “issue” is caused by some change … after some copies have already been circulated, (while) a “state” is caused by a … change before any copies of the book have been circulated.

How do you determine if a book is a first edition?

The most challenging (and fun) aspect of book collecting is identifying a first edition. Some publishers print the words “First Edition” or “First Printing” on the copyright page, while others mark the edition using a symbol or a series of numbers. “Points” are unique, physical characteristics of an edition that can help identify it. These are often determined by bibliographers who study an author’s printed work – examining the book’s binding, typography, and content – to determine variations in, for example, the color of a cloth binding or a misspelling on a particular page. Points are useful in determining the edition, issue, or state of a particular copy.

For an extended explanation on how to identify a first edition, check out our First Edition Identification Resource.

What is the difference between a first and limited edition?

A “limited edition” contains a “limitation statement,” typically on the back of the title page. The limitation statement will note the total number of copies; occasionally it will detail the type of paper or binding of the printing. The number of a specific copy may be noted— for example “67 of 200” . A signed limited edition includes an autograph from the author or publisher.

Are first editions more valuable than limited editions?

Usually the first editions (or first trade edition, as you may hear it referred as) are more valuable, but this is a generalization. [This is indicated in the above sections on first editions.] Sometimes the first printing of a book is printed as a limited edition. In this case, the limited edition is the first edition, and it may have the greatest potential value.

Why is the dust jacket important for modern first editions?

Dust jackets are important because of their historical sense and their potential scarcity for being in fine condition. They were originally designed in the mid-nineteenth century to protect a book in transit and were discarded upon the book’s safe arrival. Very few early jackets – or “dust wraps” – survive.

In the early twentieth century, dust jackets developed from protective coverings to employing colorful illustrations and promotional aids, and their elaborate design came to be appreciated as a descriptive art form integral to the book itself. Dust jackets of modern books are valuable because they appeared alongside the first appearance of the book, and are, therefore, part of the book’s original identity. Collectors of modern first editions generally prefer a dust jacket, but some are exceptionally scarce, such as The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises.

Do later editions have value?

While first editions generally have the most value, there are exceptions. Sometimes the first edition may no longer exist, rendering a later publication or translation the standard of value. For example, a true first edition in the original language may be unobtainable, or a book may have had greater impact in, say, English rather than the language of its first publication.

In other cases, collectors may simply prefer a later edition because it has been enhanced. For example, some publications, by nature of their genre, benefit from being a later edition. Historical works, narratives of travel and exploration, and similar non-fiction genres may have additional or corrected information in a later edition. They may contain appreciable added maps and illustrations. Even literature may be preferred as a later edition for the same reasons. The term “best edition” refers to an edition that bibliographers designate as the superior edition.

What is the difference between a signed and inscribed book?

A “signed” copy appears when an author personally signs the book with his name, usually, by hand. An “inscribed” copy refers to an author signing a book with reference to another person.

Generally, the more authentic writing in a book, the better its value is. Signature and inscriptions designate historical legacy and contribute to a particular book’s provenance. Reference to significant historical figures or locations always increases value. [See the question on provenance for related info.] But this can be negated by a collector’s personal preference. Often, the author’s signature alone is more valuable to a given collector than an inscription because he may find the inscription’s reference to a previous owner irrelevant to his intent for owning the book.

Does a film make a book more valuable?

While a book’s adaptation into a film does not necessarily make it more valuable, it often has affect. A book’s adaptation to the screen inevitably increases the popularity of the book’s author. This may re-surge the book’s popularity, influencing book collector’s to hunt down the book’s first edition, which in turn makes the book more valuable. First editions of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royal, the first of Fleming’s fourteen-part Bond series, were highly sought when the 2006 film adaptation starring Daniel Craig was released.

Should I make provisions for storing books in my home?

Books are made to be handled, so they’re naturally durable. Nonetheless, books should be kept in a safe environment, stored upright on a book shelf. It should not be too hot, cold, dry or damp. High humidity can warp boards and foster mold, and direct sunlight can destroy leather bindings and fade dust jackets. It’s prudent to invest in a protective acid-free, clear mylar jacket to cover and protect the dust jacket. All of the books with dust jackets that are sold by us come with a protective mylar cover already, but if you would like to purchase these for your unprotected books they can be obtained from suppliers such as Brodart or Gaylord Brothers.

For fragile or expensive books, a protective box or slipcase is wise. We can have simple cloth custom clamshell boxes made for any book fairly inexpensively or for a little more you can have a quarter leather custom clamshell box made, which imitates the look of a leather book. Also, leather bindings should once a year be dressed with leather dressing and gently buffed to keep the leather supple.

I have a book you might like. Are you interested?

Quite possibly! But bear in mind that age alone is not a chief indication of a book’s value. Please read the above responses and apply them to your book to determine whether or not it’s, for example, a true first or limited edition that is signed or inscribed and has a fine condition dust jacket. All these factors are detailed above. Of course, we do offer appraisal services. Please contact us for more information.