Do you fantasize about having an “Antiques Roadshow” moment, the one where an appraiser tells you that the rare children’s book you found in your attic is worth $100,000? If you have a first edition copy of “The Wizard of Oz” or “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” that dream could become a reality . A first edition “The Velveteen Rabbit” can fetch upwards of $15,000, and there are a slew of old children’s picture books that are worth $1,000 or more . But, short of being selected for “Antiques Roadshow,” how can you find out if your old children’s books are worth getting excited about?
To start, you should know that “old” does not automatically equal “valuable.” Also, when it comes to old books, “rare” and “scarce” mean different things. “Rare” means encountered only once — if ever — over a period of years, and that the book is desirable; “scarce” means encountered just a few times over a period of years, but more than once. “Uncommon” is another term used for books seen slightly more often than just a few times within a period of years.
Some books may also be described as rare or scarce in terms of the jacket, a particular binding or printing, or rare or scarce in terms of the condition they are in. The internet is a valuable resource for finding out more about your books; research the following using the power of the web:
ISBN Number Searches
Look for your book’s ISBN number, or International Standard Book Number — it’s a 10-digit number usually found on the copyright page or near the book’s bar code. Start doing searches on the internet referencing the ISBN number as well as the title and author to get a sense of your book’s current value. Try adding search terms to your queries like “for sale” and “sold” to find out what the book might be fetching on the market.
Make a note of the dates that “sold” auctions were completed and be sure to compare the same editions and conditions. When considering asking prices for current listings, remember that they are not a guarantee that the book will sell for that amount; however, you’ll start to get a feel for the price range as well as how many copies might be available. You can zero in on your book’s current value by learning the general price range online and finding the median price within that range.
Finding out that your rare book is a first edition can bode very well for collectors, but not always. Identifying first editions can be tricky; some general guidelines include looking for terms on the copyright page like “First Printing,” “First Edition,” “First Published,” “Published” or “First Impression.” You might also find a number line like s 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1; the “1” is key in denoting First Edition and it will be removed for subsequent editions. The date on the title page should be the same as the one on the copyright page. In some cases, there may be no designation for first printing; however, later printings would be noted as such on the copyright page.
A pocket guide like the one offered by Bill McBride (“Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions“) lists more than 3700 publishers from 1850 to present-day and the means in which they identify the first edition printing of their books.
If you find out your books aren’t worth much, don’t despair. Try and think creatively — do you have several books that could be sold as a lot? Possible grouping ideas could be by author, genre or series. You might also consider swapping your books at a book exchange for more appealing or potentially valuable titles.