Tips for Identifying Valuable Books
by Meg Halter
A Report on the Nov. 17 Seminar Given by Lisa Misosky to BCFriends interested in helping with the ongoing eBay Friends of the Library Book Sale
Every week we must quickly sort through a deluge of donations. When should a book or magazine be sent to collectibles? On November 17, Lisa Misosky, owner of Southland Books, gave us tons of pointers on how pull out books that might be valuable.
Do not discard a book that might be valuable because it's smelly or moldy, or because it's discolored or tatty. Many of these problems can be fairly easily remedied. Pages can be cleaned. Mold can be cleaned off. Minor damage can be easily repaired. (But “NEVER, EVER, EVER use Elmer's glue or super glue to fix a book.”) If a book is not valuable enough to repair but is worth preserving, put it in a sleeve or clamshell box.
Also, don't let your prejudices about the topic color your judgment about the value of a book. For example, do NOT discard books with nudity. Instead, send them to collectibles to be sold on eBay. Remember that the objective is to raise funds for the library.
eBay is a great way to connect with niche collectors. For example, science bulletins issued by university presses (typically on narrow reference topics such as fish or specific grasses) can be valuable ... to the person who is interested in that narrow topic.
For books that were published in the 1980s or later, the eBay smartphone app can be handy for getting an idea of the value. Enter the ISBN number and if the book is offered for at least $20 send it to collectibles for the experts to evaluate more carefully. (Note: BOFL has a cutoff of $14.99 for listing on eBay.)
Another avenue for selling valuable books is to local collectors. Look for books by local authors, such as Cormac McCarthy and James Agee, especially first editions of their earlier books. Also, books issued by local publishers can be extra valuable to local collectors who focus on a particular imprint (e.g. Pumpkin Town) or on TN books.
For example, Dr. Lyons’ estate included a first edition of one of Cormac McCarthy's early books, autographed and dedicated to D. Lyons. It was eventually sold for hundreds of dollars.
So what should you look for?
Much of the value can only be assessed from looking inside the book.
- Is it signed?
- Is it dedicated to someone well known?
- Is it a limited edition?
- Is it from a first edition that was a small print run?
- Is there something collectible inside, such as old letters or tickets to historic events?
- Even a breaker copy (a book which is worth less than the cost to repair) may have value. For example, if the book contains beautiful prints, it might make more sense to salvage the prints and throw away the book itself.
- However, early editions of academic and reference books are often not valuable because the content is revised in later editions.
- Does a magazine includes a story by a well-known author? That may be the first appearance of the story in print and could make the issue worth $40 - $50.
Look at the outside
- Is the book by an author that you or your kids read in school?
- Was the book published by a university press?
- Is the book part of a small print run?
- Is it an advance review copy?
- Was the story later made into a movie? (Books printed after the movie are rarely valuable.)
- Dust jackets add value. However, a lack of dust jacket can be more than canceled out by other factors that add value.
Remember that value is not necessarily a function of the age of the book and that “even a beat-up book can be collectible.”
Anyone who has a collectible to donate may simply
- put it in the Friends office labelled “Collectible”
- put it in a separate bag or box and put it in the BCFOL donation bins located on the side of the library.
Claudia Erwin has agreed to answer any questions you may have:
Her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please put “Collectible Question” in the Subject box of the Email.
Several Friends are working to research and put the collectible books on eBay, and box them up for mailing after they are bought. The sales so far have been very successful.