MORE: Minnesota Opportunities for Reference Excellence--Values of Old Books
Values of Old BooksThere are several factors that determine the value of an old book. These include the content of the book (is it something that is in demand?), the condition, the edition (is it a first edition?) and the age. Just because a book is "old" does not mean it has any value in the market place. A book dated "1880" may only be worth $5.00 if it is not something in demand.
A book dated "1880" may be old, but old does not equal rare, and rarity is what gives a book value. It's the law of supply and demand. If nobody wants the book, it has no value. Likewise, if lots of people want a book, but it is something that was produced by the milions, it has a low value. The person with the book needs to ask themselves "How much would I pay for this at a yard sale?" That will generally be their best guide as to a value for the book.
There are some reference tools that list the prices for which books have sold at auction or the prices they were listed at in a dealer's catalog. These are AMERICAN BOOK PRICES CURRENT and the BOOKMAN'S PRICE INDEX. You can check these at some larger libraries, or if you live at a distance and have just one or two titles, you local library may arrange for your library system's reference center to check them for you. For several titles, you would have to do this yourself.
These tools, however, do not even begin to list all the old books that exist. If a book is not valuable enough to warrant being sold at auction or listed in a dealer's catalog, it will not be included. Conversely, if It Is so rare that one never comes on the market, it would not be listed either.
If a title is not listed, you must then take it to a dealer to get an appraisal. The people at the library are not qualified to do this for you. Most reputable dealers will insist on seeing the actual book itself before giving you an estimate of the worth.
Even if you do find a title listed in one of the reference tools, all that tells you is what someone once asked or paid for it. It does not tell you what it is worth in this area, today. Also, it cannot tell you what your particular copy is worth, since the condition of the book itself helps determine the value. Also, with some books it takes an expert to determine just which edition or printing of a book a particular copy is, and those factors also determine the value.