Smithsonian Institution Libraries: Information on Old Books

September 13, 2013 – 09:43
Selling First Editions and Rare Books to Us

Information on Old Books

The Smithsonian Institution Libraries does not make appraisals of old books.

You can look up much information about the history of your book on your own by using sources that are widely available in public and academic libraries. The next section on Reference Tools for Book Collectors lists a variety of helpful books.

The Smithsonian Institution Libraries may be able to provide information on the significance of old books in specific fields of interest (which include the history of science and technology, natural history, selected aspects of American history, and the history of the decorative arts). Call the Special Collections Department (202-633-3872) or email (

With few exceptions (such as popular fiction relating to the history of aeronautics), the Smithsonian Institution Libraries does not collect works of fiction or literature nor of religion and philosophy. For collections in those fields, please consult the works listed under Author and Subject Guides under Reference Tools for Book Collectors below.



Reference Tools for Book Collectors

Publication History

  • The National union catalog: Pre-1956 imprints (NUC) (London: Mansell, 1968-81), which is a published version of a combined card catalog for several hundred libraries in the U.S., including the Library of Congress. Each record includes the NUC abbreviations for the library(ies) that have a copy of the book.
  • WorldCat from OCLC, Inc., a similar catalog developed as a computer database to which thousands of libraries in the U.S. and around the world contribute. It, too, lists the various libraries around the world that hold a copy of each book listed.

A large public or university library will probably have access to both of these catalogs. Your librarian may have to search OCLC for you, since it is not always available directly to readers. Whichever you use, there will be separate listings for each known or suspected edition of your author and title. You should be able to match your copy with one or another of these records (usually on the basis of imprint, i.e., the city, publisher, and date; but sometimes by other descriptive information). Then you will know exactly what you have and how it fits in to the publication history of the work.


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