Granny’s Books

As a used and rare bookseller, one of the first things folks disclose to me upon learning what I do, is that they have a terrifically valuable old book their grandma gave them, tucked away for a rainy day. This is usually accompanied by a certain amount of excitement in their voice, and yes, they have various reasons for believing the tome is worth a lot of money. It is then my unfortunate duty to inform that most likely that old dusty book from granny isn’t worth much at all. Sentimentality about granny has little to do with the book’s worth. What, then, does come into play when appraising a book? Age can be important, but how old something is can be relative. A book printed in the U.S. in the late 18th century is old because our country was established in 1776. The same can’t be said about most European countries. An 18th century biblical commentary in Latin bound in leather has been sitting on my shelves for 10 years priced at $65 because it wasn’t written by anyone spectacular. Most folks can’t read Latin nor do they want to pursue an outdated commentary. On the other hand, I carry books written in the 20th century that sell for hundreds of dollars because of their authorship, their subject matter, and other reasons, including a market for them. Age may be a factor, but it isn’t necessarily the most important one. Consider too, the condition of any book, be it 300 or 5 years old. Does it have a dust jacket if issued with one? The pages-are they clean and free of toning (yellowing) or foxing (brown spots)? Has it been exposed to moisture or cigarette smoke? Is the binding tight? No matter what the book’s age, these are the questions affecting the value. Books bound in fine leather generally have a higher value than cloth, but again there are exceptions. Inscriptions and signatures by the authors and illustrators can add value. Books “limited” in their printing, meaning only a certain number were printed, often hold higher value. Gilt lettering and edges contribute to the aesthetic appeal of books, and depending on the illustrator, illustrations can also increase value. I encourage folks to take their books into a quality used bookstore for an appraisal. Generally booksellers charge nothing or a nominal fee. They can usually recommend a book appraiser, should that be necessary. A word of caution: The internet is a terrific marketplace for buying and selling books, but never assume the prices you find on sites represent fair market value. Keep in mind the aforementioned factors. Many of the sellers on websites are not booksellers by trade. This is all the more reason to visit your local antiquarian bookseller. And this to granny, may you R.I.P. Perhaps the real worth of the raggedy book you read to me so many years ago, is that it was shared by the two of us.