How to Buy Rare Books

How to Buy Rare Books  

Book collecting doesn't have to be difficult or expensive, with thousands of booksellers, including some great ones online, and millions of books to choose from. The wealthiest collectors might go after real treasures-like the Gutenberg bible-at auction or through a dealer, while less extravagant collectors may collect first editions of books by their favorite authors, purchasing online. The internet has made collecting much more affordable and accessible.

Explore: People collect books for different reasons. Some collectors buy special editions of books by favorite authors, while others may build a collection around a favorite theme, like art, architecture, history, law, or more obscure subjects like horticulture. What makes a rare book really "rare" is not simply its age or its scarcity, but that it is also desired by other collectors. Of course, what makes a book desirable to you, the collector, is most important, as the collection will eventually represent your interests and tastes, as well as your investment savvy.

Discover: Browse the web and learn about different types of rare books. Educate yourself about rare book terms, types of valuable books, and subjects like the difference between a first edition and a limited edition.  Consider attending a rare book show, a great opportunity to talk to dealers, who are experts in the field. The Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America lists book shows in the United States.

Budget: First, educate yourself about prices. There are a number of good books and websites on the subject that can help you get a sense of what certain books are worth. Then decide how much you would like to spend. Starting with a few very special books is the best way to start a collection. Once you have some collecting experience and knowledge of rare books, you can move on to more expensive books if you like or expand your collection.

Ensure: If you are building a collection of rare books for investment reasons, it's especially important to purchase books in excellent condition and in their original covers. Rebound books often lose a significant amount of their value. In all cases, some questions to ask the seller about the condition are:

  • Dust jacket: Is it ripped or crumpled? Is it price-clipped? (A price-clipped dust-jacket reduces the value of a book considerably.) 
  • The cover: Are there indications of rubbing or abrasions? Are the corners damaged? Is there discoloration on the spine? Is there fading in the letters of the title or other text? Is the spine in good condition?
  • Inside the book: Do the hinges show signs of wear, like cracking? Are the endpapers in good condition? Has the binding loosened? Is the title page in good condition? Have previous owners left notations or inscriptions in the books? Is the book stained? Are there any other signs of wear?

Buy: Once you're sure you've found just the right book, make sure you're buying from a reputable seller. They are generally listed by the ABA, the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, or ILAB, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.  If it's an online seller, read about the company and their website. Most credible websites provide detailed information about themselves. Make sure the website provides you with verified and secure online purchases. Read what their customers and the press have to say about them. Find out if the company has a reasonable returns policy. When you have done your due-diligence, buy the book and enjoy!