What's It Worth? Determining The Value Of Antique And Collectible Books

23 January 2015
 Categories: Entertainment, Articles


If you are like most people, you probably assume that the age of a book it the most important factor when determining its value as an antique. Although the age is a factor there are other considerations that lend value to a book. Here's what an antique appraiser, like one from International Auction Gallery, will consider when valuing your old books.


Condition refers to the physical appearance of the book. According to Alibris, there are seven categories commonly used by booksellers and buyers to describe the condition of a book, but those classifications may vary slightly between parties. 

New or Very Fine (VF)

  • The book looks like it has never been handled or read. These books may have been in storage in a warehouse or stored in a protective cover for years.
  • It has no visible signs of wear and contains the dust jacket and all parts of the original publication.
  • Collectible
  • Top selling price

Fine (F) vs Nearly Fine (NF)

  • The book that shows signs it has been read, but otherwise has no defects is considered in Fine (F) condition,
  • One that has few flaws is considered Near Fine (NF).
  • Collectible
  • Sells for close to top price

Very Good (VG)

  • Books in Very Good condition typically have a few nicks or chips in the dust jacket, but the book is otherwise free of defects.
  • Collectible
  • Sells for 50 to 70 percent of top price

Good (G) vs Fair (F)

  • Books in Good (G) and Fair (F) condition may have damaged jackets, signs of wear, or damaged spines.
  • Not collectible
  • Sells for 10 to 15 percent of top price


  • Books in Poor (P) condition have many flaws, a missing jacket, soil and scuff marks and missing pages.
  • Not collectible

Rarity and Scarcity 

The terms rare and scarce may sound like the same thing, but there are subtle differences, says Books and Book Collecting. Both may increase the value of the book.

  • Rare Books: A rare book is one that is encountered by book sellers or collectors once every five years or less.
  • Scarce Books: A scarce book is encountered approximately once a year while a very scarce book is seen every two to four years.


Provenance refers to the history of the book, specifically the previous owners. Books owned by famous people, with documenting marks, letters or other accompanying papers are often more collectable and gain a higher price. Signed copies indicating the recipient may add value, if the recipient was notable in some way.


The demand for a book may be the most important factor in determining its worth. A 100-year-old book by an unknown author is unlikely to command a high price even if it is in pristine condition. However, demand changes frequently and some books by unknown authors may be valuable due to the subject matter. 

Signed & First Edition Books

Many people mistakenly believe a book is valuable simply because it is signed by the author, but this isn't always true. How popular the author and book was and the author's habit of signing books is also a factor. Some authors customarily sign many of their books, while others rarely sign them.

As a rule, author signatures increase the value of the book if signed books are rare, but add little value if they were an unknown or if there are many signed additions available. Likewise, a first edition does not necessarily increase a book's value, as there may have been a large first printing and many books may still be available.

If you have old books that you think may be valuable, call an antique book appraiser to get them appraised. While some will provide a quick appraisal for free, if you intend to claim the value of the books on your home insurance, pay for an official appraisal and get it all in writing.