In this article:
- Are all “first editions” valuable?
- Which books should you buy?
- Where should you buy them?
Since our first SharpToys on winemaking (Sharp HomeBrew Toys), SharpMen has reported great SharpDating success stories on wooing women with interesting hobbies. Cool. In response, we offer you a new occasional series, Hobbies That Drive Women Wild. Yes, you will sound pretentious, but who cares if she doesn’t? Our first offering: rare book collecting. Talk about sounding well-read! These tips will help you sound well-read, well-shopped, and well-liked. Here are the basics:
What makes a book “collectable?”
Like any other business, it’s all about supply and demand. Not many copies + lots of people who want it = valuable. So, reprints of bestsellers, even if they’re hardcovers in nice condition, are not going to be valuable. Ever. Give these away to make room for the good stuff (buy a paperback next time). However, the first books of many popular authors are often valuable in the first edition, because the publisher was unwilling to take a gamble on an unknown by printing the first run of 50,000 plus copies.
Are all first editions valuable?
Think about it. Supply and demand, again. Tens of thousands of books are published every year, and most don’t make it to a second printing. So are you gonna run out and buy copies of all of those first editions? Of course not. A book is valuable only if someone’s willing to pay lots of money for it.
Are books a good investment?
No. Collect rare books because you like them, or to impress women. It’s not gonna make you rich.
Now, what should you collect?
The book collector’s maxim is to collect what you love. Good news: even if the last book you read was the Catcher in the Rye in ninth grade (a first edition of which would set you back some $4500 now — gulp), you can find some category of interest. Hate to read, only like sports? Then collect first editions of books about golf, football, surfing, or whatever. She’ll see them lined up on your shelf with their gilt-lettered spines or vintage dust jackets and will find you much more alluring than when you’re in front of the tube guzzling beer and watching the playoffs.
History buff? Collect Americana. (Doesn’t that sound impressive?) Or, do you have lots of money but no desire to read? You can really impress the women by collecting “incunabula,” books printed in the year 1500 and before. (Most of these aren’t in English, which is why it’s a good field to collect if you just want them to look impressive on your shelf without having to worry about what’s inside the covers.) Note that incunabula mean serious dough.
If you like fiction, you can collect modern first editions, a.k.a. “modern firsts.”(SharpMan Tip: antiquarian book dealers consider anything published since 1900 “modern.”) Good news: you can start a modern first collection before you get rich. Start collecting first editions of the authors you like now (this means hardcovers).
How do you know it’s a “first edition?”
Publishers vary in their method of identifying first editions, but you can often tell if a book is the first edition by checking the string of numbers on the copyright page. These numbers generally look like “987654321,” with the “1” indicating the first printing. The printer then removes a number for each run. So beware if the copyright page states “First edition, 9876543,” because although the publisher may consider this the first edition of the book (i.e. no new material), it’s the third printing, and therefore not a true first edition from a collecting perspective. This is not a foolproof method, however; Random House, for example, marks its first editions with a “First Edition” tag and a string of numbers ending in 2. If you’re going to drop serious cash on a book, you want to make sure it’s a first. Consult a dealer.
How do you buy rare books?
The best way to get your feet wet is to form a relationship with an “antiquarian book dealer.” If a dealer knows he (or she) is your main source for your collection, the dealer will actively scout for the books you are seeking and will let you know when a certain copy is overpriced or in an inferior condition. Some dealers will even find you a “lesser” copy of a book and agree to let you return it for full price (“trade up”) when they find a better copy. Look for a dealer who belongs to the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America. These vendors abide by a code of ethics and have undergone a peer approval process, so you can generally feel you will be treated fairly by a dealer affiliated with this organization. Check out their website at http://abaa.org and search for a member dealer near you by geographic location. Another great feature of this site is its book search function.
You can also buy rare books online using a site such as Bibliofind. Many ABAA members are also members of this service. Be careful, though–make sure that the dealer you buy from has a return policy in case the book you receive doesn’t look like the description you read.
Other sites include Alibris.com and even ebay . With non-ABAA affiliated sites, be sure you know whom you’re buying from. With sites like ebay, check the seller’s rating, but realize that you’re never guaranteed purchase security, since sophisticated scams include good ebay ratings, as well. Be especially careful about online auctions; you never know what idiot will try to pass off their “really old, 1933” edition of Shakespeare as a “first.” Our advice: buy your most expensive books from offline professionals.
In fact, even if you shop online, we recommend starting out with one ABAA-accredited dealer, because of the great variation in the way different dealers describe the condition of their books. After all, the fact remains that you can learn more from a flesh-and-blood dealer than from reading online catalog descriptions.
Other Information Sources.
Investing in a price guide is not a bad idea. SharpMan.com recommends Collecting Books: A Guide to Values by book dealers Allen and Patricia Ahearn.
Newly published by the same authors is a more general book, Book Collecting 2000, A Comprehensive Guide, which also has price information.
Novice collectors can also learn a lot from Firsts: The Book Collector’s Magazine www.firsts.com/.
Finally, learn more about this Hobby That Drives Women Wild while having a Great Date by attending a book dealers’ trade show. If you’re near New York City, a major one is coming up: the 40th Annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair will take place April 13th-16th at the Park Avenue Armory. If you have a book you think might be valuable (the cornerstone of your new collection, perhaps?), show up with it on Sunday the 16th for a free appraisal. For more information, check out the website http://www.sanfordsmith.com/nyabf/nyabf.html . If you’re in a smaller town, don’t despair; local dealers often get together for a regional fair. Check out Firsts Magazine, the ABAA or your local newspaper for listings.