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Home > Books > Book Collecting
For a professional online book appraisal

I've put together a lot of tips for any aspiring book collectors out there.

Be sure to use the book search pages to find some worthy books...

 Describing Books 

These standards are from the International Book Collectors Association (IBCA), and the Independent Online Booksellers Association (IOBA). They assume that you are describing both the book and the jacket in a single grade.

Currently most dealers will describe the book and dust jacket separately like this: F/VG - a book in fine condition with a dust jacket in very good condition.

AN/VF/Mint - As New/Very Fine/Mint is to be used only when the book is in the same immaculate condition in which it was published. There can be no defects, no missing pages, no library stamps, etc., and the dustjacket (if it was issued with one) must be perfect, without any tears. (Note: very few "new" books qualify for this grade, as many times there will be rubs/scuffs to the dustjackets from shipping, or bumped lower spine ends/corners from shelving)

F - Fine approaches the condition of As New, but without being crisp. For the use of the term Fine there must also be no defects, etc., and if the jacket has a small tear, or other defect, or looks worn, this should be noted. (The dustjacket may have been slightly rubbed or spine ends slightly bumped from shelving/shipping)

NF - Near Fine is approaching FINE but with a couple of very minor defects or faults

VG - Very Good can describe a used book that does show some small signs of wear - but no tears - on either binding or paper. Any defects must be noted.

G - Good describes the average used and worn book that has all pages or leaves present. Any defects must be noted.

Fair is a worn book that has complete text pages (including those with maps or plates) but may lack endpapers, half-title, etc. (which must be noted). Binding, jacket (if any), etc. may also be worn. All defects must be noted.

Poor/Reading Copy describes a book that is sufficiently worn that its only merit is as a Reading Copy because it does have the complete text, which must be legible. Any missing maps or plates should still be noted. This copy may be soiled, scuffed, stained or spotted and may have loose joints, hinges, pages, etc.

XLib - Ex-library copies must always be designated as such no matter what the condition of the book.

Book Club editions must always be noted as such no matter what the condition of the book.

Binding Copy describes a book in which the pages or leaves are perfect but the binding is very bad, loose, off, or nonexistent.

Dustjacket - in all cases, the lack of a dustjacket should be noted if the book was issued with one.

These terms may be arbitrary, but whatever terms are employed, they may be useless or misleading unless both buyer and seller agree on what they mean in actually describing the book. When in doubt, describe the book exactly as it is, as to physical condition, textual reading, and edition.

Note: The IBCA discourages the practice of elevating a book's condition from its actual physical appearance based on age. Even if a given old book is in great shape for its age, but its physical condition is still just that, and description of condition should follow the standards given above.

 Taking Care of Books 

There's no point collecting books if you don't look after them...

Don't write in your books. If you already have put your name in them, accept this and deal with it. Don't scribble it out with a pen or marker or white out - this is worse still. If for any reason you have a need to put your name in a book, do it in pencil.

Shelving. Place books vertically on shelves that have more height and depth than you need, so that only one edge of the book needs to be in contact with the shelf. Very large books should be placed horizontally. Shelves without backboards are better, they give the air more chance to circulate. The best places for shelves are away from sunlight, warmth and moisture, which rules out much of the house, and means definitely not the garage or basement. A few whole cloves in the corners of bookshelves will prevent mildew. A dark room, that is cool and dry will be best (did I just describe a library?)

Storing. The best place is on a shelf. If you are out of room, use boxes. In boxes they should be upright, as if they are on shelves. You may have noticed overstocked used book stores doing this. Do not stack the boxes! If you need more space efficiency, lay the books down flat, but make sure that their spines are square and not twisted. Do not wrap books with newspaper - it is very acidic.

Dust Jacket Protectors. Use them. These are the clear plastic covers that public libraries use - and they know what they are doing. Do not seal the actual books with plastic, for mold could develop.

Critters. Bugs and rodents love books. The worst offenders include cockroaches, silverfish, mice and termites. The ideal room (dry, dark and cool) will naturally have less critters, and even less again if it is kept clean. Any bug remedy (spray, powder) will harm books, so cover them and be careful.

Cleaning. Give them a wipe every year or so. Use a feather duster. Image a movie from the 1940's. Imagine a mansion, and in that mansion, in the library, a maid in a black and white outfit is cleaning. Be that maid.

Removing odors. Place the book in a bag of crumpled newspapers overnight. The newspaper will absorb the musty odor. Otherwise, you can try pouring a few inches of cat litter or baking soda or charcoal into a plastic container with a tight fitting lid. In a smaller container place the offending book. Do not put a lid on the smaller container. Place the smaller container into the larger container. Put a lid on the larger container. Books may be left in the container for up to one month.

Reading. Be gentle. Have clean hands. Don't eat at the same time. Don't lick your fingers to turn pages - that's disgusting, as well as acidic. If you use bookmarks, use thin ones.


Almost everyone owns a book, and many of us may be very proud of how many we have accumulated. But are they collectible? Consider the following criteria:

Generally Not Collectible - The vast majority of books, especially paperbacks, book club editions and mass printings of hardcovers. The latest Stephen King horror novel is, by definition of its popularity, not a collectible. Also (in general!) most encyclopedias, textbooks, dictionaries, popular fiction without dust jackets, Reader's Digest condensed books, romance, magazines after 1960, "family bibles" and non-illustrated Bibles (after 1790) are not collectable.

Author - Try getting a copy of A Handbook for Booklovers: A Survey of Collectible Authors, Books, and Values

Condition - The lesser the condition, the less collectible and valuable it will be.

Prize Winners - Prize-winning books have been voted as the best books in a given field. This gives them a stamp of quality. The first edition (which came out before the awards were decided) will not have Blah Blah Award Winner on the cover. Well known prizes include: Pulitzer, National Book Award, PEN/Faulkner, Hugo or Nebula (sci-fi) and the Booker Prize (British).

Age - An old book isn't necessarily valuable. However there are some rough guidelines that indicate when a book might be worth something:

All books printed before 1501
English books printed before 1641
American books printed before 1801
American books (west of the Mississippi) printed before 1850

First Edition - Most books are only ever printed as a first edition, and most of those only have one print run. With books that have muliple editions, the first edition will usually be the most valuable. First editions usually say "First Edition" or "First Printing" on the page after the title page. A second edition will contain different content to the first edition. Different printings of the same edition will usually be exact replicas, except for the print date. Check dates to be sure of a first printing of a first edition.

First Books - These can be obscure tomes that just didn't sell, yet gained curiousity value when the author's subsequent books did do well. The combination of a small print run and future fame of the author can make these books especially valuable.

Collections - Single volumes of sets or incomplete sets are not usually worth much.

Limited Editions - Sometimes, a book will have a deliberately small print run, usually less than 1500 copies. They are better than regular editions. They are often signed by the author.

Signed - Of course any book signed by the author is more valuable than one that isn't. Understand though, that signatures can be forged, and that the signature of a notoriously reclusive writer will be worth more than one who does in-store book-signings every other day. If the book is Inscribed with a hand-written note by the author it becomes more collectable. If the note is addressed to another famous person, it will be extremely collectable.

 First Edition? 

This is really difficult. Each publisher will have their own codes and ways of indicating a first edition. Be wary of any simple "rules" you may read, for they will just be generalisations that won't always work. There are 3 ways of finding out:

  • Compare the book with those listed online as first editions. Often the dealer's description will contain a lot of detail.
  • Get an appraisal from a dealer
  • Consult a book on the topic, such as:

Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions (a cheap general guide)

Points of Issue : A Compendium of Points of Issue of Books by 19th-20th Century Authors ( lists specific books)

First Editions : A Guide to Identification (authorative)

ONLINE: Pulitzer Prize - First Edition Guide - every winner covered


 Some Useful Links 

Luis Porretta - Antiquarian who does book appraisals

Book Price Guide Reviews

The Infography about Book Collecting - online and print resources, recommended by an expert - is a good source for Book Collection Software

Collecting Network - portal covering anything collectable

BookFilter - a communal weblog for book lovers

Book Repairs, Binding, Restoration - Vinegar Hill Books / Google Directory - Online Appraisals only $9.95
For a professional online book appraisal


 Books you might like 

A Gentle Madness : Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books

ABC for Book Collectors - This seventh edition of John Carter's classic text contains in-depth descriptions of every aspect of antique and modern book collecting from A to Z

Book Collecting 2000 : A Comprehensive Guide - Big reference book

Collector's Guide to Children's Books 1850 to 1950 : Identification & Values



Need any help? Send me a message:

NOTE: I am unable to tell you how much your book/s are worth. The best way is to visit your local dealer (list here) or use Bookfinder to find a similar book for sale, or for a professional online book appraisal

ALSO: I am not much of a book collector. The information on this page has been collated from other sources, not from any personal knowldge!

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