How Rare Book Appraisals Determine Values

Whether you are a book lover or a book collector, knowing the value of rare books helps you make smart investments and marketplace deals. Here are a few factors we advise customers to watch for.

How Do You Know If a Book is Valuable?

The easiest way to tell if a book is valuable is to speak with an expert who has experience in rare book appraisals. Even if you do an online search and find the value of a similar copy, certain factors go into the valuation process that makes some copies more or less valuable than others.

Factors For Rare Book Appraisals

  1. Subject Scarcity

In modern times, people hear the term ¨first edition¨ and immediately think rare or valuable. The edition number is not a factor to rarity as much as its subject scarcity. As an example, the Bible has been reprinted many times, but none are as rare or valuable as The Gutenberg Bible. What makes it rarer and more valuable than others printed around the world?

The Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1455. Only 48 known copies exist. Twelve are on vellum., which was an expensive writing material at that time. Thirty-six are preserved on paper. The vellum was used in the 15th-century while paper became more prominent in the 16th-century. Older Bibles with intricate décor, illustrations, and engravings are also rarities.

  1. First Book Printing

The first book ever printed is the rarest, especially if the writer is well-known or only created a few copies. If you see the words ´first edition´ take the advice given by many experts during rare book appraisals and ask before you buy it. Even if you have a first book printing, it still could have a lower valuation if there is no demand in the market for it.

Modern author J.K. Rowling is a prime example of a book being highly collectible because of its popularity. The first Harry Potter and the Philosopher´s Stone had only 500 copies printed, so the first hardcover print is now valued at more than $55,000 while the same book´s rare proof copies are worth about $13,500 because they are rare and highly sought.

  1. Condition

Do not assume just because you have a rare book that it is valuable. The condition is a primary factor appraisers look at, including wear-and-tear, binding, and totality. Collectors want untarnished books. Even the slightest bit of damage will greatly reduce a book´s worth., especially if it is a piece that is in high demand or is desirable in the marketplace.

  1. Engravings or Illustrations

Even if the book is not the first printed, it could be valuable since artists like Gustave Doré created engravings and illustrations in different book types as late as the 1800s. Its addition can make a book more valuable. The same title without an illustration would sell for less.

  1. Origins

Who owned a book before you can also add to a book´s worth.  In 1999, the personal book collection of Marilyn Monroe was auctioned at Christie´s. During an appraisal, the books were valued at $800 and $1200. The collection auctioned for $4600, well above their value.

If you would like a rare book appraisal for a volume or a collection, call our office at 617-948-2577 or ask us about the title on our Facebook page at