Finding the Value of Old Books
Writer // Janelle Morrison Photography // JJ Kaplan and submitted
According to AARP, for the next 18 years, Baby Boomers will be turning 65 at a rate of about 8,000 per day. That’s a lot of Americans who are reaching retirement age and are starting to think about their next phase in life. This phase will likely include downsizing their homes and unloading furniture and “stuff” that has been collected over the decades.
While furniture and valuable items tend to be easier to pass down or sell for a fair market value, some items such as books don’t always receive the same respect as paintings or other collectibles. Some are even tossed away without the handler knowing exactly what they just discarded into the trash or donation piles. On another hand, there are people who know exactly what they have in their possession and are interested in keeping it well preserved for future generations of book collectors.
So, how do you know if you have a first edition gem that is worth properly preserving and keeping in the family? How do you find and sell to a respectable collector who will pay out an honest amount for your books? Tania Roudebush, Black Dog Books owner and Carmel resident, offered some sage advice to those looking to sell their old books and to those looking to keep collecting and preserving what they have.
Black Dog Books, located in downtown Zionsville, offers personalized services, including selling quality used and rare books, buying libraries and collections, book repairs, book searches and many other specialized services.
Rare and fantastic books such as a first edition Charles Dickens with signature, a first edition Laura Ingalls Wilder and an autobiography of King Edward with his signature are among a plethora of incredible books available for purchase at the local bookstore.
Roudebush is in the business of buying quality books and restoring books for her customers. She shared that the first editions are always the most valuable, and people should look through their stacks of books and pull those first editions out.
“The first editions are brand new to the world of readers,” Roudebush said. “Every publisher takes a risk when they publish a book. That’s why the first runs are smaller than the subsequent printings. If they become successful, there are less of them, and that makes them more valuable. Back in the olden times when books were first being printed, the first editions were coveted because the letters were carved out of wood or metal, and the first editions were much crisper and much better quality. The first editions remain more sought after because they are closest to the author’s intent. It’s the first time that the book has seen the light of day.”
Roudebush explained that the value of an author is highly market-driven. Presently, Jane Austen’s first editions are valued in the tens of thousands of dollars as she continues to have a strong international following. Classic and modern classic authors, such as Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Vonnegut and even J.K. Rowling, continue to sell at high values to avid collectors worldwide.
“The classics have and continue to stand the test of time,” Roudebush expressed. “We have a lot of modern classics in our bookstore. I love quality books that promote nature, science and several other subjects and will even buy non-first editions that are in good condition for what they are. I have some beautiful art books that sell like crazy because people love books about good subjects that are in good condition. Many people don’t realize that first edition children’s books are very collectible and gaining in popularity among collectors.”
When it comes to selling books, Roudebush emphasized that “condition is everything.” “With the onset of bookselling on the Internet, the market became flooded with books. Back then, smart collectors could scoop up good finds for lower prices. Today, there still a lot of books on the Internet, but many of them are in poor condition, are ex-library copies or are missing a dust jacket. Dust jackets are 75 percent of a book’s value.
“[Dust jackets] are so fragile, that’s why they are so valuable,” she explained. “It’s imperative to protect it with Mylar book covers. Some people don’t like them for aesthetic reasons, but it preserves the dust jacket from tearing, which totally devalues the book. It’s really important to have that dust jacket in the best condition possible.”
Roudebush detailed that those who are looking to keep their collections need to properly handle and store their books.
“The best places to store books are in bookcases standing up vertically,” Roudebush stated. “You don’t want to have them too loose, so that they flop over and become twisted. You can never untwist them, and that’s why bookends are so important. Never store the books so tight that they rub against each other. You want them just right and to be able to put your hand on the top and edge and rock it comfortably. The biggest enemies of books are sun and moisture. The sun will fade them irrevocably, and you don’t want to store them near a window. You should also avoid storing your books on the outer wall of a building if you can help it because of the moisture.”
Inside climate control is very important. Collectors should avoid high humidity areas and should never store their books in a basement, attic or garage where there could be rodents and temperature fluctuations. Roudebush also emphasized the importance of air circulation behind the books. Books should have an inch of space behind them and the back of the bookshelf or wall. Books should never be stored in plastic bags because the chemicals from the plastic will damage the book over time. If one has run out of bookshelves and must store their books for long periods of time, Roudebush recommends cardboard bankers boxes and to store the books standing upright with other books of the same size.
“For me, I feel that rather than storing the books in an attic or basement for the long term, I would like to invite people to contact me and let me take a look at them. If they’re not going to enjoy them and use them, I will be happy to look through them and will let them know if there’s something there that would be worth them keeping and preserving or selling here if that’s what they wish to do. We recently had a gentleman come in with a box of books that he wanted to sell. Many were in poor condition, but in that box was a first edition Laura Ingalls Wilder with a great dust jacket. My favorite saying is ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’ in not knowing what you have before you throw it away.”
Roudebush said that books are meant to be recycled. If the quality of the book is not up to snuff for selling, she encourages people to make a donation to their local library, so the books can once again be used and enjoyed. If people are interested in having their collectible book repaired or the dust jacket preserved, she encourages them to contact her.
When it comes to collectors knowing what to collect, she replied, “Collect sensibly and collect what you love.”
For more information on Black Dog Books, visit blackdogbooksin.com.