A question of value
Posted: 10 August 2013 08:19 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A first edition of what I believe is a classic of its type has just come into my possession.  I also found two papers in the back, one from the publishers sending a copy to the subsequent owner for review, and one from the Times Literary Supplement asking for a review of 800 words.  The book has a printed sticker with a crest “ex libris...” of the person to whom it was sent (also well-known enough to be in Wikipedia), was awarded a CBE etc.

Does any of the above add to its value?

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Posted: 15 August 2013 11:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Not very likely, I fear, ElizaD.  My (limited) experience of the book trade tells me that the value of a book depends mostly on its rarity, age, and state of preservation (and on the demand for it, of course. A rare old book in perfect condition is valueless if nobody wants it :“The Collected Sermons of Zephaniah Phlogbottome, D.D., 1736-1773, 23 vols., full calf binding, Crown 4o., uncut” ).  If the bookplate were of a historically important person—say, Thomas Jefferson, or Samuel Pepys—this might add something to the book’s value—not, i think, otherwise.  On the other hand, the attributes you mention might conceivably make the book easier to sell.  Don’t you know any reputable book dealers whom you could consult, for a better-informed opinion than mine?

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Posted: 16 August 2013 03:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’d second that, although I’m not so sure that age has all that much to do with resale value. It’s the demand/rarity ratio and the condition that determine the value. It’s the ratio that’s important, not absolute demand, as I’ve found with scholarly monographs, which can go for several hundred dollars on the resale market only few years after publication—very few people want them, but there are so few copies available for sale, with most sitting on the shelves of university libraries. The fact that a book was once in the library of some well-known person might add a little to the value, but not much.

I sold about two thirds of my books before moving to Canada and in the process had several conversations with the bookseller on what determines resale value. Not only must it be a first edition, but it must be from the original print run to have any significant value. I didn’t have any books of particular value. The few nineteenth-century books I owned weren’t worth much. But the most valuable book in my collection was one that I though utterly unremarkable and not very old, a single-volume, hardcopy of The Lord of the Rings. In the late seventies Houghton Mifflin put out a fancy printing of the book, very nice looking, and intended more for display than reading. I got it as a gift and it was kept in excellent condition. IIRC, it originally cost, in 1970s dollars, about $30. I sold it for $60.

You can check abebooks.com and other second-hand book sites to see what a particular book is going for. That’s no guarantee that your copy will fetch that price—there are other variables like the local market and whether the particular bookseller specializes in that type of book (sometimes the specialists know how to get more money for a book and will offer more).

If the famous person has a following, some kind of fan society, you could try to market the book to them. Memorabilia collectors will often pay far in excess of what the general market would. You can also put it on eBay with a high reserve price, so you retain it if there are no serious bidders. That’s often a good way to test if there is some kind of specialty market out there.

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Posted: 16 August 2013 01:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Ah, well.  I’ll just have to rely on the kindness of strangers in my old age, then.  Thanks anyway, Lionello and Dave.
sighs sadly[/

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Posted: 26 August 2013 11:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I bought a first edition of Fowler’s 1926 A Dictionary of Modern English Usage in very good condition in a secondhand backpacker bookshop in Penang, Malaysia for peanuts (40p) about 15 years ago. I looked it up in abebooks a few years ago and a similar copy in slightly inferior condition was going for 700 dollars.

What sets my copy apart is that it has fancy indelible embossed gold letters on the front cover stating that it was awarded to a student at a Chinese school run by colonial Brits in Penang for excellence in English or some such (but who didn’t appreciate it or ever use it judging by its condition).  It’s at my sister’s in the UK so I can’t give more details about the excription (?).

Does such a detail add to its value or otherwise? It certainly makes it unique.

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Posted: 26 August 2013 11:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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It depends entirely on the market, which fluctuates (for everything).  A friend of mine who sells stuff on eBay was telling me just the other day that minor-league baseball caps used to be a hot item, now he has trouble getting what he paid for them.  Today I was reading a lament that because a bunch of forty-something guys are simultaneously trying to sell the “valuable” comic collections they amassed in their youth, even rare issues now go for almost nothing.  I saw people whose houses were “worth” a million bucks at the height of the real estate boom stubbornly holding out for what they considered a fair price after the bottom dropped out, and eventually having to settle for far less than they could have gotten had they been more realistic earlier.  It may be that a few years ago there was a fad for copies with those embossed gold letters on the front; it may well be that it’s already collapsed and your copy is back to being worth peanuts, but even if it’s still listed for a stratospheric price, I guarantee it won’t last.  Markets fluctuate.

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Posted: 28 August 2013 12:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I’ll hang on to it then. Interesting that the fad/market for one-off, Malay, gold-lettered (not real gold BTW) 1926 MEUs has fallen off recently due to the recession.  I need to get on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, Bargain Hunt or Flog It on the telly for a free evaluation.

Is it true that rare book dealers pay about 20% of what they can sell a book for if you flog one to them in their shop? If so it seems an outrageous profit margin.

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Posted: 28 August 2013 01:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Much, much more, in some cases.  Dancing On Mara Dust published 2006 retailed at £9.99 (99p on Kindle) and a second-hand copy is currently on sale at amazon for £76.62 plus p&p. 
From amazon.

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Posted: 28 August 2013 02:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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ElizaD - 28 August 2013 01:46 PM

Much, much more, in some cases.  Dancing On Mara Dust published 2006 retailed at £9.99 (99p on Kindle) and a second-hand copy is currently on sale at amazon for £76.62 plus p&p.

Worth every pfennig!

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Posted: 28 August 2013 03:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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20% seems about what they pay from my experience. It varies widely from seller to seller and book to book, though.

It’s not outrageous when you consider the time they have to put in to value the book compared to the absolute cost. Sometimes it’s just a couple bucks of markup for several minutes of work. Most will pay a higher percentage on a really valuable book.

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Posted: 04 September 2013 01:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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It’s not outrageous at all. Dealers in second-hand books have no way of knowing how long a book they’ve purchased is going to be on their hands --it may be for years. Often, it’s for ever. Haven’t you ever been in a second-hand book shop?  Second hand books - rare or not—have a very slow turnover rate. The same goes for anything collectible.  Voynich tried for many years and couldn’t find a buyer for that manuscript we discussed on another thread.

Congratulations, ElizaD. My copy stays on my shelf, where it belongs, regardless of what it’ll fetch at Amazon or eBay.

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Posted: 06 September 2013 09:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Dealers often use the spurious argument ‘But I won’t be able to sell it for six months’. How can they know this? Someone might pop in and buy it tomorrow. And even if they’re right they’re currently selling stock they bought six months ago so what’s the problem unless they opened their shop last week? If they’re any good they will buy what sells and also sell it through a website they’ve set up. 500% profit is reasonable? I bet they put first editions on eBay with high reserves on the off-chance. 

I also have a first edition of Beckett’s “how it is” published in about 1962. I bought it at a library sale in 1977 for 50p. It has its DJ and is encased in removable plastic intended to protect it and it is in near-mint condition because the stamp leaflet shows it wasn’t borrowed once in 15 years! not an easy read no capitals or punctuation as i recall. The only problem is that it has two LIBRARY DISCARD stamps in it (Sam would have appreciated that). Would this lessen its value much? Dealers would argue it did. Buyers on eBay would vote with their bids. eBay is such a hassle though. In the American film ‘The Forty-Year-Old Virgin’ there was a woman who ran a business selling stuff on eBay for people for a commission. Do these exist? If they did the great thing would be that they would have an incentive to present items in their best light so they’d get a bigger commission.

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Posted: 06 September 2013 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Dealers often use the spurious argument ‘But I won’t be able to sell it for six months’. How can they know this? Someone might pop in and buy it tomorrow.

Any decent retailer knows his market and knows his clientele and has a pretty good idea of how long it usually takes to sell something. He can’t be certain, but he definitely knows better than you do how long his stock usually sits.

if they’re right they’re currently selling stock they bought six months ago so what’s the problem

The problem is your money is better spent on books that only sit for one month. Inventory is an investment and the quicker you turn it, the more money you make. Simple arithmetic. If you turn a $1 profit book every week, that means your six month book needs to make $24 profit to justify the investment.

If they’re any good they will buy what sells

Just so. Them letting you know your book isn’t going to sell for six months is them being good at what they do.

500% profit is reasonable?

500% profit isn’t possible. You’re confusing markup with profit; something nobody who understands sales would do.

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Posted: 06 September 2013 11:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Would this lessen its value much?

Yes, of course.  Do you know anything about valuing books other than having a vague sense that you should be able to get what you want for something you consider valuable?

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