Book Collecting


What makes a book valuable?

Rarity alone doesn't make a book valuable. The book has to be desirable as well. It's a simple case of supply and demand. The desirability may be because of a books importance in the history of man, its fine printing or illustration, its beautiful binding or the fact that has been made into a successful film.  A first edition of fiction by an author that no one has any interest in remains a first edition but may have little value. Rarity is not something that applies only to old books. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was first published in 1997 with a print run of 500. Most copies went to school libraries where they were read to the point of destruction. Therefore copies of this verydesirable children's book in fine condition are rare and valuable. This is not the case with dog-eared, library stamped copies with torn pages. This situation is common with most children's books where the readership is not renowned as a group for looking after things. War, floods, fires, censorship and book burnings have all contributed to older books being scarcer. A valuable book tends to be the first, early or important printing of a title that has earned a place in the human heart or mind.


How do I know if I have a first edition?

Unfortunately there is no simple answer to this. Practices vary from country to country and from century to century. In Britain, up until quite recently, most books had a reprint history on the reverse side of the title page, known as the copyright page. Thus 'first printed in October 1925' with no other information and the date 1925 on the actual title page generally means that the book is a first edition. 'First printed in October 1925, reprinted July 1926' says it all! More recently publishers use a series of numbers on the copyright page called a strike-line. Thus if you have a sequence from 10 to 1 you have a first edition. 10 to 2 means a second impression and so on. With a very popular book your sequence could well be, for instance, 40 to 33 indicating a 33rd printing! The lowest number in the run indicates the impression.

Some books are very helpful and state 'First Edition'. First edition print runs may be anything from small, say 500 or 1,000 right through to over a million as is the case with some of J. K. Rowling's later Harry Potter books. Generally it is necessary to check with the author bibliographies that are available in order to be sure of edition and number of copies printed. At Adrian Harrington Ltd we have an extensive bibliographical library against which our books are checked during cataloguing.


Dust Jackets

These printed paper wrappers have in some instances become the holy grails of collecting. They started to appear in the nineteenth century and were used to protect the cover of the book from rubbing and scratching in transit. As such they were generally quite flimsy affairs, simply printed and were discarded by the shop so that the often elaborately decorated book beneath could be seen. Early dust wrappers are therefore scarce. For example only 2 copies of the wrapper for The Hound of the Baskervilles are known to exist! The earlier the jacket the harder it is to find in fine condition. As the twentieth century got into its stride the dust jackets became more and more decorative and elaborate and much memorable artwork was created. Classic wrappers such as the Great Gatsby and The Thirty Nine Steps reflect the graphic design of the time they were printed and remain highly desirable.


Are later editions and printings worth collecting?

Later editions of non-fiction may have value especially such as voyage and travel books. Later editions may have illustrations added to them, thus making them 'first illustrated' editions. They may also be finely bound or inscribed by the author. Generally for later editions to have a value they must have something additional to recommend them. Some editions may be described as the 'best' edition or the 'preferred' edition. This could be because it contains the author's final revisions or is beautifully printed. One may also see earliest obtainable edition, where the first edition is so rare, there may be no known copies of it or that all known copies are in institutions.


The importance of Condition

For many books the rarity lies in finding it in fine original condition. For example, the first edition of Casino Royale without its original jacket is only a fraction of the value in a fine, original dust-jacketed copy. The value of a poor or restored copy lies somewhere between the two. Condition is all and collectors are generally advised to buy the best copy that they can afford. Inscriptions generally devalue a book unless they are pertinent to its history. Thus 'To my darling wife for Christmas' in a copy of Churchill's Thoughts and Adventures is only a good thing if it is in Churchill's hand. As usual there are caveats. The older the book, the harder it is to obtain in fine state as time takes its toll.  In all cases the closer a book is in condition to the way it was when it first saw the light of day, the better.


Ownership and Provenance

The history of the ownership of a book from its first appearance is its provenance. In older books it can be a fascinating insight into the books past life. If part of that history involves people of note then so much the better. With modern first editions, however, multiple previous ownership inscriptions from the general public are to be avoided. Provenance involving the author or those associated with the author will clearly enhance the interest and generally the value of the book.


How should I look after my books?

Hardback books are more robust than paperbacks but still need care when handling. They should not be opened roughly or too widely. Clean hands are essential. Books like an even climate, the same as human beings. No direct sunlight, heat or moisture. Sunlight is high in ultra violet light which can fade the colour out of books. Heat can cause them to warp and dry out and damp can cause mould. Dust is also to be avoided. Like humans, books like company. A shelf full of books will support and protect each other. A book on its own is vulnerable to damage. With leather bound books a proprietary dressing may be lightly applied from time to time. Modern firsts may benefit from having a clear plastic wrapping and ideally, a purpose-built clamshell style book-box made for them. Adrian Harrington Ltd can help here.


Some useful book sizes:

64mo, 3½" x 2¼ " [8.9cm x 5.7cm]
Trigesimo-secundo, 32mo 4½" x 3" [11.4cm x 7.6cm]
Vigesimo-quarto, 24mo, 5" x 3½"  [12.7cm x 8.8cm]
Vigesimo, 20mo, 5" x 3" [12.7cm x 7.6cm]
Sexto-decimo, 16mo, 6to, 7" x 4" [17cm x 10cm]
Duo-decimo, 12mo, 7½" x 4½" [19cm x 11.4cm]

Crown 8vo 7½" x 5" [19cm x 12.7cm]
Crown 4to 10"x7½"  [25.4cm x 19cm]
Demy 8vo 8¾" x 5½" [22.2cm x 13.9cm]
Demy 4to 11" x 8¾"   [27.9cm x 22.2cm]
Foolscap 8vo 6¾" x 4¼ " [17.1cm x 10.7cm]
Foolscap 4to 8½" x 6¾" [21.5cm x 17.1cm]
Imperial 8vo 11" x 7½"  [27.9cm x 19cm]
Imperial 4to 15" x 11  [38cm x 27.9cm]
Medium 8vo 9½" x 6  [24cm x 15cm]
Medium 4to 12" x 9½"  [30cm x 24cm]
Post 8vo 8" x 5" [20cm x 12cm]
Post 4to 10" x 8" [25.4cm x 20cm]
Pott 8vo 6¼ " x4  [15.8cm x 10cm]
Pott 4to 8" x 6¼ " [20cm x 10cm]
Royal 8vo 10" x 6¼ " [25.4cm x 15.8cm]
Royal 4to 12½" x 10  [31.7cm x 25.4cm]
Super Royal 8vo 10¼ " x 6¾" [26cm x 17cm]
Super Royal 4to 13½" x 10¼ " [34cm x 26cm]

Atlas 26" x 17" [66cm x 43cm]
Crown or post 15" x 10" [38cm x 25.4cm]
Demy 17½" 11¼ " [44.4cm x 28.5cm]
Elephant 23" x 14" [58.4cm x 35.5cm]
Foolscap 13½" x 8½" [34cm x 21.5cm]
Imperial 22" x 15" [55.8cm x 38cm]
Medium 18" x 11½" [45.7cm x 29cm]
Royal 20" x 12½"  [50.8cm x 31.7cm]