How to Collect Books for Fun or Profit

Before you can start buying books seriously, it is important to understand the terminology used in book publishing. While most people only think about book collecting in terms of what the final product looks like in a bookstore, there are many other aspects to a book that are more valuable and elusive. They are also more highly sought after. You’ll also appreciate a good book if you have a better understanding of the history and construction of books. This article will educate you and give you resources to help you get started with book collecting.

Collectors should consider three things when purchasing a book: EDITION and CONDITION.

These areas are crucial to success or failure. They will determine whether you can build a collection of treasures, an assortment of reading books, or if you just want to buy a bunch of useless books.


Parts of a book

*Cover- To cover something, to conceal, protect or enclose. Dustcover.

Spine-The spine is the back of the book. It faces outward when the book is placed on a shelf.

*Title Page – This page is located at the beginning of a book. It usually contains the title of the book as well as the names of the author or publisher.

*Copyright Page – Where the copyright date can be found.

*Dedication Page – This is the page where the author dedicates the book.

*Table of Contents – A list of all the contents of the book, organized by chapter, subsection, etc…

*Forward- A person who introduces the subject to others, usually a well-known person.

*Text (or body)-The actual words in the book

*Glossary-A listing of difficult words and their meanings, often found at the back of the book.

*Bibliography- A listing of articles and books. Referred to by the author at end of book.

*Index – A list of names and subjects in alphabetical order at page’s end.

*ISBN (International Standard Book Numbers)–is a ten-digit number that uniquely identifies international books and similar products.


Getting Started

The used and collectible books market can be divided into three categories: reading copy, antiquarian and modern first edition.

*Reading Copies

Books that you can take to the ocean or into the bathtub? These books are the biggest part of the market and they’re all around. You don’t buy a book for collecting purposes.


Antiquarian book enthusiasts seek out classic volumes from the past — such as Scott, Wordsworth, and the Bay Psalm Book. These are examples of fine printing, binding, and design.

*Modern Firsts

Collectors of first editions today tend to be more focused on the century and the writers who helped define our times, like Steinbeck, Hemingway and Faulkner.


Take Stock

To be a good book scout, the first step is to look at your bookshelves.

This will be your first stock. Take a moment to assess what you have. Are you surrounded by paperbacks that have cracked spines or tattered covers? Do you have a good selection of hardbacks that you care for? Books you bought as soon as they were released. You are a book lover and that is the first step in becoming a serious collector.


Printing or First Edition

To avoid costly errors, you must learn how to recognize first editions. If you believe it’s a first edition, you may be mistaken after paying a premium. Problem is that almost every publisher has its own way of identifying first editions. It’s possible to memorize all the policies of every publisher in the history and make mistakes. There are at least a few books on my shelves and the shelves of all collectors I know that look like first editions, but later turn out to be regular books.

In general, you should look for two things right away: a statement of edition or a number line.

The edition statement is exactly as it sounds: On the copyright page, the book will say “FIRST EXECUTION” or “SECOND EXECUTION” or “FIFTY-THIRD. EDITION.” If it is not “edition”, it will say “printing”. This is all you will need to find with so many publishers.

Some publishers won’t remove the edition number from subsequent printings. Sometimes a book club edition will say that it’s a First Edition. Other times, there may not be any.

Next, look out for the number line. The number line is a series of numbers that, on the first, typically go from 1 through 10. Some publishers will then go 1 to 5, and then the five-year period around the publication year: for example, 123459495969798989898). It may appear in an order or start with 1, 2, and so on, with the 10, in the middle. The 1. A number line that starts with a 1 indicates a first edition. Random House is the only publisher to use a number line. Random House uses a 2 on its number line and a “FIRST-EDITION” slug to make sure no one is ever certain.

Some publishers indicate a first edition without indicating it. If there is nothing that indicates it’s a second edition or third edition, it must be a one-off. Although there are many publishers who encode the information into the book, it’s not always easy to find.

These three checks will allow you to identify the majority of books from all publishers, but not all.



These small differences in where the photos should be placed, incorrect lines printed in the book, and so forth are called points.

It is easiest to learn points by paying close attention to price guides that list all the important points. Don’t just focus on the price; look at the whole entry.

Points are vital. Let’s now introduce one of the themes of this article. To collect well, it is crucial to specialize. It is impossible to cover all the details in every book. The owner might have the time to go back and check twenty reference books in order to find points while they are relaxing at a used bookshop.

You’re standing in the bookstore, staring at the book. If you don’t know what to do, you’re left on your own. You have a greater chance of finding the right answer if you are a specialist. You shouldn’t be afraid to branch out from your field. But, in your field, focus on depth. You should learn everything. Learn everything you can.



We’ve already looked at the details about the edition. Now it’s time for us to examine the condition. A rare book can be yours. If the hinges spring off the boards, or if there is writing on the pages or water damage along the edges you will only get a piece of paper. The condition of a book in its first edition is what makes it collectible. Even the most rarest edition book, if it is damaged, it will not be collectible.


Dust Jackets/Dust Wrappers

The condition of the dust jacket is what determines the book’s cost —-some sellers estimate that it can be as high as 80 %—- and this is where you should begin grading. Without a dust jacket, a book is nothing more than a reading copy. Collectors love prime dust jackets.

They see it first, and that’s what’s on the shelf. The dust jacket should therefore be treated as cash money.

The dust jacket should be first when grading a book. Next, the book. You’ll notice that most dealers will give a grade for the book and one for the dust jacket when you look at the catalogs. While the whole package is important and valuable, the dust jacket takes precedence. The dust jacket is the most important thing for the book’s value, except for those books that were made in the past 40 years.


Grades are listed in ascending order: Very Fine to Fine, Near Fine to Very Good, Very Good or Poor.

* Very Fine–A book in excellent condition. There is no indication that the book was ever read. The dust jacket is as bright and shiny today as the day it was printed. There are no signs of rubbing or bumping, chips and dents, dings or creases. The book should not be loose, it should creak when you open it and it shouldn’t fall open to any page in a particular section. There are no ownership marks.

Fine–It’s a small step down. It is okay to bump up a little bit. It is possible that the book has been read but it should be done carefully. Although the dust jacket may have lost some sheen, it is still intact with no tears or chips.

* Very Good–A book is in good physical condition, with the dust cover intact and not damaged. A book with some minor flaws. These books are most common on shelves. You might find some rubbing or tears, as well as a few chips on the dust jacket. It may be sun-faded.

* A book in good condition. The dust jacket may have major problems. Large chips, tears, price clipping, price cutting (if someone takes the price tag off), are all to be expected. You may find stains on the book, or hinges that are not connected to the spine.

* Poor–The last condition before the recycling bin

* Library markings: This is what makes a book useless: library markings. These could be a stamp bearing the library’s name, glue from a return card pocket, stickers on the dust jacket, or a sticker on the book.


Book Scouting

You must be alert to the possibility of finding books for sale in order to be a good book scout. You should never pass a book sale location. Books can be found at Book Auctions and Garage Sales, Estate Sales or PTA Auctions.

Book Scouting: Tools you can use

*Price Guides

1. Allen and Patricia Ahearn’s Collected Books – The Guide to Values
2. Books Prices: Used and Rare
3. Mandeville’s Used Book Price Guide

These guides will cover a large portion of the book market.

*Online websites:

1. Addall
2. Abebooks

These sites are excellent for creating and pricing books.

*Dealer Catalogs

You can learn more about current currency prices and the currency market by having a supply of dealer catalogues.

Never throw away a price guide, or a catalog. The same books may not be available in every update. Sometimes you may find yourself looking through stacks of material to see which year it was first published. It’s possible to update the market and prorate the market with some practice. The old guides can also be a useful source of information. Besides, you can learn a lot from watching the guides change. This will help you determine whether or not the market has changed and what the fair prices are. Pricing a book can be an art in itself, and you will never know the outcome.

* Editions and Points guides

1. First Editions of Edward N. Zempel & Linda A. Verkler

2. A Pocket Guide to the Identification and Use of First Editions

Both guides are highly recommended.

*Books About Collecting Books

1. Robert Wilson’s Modern Book Collection

2. Understanding Book Collecting: Grant Uden

3. William Rees-Mogg explains how to purchase rare books

These books can be used to get you started.

*Book Buying Tool

1. Scoul Pal– Their scanner system adapts to all cell phones. The scanner is simple to use. ScoutPal provides concise results that include a summary of market prices, quantities, sales rank and editions, as well as used/new/collectible details.

2. AsellerTool– You can also check out their scanner system.


Identifying Trends and Choosing Authors

The book market is like all other industries. It moves in cycles. There is more money short-term in spotting trends that there is in buying classic authors, but there is also more risk. The classic authors are more stable and steady than the trends.

This is why it’s so important to shop for the things you love, even in books that you plan to trade. You never know when you might be struck by them. You don’t have to be a collector to buy the things you love. This is a great way to make money. Dealers need to see things differently.

Remember that hot books do have a day and almost all of them end sooner or later. It is important to keep an eye on the price guides and catalogs for any fluctuations in the value of books you are buying for resale.

Watch out for patterns when choosing authors. Look out for books that fall into new categories. Some writers are able to see beyond the obvious, which makes them highly collectible. Tom Clancy is one of these writers.

Keep an eye out for the latest, and for those who are on the cutting edge. Even if you don’t look at classic books, you will see that these authors were pushing the boundaries. This is what has made them so valuable over the years: Steinbeck’s social consciousness; Hemingway’s controlled prose. T. S. Eliot and Allen Ginsberg both reinvented poetry. Their books are still highly sought-after, and still read and discussed.


Signed editions

A signed book is simply the best. This book is unique in that it has a personal touch that can’t be duplicated by any other copy. This copy was written by the author before you received it.

Signed copies are highly sought after. Everyone wants a signed copy of a book from a favorite author.

Signed books come in two types. Signed limited editions were made to be signed. Signed trade editions were copies that hopeful dealers and fans have signed.

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