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Buying Rare and Collectible Books Online

Thanks to technology, collecting rare books is no longer restricted to haunting book stores the globe over to search for that elusive first edition copy from your favorite author. The digital landscape allows you to find and buy books online, which opens a whole new world to collectors everywhere. Whether you’re an established bibliophile or you’re just starting out on your book-collecting adventure, use this guide to learn more about the hobby and what to look for while shopping online for vintage, rare, and collectible books on EBTH.

Collectible and Rare Books Defined

Just because a book is collectible doesn’t mean that it’s rare. For that matter, a vintage book isn’t necessarily rare or collectible — it’s simply from a specific time period and at least 20 years old. If you’re just getting started with buying books online, you might be tempted to use the terms interchangeably. What makes a book collectible varies from person to person.

You might find yourself wondering if there are any criteria that give rare books their designation. According to Jeremy Norman, one of the world’s leading specialists in rare books on the history of technology, medicine, and science, books need to meet at least one of the following six criteria:

How the Value of a Rare Book Is Determined

Scarcity of Copies: If a book edition has more than 25,000 copies, it’s not likely that it will become rare. Small print runs create scarcity, which makes the book hard to find.
Significant Contents: To be rare, collectible, and valuable, a book should be about something important. For example, a personal publication of family memoirs may be scarce, but a first edition memoir about the Kennedy family has significance that makes it desirable to people beyond the specific family concerned.
Physical Characteristics: Book collectors value some books because of their physical characteristics. For example, the illustrations may have been completed by a famous artist, the book might be printed on exotic paper, or the binding might be a work of art.
Imprint: The date and place of a book’s publication may make it rare. For example, the first books printed in Europe during the 15th century are very rare, as are books printed during the Civil War in Confederate states.
Association: There are rare books that are also very valuable, but they don’t meet any of the previous criteria. For example, the Gideon Bible is hardly scarce. However, a Gideon Bible with notes and a signature from T.S. Eliot would be extremely rare.
Condition: Which do you think is more valuable: rare antique books that are falling apart, or rare antique books in good condition? It’s harder to find a scarce book that’s in impeccable condition, so they typically command a higher price. Although this factor is relative, book collectors often use it as one of their main criteria for evaluating rarity.

First Editions Aren’t Always the Most Valuable

Many people who collect rare antique books assume that the first edition is automatically the most valuable and desirable edition of a collectible book. However, this isn’t always the case. In some instances, later editions are actually more valuable simply because they have something extra. Shakespeare’s collected plays is a perfect example of this. The Second Folio, which was printed in 1632, might be worth around $25,000 in some markets. The Third Folio, which was printed in 1663, sold for more than $374,000 in 2012. Why? Most of the copies of the Third Folio, which was printed 31 years after the Second Folio, were burned in the 1666 Great Fire of London.

Creating a Central Theme for Your Book Collection

Book collecting is often highly personal, with many collectors getting their start when they find a first edition or a signed copy from their favorite author. In other cases, buyers may collect books that are part of a larger interest — a Beatles fan may collect books about John Lennon, or photography enthusiasts might collect books from historic and notable photographers.

Experts in the field suggest that book collections should have a central theme. Before you start to buy rare antique books or buy books online, you should have a general idea of what works best for you. Popular types of book collections include:

Author: Collectors approach this type of book collection in several different ways. For example, one collector may seek only the first editions of a selected author’s work. Another might choose all of the reprints and special editions to collect.
List: The theme for this type of book collection is a popular list, such as vintage Pulitzer Prize winners, American Guide Series, Baedeker guidebooks, or Man Booker Prize winners.
Topical: This is the most versatile, fun, and easily personalized option because you can build it around nearly any topic that strikes your fancy.
Aesthetics: Building an aesthetic collection is much like building an art collection. Beautiful bindings and visually stunning covers are some of the criteria that collectors use to create an aesthetic collection.

Caring for Vintage and Rare Antique Books

You’ve created a theme for your collection and found rare antique books. What’s next? Whether you buy them from another collector or a bookshop or you purchase books online, take care of them to prevent damage. For example, group similarly sized books together without packing them in too tightly to prevent warping. Other tips for caring for your book collection include:

● Avoid laying the books face down, which damages the spines and bindings.
● Store the books in a non-humid environment.
● Place the books out of direct sunlight, which can fade the leather and dull the colors.
● For your most treasured books, consider clamshell, pull-off, or slip cases as added protection.

How to Buy Rare Used Books Online

The search for vintage and rare books is sure to take you to a variety of destinations. Now that you understand how to begin your book collection, look no further than EBTH online book auctions to stock your shelves via online estate sale shopping. Our extensive selection and innovative technology allow you to discover all kinds of written treasures from across the globe without traveling any farther than your home office.

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