Joy Magazine

The value of old books

 Illustration courtesy of Lane Hall

To bookworm types like me, books hardly qualify as collection material the way "Star Wars" toys or celebrity hair do. Books are more like furniture — necessary.

If I sold mine, the house would collapse. I exaggerate sometimes, but if I were to divest myself of all the volumes strewn hither and yon throughout my home, the vacant places would confuse the cats.

For the purpose of this article, I'll pretend that books are on par with other collectibles I've written about.

With publishers printing fewer books in these days of electronic media, will our paper-and-ink companions gain value?

A quick peek at eBay confirmed that the right books are in high demand. But what types fall into that category? Age alone doesn't constitute value. Many seemingly worthy examples lie begging for an impulse buyer to fork over 20 measly bucks. I couldn't help but notice the pathetic lack of attention toward one 1916 "Lessons in Tatting."

Antique books with fine lithograph prints or rare photos are in high demand. For example, there were 24 bids and $713 offered for an 1893 edition of "America's Wonderlands" with pictures and text by J.W. Buel. This handsome, leather-bound history has more than 500 pages full of black-and-white pictorial America.

On the bazoomba end of the scale was a book I had the pleasure of seeing evaluated on "Antiques Roadshow" to the astonishment of the great-great-granddaughter of the original owner. Her ancestor received a gift from the French government for helping to curb foot-and-mouth disease (no, there's no punch line coming). It was one of only 200 editions of "Le Jardin de la Malmaison," a hefty tome filled with hand-colored floral prints by Pierre Redoute, famous Belgian botanist and painter. The flowers depicted were from Empress Josephine's garden.

This "Roadshow" episode was contrasting values from their original airing in 1997 with those of today. The book appraised in 1997 for a whopping $75,000. Present-day value: $85,000 to $135,000. So don't sever ties with your relations until you find out whether they were ever the Secretary of Agriculture.

I still occasionally kick myself for selling a 1930s copy of "Gone With the Wind" at a yard sale. It dawned on me later, when I considered the elated expression of the buyer who handed me a dollar, that it may have been a first edition. Sure enough, I recognize it online. It may be worth as much as $280 today for a second printing.

In my personal collection, I have an 1897 edition of Milne's "Mental Arithmetic," a textbook from which my grandmother taught in her one-room schoolhouse in South Dakota. She wrote her name — Eva M. Graesser — on the inside cover. On my chest of drawers sits Dad's 1929 leather copy of "One Hundred and One Famous Poems." He loved to recite.

I have Mom's and my grandma Goby's worn Bibles with favorite verses underlined. Their value is not in dollars and cents but in drawing me close to those who have gone before.

Freelance writer Peggy Dover lives in Eagle Point. Email her at pcdover@hotmail.com.


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