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A Guide to Establishing Value of Old Books & Journals


Introduction

Library staff frequently receive inquiries about the value of old books and journals. Librarians at the OSU Library can guide interested patrons to print and online resources that may assist in establishing values but they will not provide appraisals for you. The Internal Revenue Service provides definitions of what constitutes a qualified appraiser for tax purposes and how to determine fair market value (see IRS Publication 561 "Determining the Value of Donated Property" at www.irs.ustreas.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p561.pdf)

There are no clear-cut criteria for what constitutes a valuable book or journal and value is a constantly changing concept. Generally, however, volumes published in the United States before 1850 or published elsewhere before 1800 should be given careful review. Material published later usually needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Among the factors taken into consideration are its significance in world or publishing history, the condition of the volume, its scarcity, and unique characteristics of the printer, the illustrations, or the binding. In simple terms, though, the value ultimately is established by the extent to which the demand exceeds the supply.

Printed Resources

The tendency today is to skip immediately to online resources. The two sources mentioned here are outstanding and should not be overlooked:

  • American Book Prices Current (ABPC) (OSU Call No. 018.3 A512) American Book Prices Current "is an essential tool for buying, selling and evaluating books, serials, autographs, manuscripts, broadsides, and maps, based on actual figures realized at auction." ABPC reports on prices brought for specific items in a specific condition at major auction houses in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe. English-language items that sold for less than $50 or non-western language items that sold for less than $100 are not reported. Only limited information about condition and edition is available for items published after the nineteenth century.
  • Bookman’s Price Index (BPI) (OSU Call No. 018 B724, This publication is available at the OSU Library through late 2009/early 2010. Published three times annually, BPI serves as an index to the prices and availability of antiquarian books in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Some 100-200 antiquarian booksellers in these countries report their prices to BPI. Titles found in BPI reflect current availability and actual retail price for volumes in a specific condition. Titles not found in BPI may be presumed to be generally unavailable on the antiquarian book market.

Online Resources

There are now a number of excellent online sources available to help establish the value of old books, journals, autographs, maps, etc. by showing you the availability of books and the current asking prices for those offered. Almost all of these services provide a “want” or “wish list” feature, which is useful if a title of interest is not currently available. Some of the most helpful sites are included here:

  • AddALL www.addall.com AddALL is a free service that compares prices among 41 online bookstores. Be sure to go to the "Used & Out of Print Books" section for best results.
  • Abebooks www.abebooks.com Abebooks brings together 10,000 booksellers, many of whom are individuals selling out of their homes, to offer over 45 million books. Based in Canada, the site has some orientation toward Canadian publications. It also has a helpful glossary of book-related terms and abbreviations at www.abebooks.com/docs/HelpCentral/Glossary/buyerIndex.shtml
  • Alibris www.alibris.com Alibris provides access to millions of books, manuscripts, maps, photos, prints, and autographs. It also provides a link to current rare book auctions at Ebay as well as a very helpful glossary that includes terminology, book anatomy illustrations, book sizes, and a guide to condition ratings at www.alibris.com/glossary.cfm
  • Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) www.abaa.org The ABAA has a search feature for books offered by ABAA members as well as a "Collector's Corner & Resources" for the budding or experienced book collector.
  • Bibliofind www.bibliofind.com Bibliofind is Amazon's arm for rare, used, and out-of-print books.
  • Ebay www.ebay.com Ebay is the nation's most popular online auction site. As with all items offered on Ebay, there are numerous categories for books including antiquarian, first editions, pulps, vintage paperbacks and magazines. Books can also be found under antiques. The completed auctions section of Ebay can also be quite useful in establishing value.

A more exhaustive list of sources along with many links to useful, related websites is available through the Enoch Pratt Free Library's web publication "How Much Is My Old Book Worth?" . Another outstanding web publication is Your Old Books, a guide developed by the Rare Books and Manuscripts section of the Association of College and Research Libraries to answer frequently asked questions about rare and older books and their values. There are also a growing number of online sites that are very narrowly focused by subject matter such as law books, etc. These can be uncovered by doing a search on GoogleŽ or some other search engine using pertinent terminology.

For More Information

Special Collections and University Archives
OSU Library, Room 204
(405) 744-6311
libscua@okstate.edu