How Rare or Valuable is That Book?
Showcase Interviews Book Collector John Anderson

While currently chronicling the history of the Over the Hill Track Club for the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert, as well as being an anthologized poet, John Anderson remains one of the area’s leading authorities on vintage books or books of value. Showcase asked him for tips for navigating the old-vs.-priceless-vs.-fabulous-find minefield.

Showcase: Clearly, most of us buy books because we want them. But occasionally, we might come across something special at a rummage sale or in a thrift shop, one that we could otherwise bypass. What clues should tip us off to snap it up?

Anderson: Picking that rare book or one of value is often a crapshoot. Certainly, a book that is in good condition and is a first edition, first state – another term for first printing – with dust jacket is a good place to start. Subsequent printings have corrections and lower value. For books published between 1920 and 1969, the lack of a dust jacket lowers the price by 75% on fiction and 20% on non-fiction.

Showcase: Where do we look online to establish if a book is of value or rare?

Anderson: The first place to look online is a vertical search engine called This search engine will list almost all the large booksellers on the internet and give the price, condition, edition and publisher and date published. If the book is indeed rare, I recommend that you go to the Antiquarian Bookseller Association of America. They have a staff that can appraise the book.

Showcase: Any suggestions for selling a book of value?

Anderson: My experience, as a small volume bookseller that is the cheapest and most reasonable to sell books is on Amazon. Amazon takes approximately 20% of the selling price and charges the buyer $3.99 for shipping. Some sellers make a dollar or more just on the shipping. USPS media mail is very reasonable and provides a tracking number

Showcase:  In a relatively small community, where would someone go to have a rare book appraised for insurance purposes?

Anderson: Three sites might be helpful. First start with Antiquarian Booksellers ( or visit or , book section.

Showcase: People occasionally get lucky simply stumbling across a treasure. Do any anecdotes come to mind? Any you’ve experienced personally?

Anderson: Nothing personally, however an interesting story regarding novelist John Grisham. In 1991 John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was first published by a small publisher (5000 copies). Grisham bought 1,000 copies, ended up selling a few and giving away the rest. Doubleday bought the rights to his book in 1991, and sold 20 million. The first edition by the small publisher have a present value of $4,000.each. Grisham calls this his $6 million screw-up!

ABE Books of New York is the largest international book seller. They sold a 1st edition of Kafka’s Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis) for $30,000.

Showcase: Thanks. Anything to add?

Anderson: If you are a real bibliophile, you might enjoy looking up your own collection’s value.

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