Buyers Guide to Antique Books

If you like a good hunt, then purchasing and collecting antique books may be the kind of excitement you would love. There are few things more fun than going on vacation and finding an out of the way bookstore, especially if there is a room where rare and out of print books are stored. Have a seat and leisurely enjoy an old book as you would an old friend.

Whether you are looking for an antique book as a gift or perusing for yourself, there is a certain indescribable feeling when you step into a store with hardwood floors and books from floor to ceiling. One of my favorite bookstores is in New York City. Gotham Books is just down the street from the Empire State Building and the Roosevelt Hotel. Of course, there is also the Black Swan in Lexington, Kentucky and a wonderful bookstore in Victoria, B.C. I would be negligent if I left out the best bookstore between Austin and Dallas. Fletcher’s Bookstore is just off I-35 in Salado, Texas.

Most owners at these out of the way bookstores greet you at the door and always want to know a bit about your search. It helps if you have some favorite authors in mind. For example, my husband collects Teddy Roosevelt books. Personally, I find his daughter, Alice Roosevelt, one of the most interesting historical characters. Alice is the woman who is famous for the quote, “if you have anything bad to say about somebody…come sit next to me!”

The condition of antique books is the most important factor if you intend to resell the item. If you are dealing with an experienced antique books dealer, you will discover the better the condition, the higher the price. If you are looking for a favorite illustrator, such as, Jessie Wilcox Smith, for example, it may not matter to you what condition the book is in if you would just like to frame one of her wonderful illustrations.

Not only does a buyer need to learn specific authors, titles or illustrators, you will need to learn publishers and have a couple of resource books to serve as a quick reference. One of the best resource books I have is entitled, “Book Collector’s Price Guide” by Richard Russell. I learned quickly, with the aide of this reference book, that most Book Club edition books may be good to read but are not necessarily a collector’s item. There is a list of publishers at the beginning of the book, as well as methods that different publishers use to identify their first edition books. Mr. Russell also has a glossary section at the beginning of the book, which is very helpful.

Another reference guide I slip in my purse is a small pocket guide compiled by Bill McBride, which lists several publishers and identifies the method they use to identify their first editions. I was able to purchase this small guide at an inexpensive price at a used bookstore.

Of course, if you happen upon a lonely book salesman at an antique store, you will find out many details because most of the book salesman have at least 1,000 stories and are just waiting to talk to someone interested in books.

There are also many websites that deal in a wide variety of books. is one website that enables independent sellers to sell their books for a reasonable fee, which normally keeps the cost down for potential buyers.

If you like eBay, be aware that there are numerous book there, as well. A buyer must always be sure to check the seller’s feedback on eBay. Most reputable sellers also have a return policy, which you will want to be sure to note.

A buyer once happened upon one of my all time favorite poetry books when I was selling numerous items at an antique show. She said she was looking for a gift for a new bride who was in her forties and did not lack for anything monetary. As she gazed around at the antique china, glassware and one very large antique french sofa, she suddenly found just what she wanted to give her friend. It was a beautiful old poetry book written in the late 1800s. The art work on the cover looked original and went well with the beautiful poetry inside. The small book was entitled, “All Things Lovely.” Most people who cherish books know that “all things lovely” are not always monetary. More than any piece of china, whether new or old, the special words that readers find in books contain items that you cannot hold in your hand, but you will forever hold in your heart.