There's a richness to antique books that transcends their status as one of the world’s most beloved collectibles. Books document the evolution of our need to make sense of the world around us. This urge can be seen in the first Gutenberg bible of 1455; the ‘First Folio’ of plays by William Shakespeare, published in 1623; John James Audubon’s monumental “Birds of America,” which was printed between 1827 and 1838; and even the pocket-size Beat-poetry paperbacks, published by City Lights bookstore in the 1950s and ’60s. Each, in its own way, reveals the priorities and passions of the culture.

Whatever the genre—be it biographies or cookbooks, children’s books or classic works of science fiction—and regardless of the title, most collectors focus on first editions. First editions are coveted because their print runs tend to be small. They're also considered to be the closest a reader can get to the author’s original intent for his or her work. Thus, first editions are particularly desirable if a book has been changed for the second printing.

Especially collectible are first editions of books that went on to win literary awards. The landmark children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” earned author and illustrator Maurice Sendak a Caldecott Medal in 1964, so its first-edition cover from 1963 does not feature the famous Caldecott seal.

Another, more recent, famous first edition is the 1997 version of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” which was published by Bloomsbury in the U.K. in a print run of 1,000. The book went on to sell millions of copies for Scholastic in 1998, when it was re-titled for the U.S. market as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” No wonder copies of the Bloomsbury first edition routinely sell in the five figures.

Some people collect books for their aesthetic value. For these collectors, antique and vintage leather-bound books and sets are particular favorites. Some are covered in calf skin, which book binders found easy to dye. Others were made of Levant leather, which is goat skin and sometimes called Moroccan leather.

Examples of leather-bound books include individual works or collections by 19th century authors, from naturalist Charles Darwin, whose “On the Origins of Species” was first published in 1859 before being re-titled as “The Origins of Species” in 1872, to novelist Charles Dickens, whose monthly and weekly serialized stories were bound into classics such as “The Adventures of Oliver Twist” and “A Tale of Two Cities.”

American 20th-century novels such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” (1925), John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” (1939), and J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” ...

Prized science-fiction books from the past 150 years include Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” which was first published in France in 1870 before being translated into English in 1872. H.G. Wells gave us “The War of the Worlds” in 1898 and “When the Sleeper Wakes” a year later. Collectible modern science-fiction authors range from Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke to Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, and Philip K. Dick, whose 1968 “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” was the basis for the 1982 sci-fi-film classic, “Blade Runner.”

In all cases, a book that has been signed by its author is more sought-after than one that has not, although books with inscriptions (eg: ‘To my dear friend, so-and-so’) are usually not as collectible as ones with just a signature. Biographies and memoirs are a favorite of former politicians and retired generals, who have been known to use the bully pulpit of a book to tell their version of history. Such books can often be found with the author’s signature on the title page.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Gallery of Book Trade Labels

Gallery of Book Trade Labels

Greg Kindall's collection of over 2100 colorful and historic book labels, pasted into books by publishers, printers… [read review or visit site]

Rare Karate Book Collection

Rare Karate Book Collection

This visually interesting and highly specialized collection from the Hawaii Karate Museum focuses on rare and histo… [read review or visit site]

Czech Book Covers

Czech Book Covers

This Smithsonian microsite showcases Czech avant-garde book cover designs from the 1920s and 30s, complete with hig… [read review or visit site]

Google Book Search

Google Book Search

Want to do one quick search and pull up the mother lode of vintage books? Try Google Book Search, a database filled… [read review or visit site]

Bruce Black's gallery of paperback book covers from the 1940s and 50s. With help from numerous contributors, he's a… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1588 Breeches Holy Bible Geneva Version Elizabethan Protestant Barker Psalms 1906 Miniature Cookery Book Real Hallmarked Silver Cover Cooking Recipes Food The Origin Of Species Charles Darwin The Highly Collectible Edition Publ 1869 Pride & Prejudice By Jane Austen 1894 Art Illustrated & Dedicated Hugh ThomsonRare! Folio Society Ltd Edition Tolkien The Hobbit Illustrations By Eric FraserThe Holy Bible/1726/rare King James Baskett Bible In English/fine Leather BindngLife & Works Of Benjamin Franklin Founding Father/americana Very Rare 1st 1798Pride And Prejudice Jane Austen 1890s Art Nouveau RareThe Monarchie Tragedies/1607/rare 1st Ed./alexander,julius Caesar,croesus,darius1912 Antique Rms Titanic Sinking Maritime Us Ocean History Photo Shipwreck Home1671 Rycaut, Histoire De L'empire Ottoman, Turkey Folding Engraved Plates VellumAdventures Of Rupert The Lost Bear. 1921. 1st Edition 1st Issue. Extremely RareCycle Of The Werewolf/rare 1st Ed/stephen King Signed Ltd.ed/near Fine Dj+2nd DjKatharine Cameron Enchanted Land Fairy Tales Glasgow Style Scottish Art NouveauEnglish Middle Ages History Medieval England Law/government/religion Scarce 16528 Volumes, 19thc Gilt Leather Bound Book, Charles Dickens, Classic Novels, Nr1920 Old Irish Fairy Tales Arthur Rackham Folklore Legends Mythology 1st Ed *signed, Limited Ed* Willy Pogany Alice In Wonderland Art Deco 1st 1929, Nr FineHymns Of The Millennial Dawn, Music And Word Books, Watch Tower, Ibsa, Jw1637 Latin Vulgate Catholic Bible Pope Sixtus V Clementine Biblia Sacra Complete1716 1717 Vinegar Bible Huge Holy Bible 20" Elephant Folio No Reserve !!!!!Lot Of 11 Vintage Hardcover Books - Alfred Hitchcock And The Three InvestigatorsThe Works Of Edgar Allan Poe - The Raven Edition - ©1903: Complete Set Of 5Berean Studies On Studies In The Scripture, 5 Vols, Watch Tower Ibsa Jw 1914Ian Fleming, Diamonds Are Forever, 1st Edition, 5th Imp 1963, Jonathan Cape Watchtower Original Photo Drama Of Creation Book /lot C.1914 Jehovah 1760 Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, 7 Vol Set, Venice, Zatta, Period BindingWatch Tower Vols 1,2,and 3 Bound, 1879 - 1905, Pastor Russell, Jehovah's WitnessVery Rare! 1880 George Catlin North American Indians Pagan Worship ScalpingEaston Press, Lot Of 9, Peanuts 2000, Jules Verne, Dostoevsky, Milton, AristotleA Wonderful Original Ww1 Photo Album War-memorabilia, Rare Airbirds And Planes!*the Catcher In The Rye/*1951/*j.d.salinger True First Edition-first State,issue1878 Antique Victorian Furniture Design Book Household Decoration Illustrated VgSuperb 17th C Antique French Vellum Covered Book Famous Greeks & Romans - 1622Andy Warhol Signed X 2 W Drawing Philosophy Of From A To B & Back Again 1st EdRare 1880 13x11 Gustave Dore Dante Inferno Hell Illustrated Dozens Prints Gift6 Book Lot, Folio Society, Mycenaeans, Minoans, Phoenicians, Incas, Maya, AztecsRare 1860 Gazetteer Of New York City Geology Civil War Historical RailroadsThe Dead Zone/rare 1st Edition/1979/stephen King Signed/fine Book In A Fine Dj.Berean Studies On Studies In The Scripture, 5 Vols, Watch Tower Ibsa Jw 1651 Tasso, Gierusalemme Liberata, Crusades, Knights, Woodcut IllustrationsFolio Society Winston S Churchill The World Crisis - 5 Vols Boxed Set 2007Easton Press Rembrandt Bible1866 Occult Masonic Ladder Antique Ancient Freemasonry Secrets Degrees Fraternal1849 Mexican History American War Texas Rangers Winfield Scott Alamo IndiansMiniature Book Bhagavad Gita Illustrated Bryce Hindu 1900 Rarer Than KoranRare 1929 Encyclopedia Of Freemasonry Masons Occult Knights Templar 33rd DegreeRosie Pitman Undine Fairy Tale Art Nouveau 1st 1897 Semi Erotic Nude 63 DrawingsIncunabula 1496 A.d. Juvenales Satyre's Rubricated And Illuminated1730 Pantheon Classical Mythology Pagan Occult Gods Ancient Greek Roman Myth1863 Speke, Discovery Of Source Of Nile, Africa, Egypt, Morocco Gilt Binding 1stIan Fleming, The Man With The Golden Gun, 1st Edn 1965, First Imp, Original D/jView Of The United States Of America/1804/rare 1st Edition/4 Foldout Maps & PltsCamilla & Cecilia By Francis Burney, 1796, 10 Volumes.1848 Forbes, Five Years In China, Labuan, Borneo Malaysia 1st Green Calf BindingTo Kill A Mockingbird/1960/harper Lee True First Edition-1st State,1st Issue DjThe Government Of Cattle Farming Veterinary Husbandry Horses Dogs Hogs Oxen 1633The History Of China, 1741.Berean Studies On The Divine Plan, Studies In The Scripture, Ibsa, Watchtower JwBeer Brewery Brewing & Bottling Manuscript Ledger/handwritten Book/diary 1800s

Recent News: Books

Source: Google News

'It could work' a great motto for Hutch's future
Hutchinson News, October 1st

The city should try to host more yearly meetings for special interest groups, such as stamp collectors (state or national gatherings), antique books, archery competitions, storytelling, etc. Mentoring and job shadowing for teens could prove beneficial...Read more

The Scout List: Baker's Market, Antiquarian Book Fair and Oktoberfest
The Globe and Mail, October 1st

Books: The Vancouver Antiquarian Book Fair sets up shop at UBC Robson Square this weekend. Peruse rare antiquarian books, collectible ephemera, old maps and unique prints – all with that awesome “old book” smell. Expect shelves and tables full of ...Read more

Concordia hosts annual bibliophile's delight
The Concordian (subscription), September 29th

Though not a typical experience, this is what you would find if you attended last weekend's 31st annual Antiquarian Book Fair, held at the ground floor of the McConnell Library building. ... Montreal isn't Europe or New York when it comes to antique books...Read more

Arkansas Online (subscription), September 27th

Sale from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 403 Barcelona Road. Proceeds will be used to provide scholarships for local students. Books offered will include cookbooks, antique books, mysteries, fiction and nonfiction. For more information, visit hshsv-ar...Read more

Here's how to plan the hottest party, 'Gatsby' style
Asbury Park Press, September 26th

Centerpieces were glass bottles inside jars, with baby's breath flowers and stacked, antique books; bookmarks served as place cards. Party planning tips. What are the most important things to keep in mind when it comes to party planning? "The food and...Read more

Budget-minded beauty makes an aging home fresh
San Antonio Express-News, September 26th

Atop the console, a pair of slender lamps brackets a tableau of antique books and a rugged urn with a stuffed bird and green succulents on top. Similarly staged vignettes punctuate her home. “We all like beautiful things, but I don't like a lot of...Read more

Library spotlights once-forbidden literature
The Miami Hurricane, September 24th

Other antique books in the collection include an edition of “Paradise Lost: A Poem in Twelve Books” from 1760; “Le opere Italiane di Giordano Bruno” from 1888; and “De Anima Brutorum Commentaria” from 1776. Dean of Libraries Charles Eckman explained ...Read more

Antiquarian Book Fairs - Paper Town
ILAB, September 23rd

It was a beautiful morning, one of the last fine days of the summer, with trees just beginning to turn the corner toward the explosion of colors that precede winter's monotone. But instead of going into the woods, where I know the swamp maples along...Read more