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    

Chris Kyle American Sniper Inscribed First Edition Signed By Chris KyleArthur Rackham. 1st Edition 1st Issue 1926. Tempest. Shakespeare. Heinemann1822-1927 Antique Book Lot 19 Books Leather Illus Hugo Scott Stowe Macaulay RareVoyages *1794* Cook 104 Plates Maps Macartney China Portlock America Australia1912 Grimm's Fairy Tales Arthur Rackham First Edition Antique Book IllustratedC1695 Camden's Britannia, Counties Of England & Wales, Folio, Plates, MapsBeyond The Wall Of Sleep H P Lovecraft Arkham House 1943 First Edition Hcdj1876 The Hunting Of The Snark First Edition/ Issue Alice In Wonderland BookAnno 1540: A Very Old Book From Wittenberg! 2 Volume Bound In 1--ph. Melanchton!Arthur Rackham. 1st Edition 1st Issue. Undine. Very Scarce 1st State 1909From Russia With Love 1957 Ian Fleming 1st Edition Stunning! CapeCamden's Britannia *1695* Gibson 1st Scotland Ireland England Counties IllusAutographed Copy, William Butler Yeats, Plays Poetical Works, Dramatic Poems, NrCatalogus Testium Veritatis/1556/rare 1st Ed./mathias Flacius /orig. Vellum Bndg1889 The Nursery Alice 1st Colour Illustrated Edition Lewis Carroll Antique BookDr No 1958 Ian Fleming 1st Edition Stunning! Cape1612 Pierre De Lancre, Mauvais Anges Et Demons, Magic, Witchcraft, DemonologyGeorge Orwell 1st/1st Nineteen Eighty-four Original Dj1696 King James Holy Bible, Old & New Testament, Morocco Gilt Binding, OxfordAntique 1792 Georgian English Leather-bound Natural History Books Illustrated1863 Antique Magic Tricks Book Magician Secrets Occult Conjuring Illusions CardsAdventures Of Huckleberry Finn First Edition Mark Twain 1885 Book Illustrated NrHarris Voyages *1705* America China Australia Plates Dampier Thevenot TavernierEaston Press - Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton - Signed, Unread & MintFive Weeks In A Balloon/rare 1876 Ed/jules Verne/64 Illustrations By RiouPre Civil War Virginia Slave Estate Handwritten Slavery Journal/ledger/diary Captain W. E. Johns - Biggles And The Deep Blue Sea - 1968 Uk 1st Hb Dj Peter (pan) And Wendy By J M Barrie 1st Edition (1911) Illustrated F D BedfordSigned Dark Carnival Ray Bradbury Arkham House 1947 First Edition HcdjW E Johns - The Camels Are Coming - Rare 1934 Uk Hb John Hamilton ( Biggles )Uncle Tom's Cabin/rare 1st Ed./1852/harriet Beecher Stowe/orig.publisher's ClothRare 1860 Wars Of The United States Revolution War Of 1812 Indian Wars MassacresAdventures Of Huckleberry Finn First Edition Mark Twain 1885 Book IllustratedShekhina By Leonard Nimoy Signed By Leonard Nimoy - Spock - Photography ArtRl Allan 53 Dg Limited Edition Longprimer Goatskin Leather Bible 2014Military History *1737* Duke Marlborough & Eugene Savoy Plates Battle Sieges War1692 Gronovius, Works Of Cicero, Philosophy, Numismatic, Engraved Plates, 4 VolsAntique 1822 Georgian English Leather-bound Atlas Book Maps World GeographyAnno 1651: First Edition Of This Famous Astrological Magical And Mystical Work!George Orwell - Nineteen Eighty-four Hb+dj 1951 - 5th Imp' With Unclipped Jacket Life On The Mississippi First Edition Mark Twain 1883 Book Illustrated1895 Huge! Holy Bible W/clasp Self Pronounced Combination Edition King James????Lot Of 11 Franklin Library Leather Books1862 Civil War Army Manual Soldier Tactics Military Strategy Field Maps InfantryJules Verne's Dick Sands-the Boy Captain/1879/rare True 1st Ed/fine Original Bnd1784 Geography Atlas With 17 Maps French Cartography & Navigation MathematicsJules Verne's Voyages Et Aventures Du Captaine Hatteras/1866/rare 1st French Ed.Antique Holy Bible Folio Illuminated Color Plates Family Pages Dbl Clasped 1892Rare 1sted 1866 The Life Of Abraham Lincoln Civil War Slavery Assassination1775 Science Of Isaac Newton By Voltaire Enlightenment Philosophy OpticsFrench Illuminated Manuscript Page / Hand Painted Gouache On Paper / Circa 1600V Rare New Testament *1616* Vulgate Erasmus & Montano Binding Bible FabriciClaudio Tolomei *1572* Epistres Argentees Binding Tolozain LettresAlice In Wonderland Antique Lewis Carroll Alice's Adventures Art Vtg A Rare BookAntique Civil War Union Confederate Army Military Slavery Us History Abe LincolnJane Austen, Pride And Prejudice, Rare 1880's Reprint, Attractive Original Cloth1886 Antique Parallel Column Bible Pictorial Family Bible B.f.johnson & Co.Rare Universal Traveller *1753* Thomas Salmon 66 Plates America Africa Europe1889 U.s Secret Service In The Late War Abraham Lincoln Assassination Civil War2013 The Cuckoo's Calling First Edition Robert Galbraith Jk Rowling Harry Potter

Recent News: Books

Source: Google News

Looted 400-year-old books from Italy turn up in California
Los Angeles Times, February 27th

Two antique books dating to at least the 17th century that were looted from Italy have turned up in California -- a relief for the Italian government, which will get the rare tomes back, and a surprise for the San Francisco buyer, who was unaware they...Read more

Ireland's Ballyfin combines old-world charm with luxurious style
Dallas Morning News, February 27th

It's delightful to enter the library, which is filled with 5,000 antique books, and discover one of the storied walls to be a secret door that leads to the glass conservatory. Here, lunch is served with views of the estate, including a waterfall that...Read more

ILAB Library - All You Need To Know About Rare Books and the Antiquarian ...
ILAB, February 27th

24 hours of ILAB Pop Up Fairs across the world on April 23, 2015! This is how the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) will celebrate this year's UNESCO World Book and Copyright Day. This important celebration of literacy, books and ...Read more

Antique Books Found In Bay Area Part Of 19 Cultural Treasures Returned To ...
CBS Local, February 25th

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Federal agents have returned 19 cultural treasures to the Italian government after they were found here in the United States, including two antique books from the San Francisco area, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs ...Read more

Antiques Roadshow for books at Washington Antiquarian Book Fair March 6-7, February 21st

So, bring your own historic books, learn how to bind your own books, or just look at -- and touch -- antique books at the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair. "I love everything that's old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine," as...Read more

Antiquarian book expert at library
Courier-Gazette & Camden Herald, February 19th

Camden — Craig Olson, who runs Artisan Books & Bindery, an antiquarian book dealership on Islesboro, will give a talk on Identifying First Editions: The Treasures You Might Find on Your Bookshelf Tuesday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at Camden Public Library...Read more

Germany Returns Antique Books Stolen in Italy
Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, February 15th

Germany is returning to Italy more than 500 valuable antique books stolen from Italian libraries about three years ago. An Italian librarian has been convicted in the theft of the collection that includes such priceless texts such as the first editions...Read more

Shelf after shelf of rare finds at Antiquarian Book Fair in Oakland
SFGate (blog), February 8th

Here's an object that some enterprising craftsperson could re-create: the book bottle. Seen from the spine, it looks like any other book on a shelf. Look more closely, though, and it's actually a bottle that can be filled with the spirit of your choice...Read more