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]

Bookscans.com

Bookscans.com

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    

Authentic 1st Edition Ernest Hemingway The Old Man And The Sea Book Dust JacketThe Roman Antiquities Of Britain, 1732, Folio With Over 100 Copper Plates.Original 1st Edition Ernest Hemingway For Whom The Bell Tolls, Book Dust Jacket1752 Gullivers Travels Engraved Plates Swift Travels Several Remote Nations RareRare Aesop *1599* Vita Di Esopo Frigio Italian Woodcuts Life FablesJusti Lipsi Opera Omnia, 4 Vols, Justus Lipsius, 1675, Hoogenhuysen, Illustrated1515 Seneca, Lucubrationes Omnes, Erasmus, Philosophy, Rhetoric, Proverbs, FolioAlice's Adventures In Wonderland. Lewis Carroll. Arthur Rackham. 1907 1st/1st.1787 Don Quixote In Spanish Cervantes With Engraved Plates Calf Academy Edition1754*scottish Binding (herringbone?)*complete Bible:old/new Testament*edinburgh*1693 Ozanam Mathematics Gnomonics Astronomy Illustrated Copernicus Planets 2in1Early Ovid's Metamorphoses *1588* Dell'anguillara Italian WoodcutsWarwick Goble. Charles Kingsley. Water Babies Limited Edition 32 Colour PlatesSatin Satellite Vintage Sleaze Paperback Scarce 1955 Nm Bilbrew OutstandingLarge Antique 19thc Victorian Illustrated Gilded Leather Daggett Family Bible1740 Don Quixote Cervantes 2 Vols With Coypel Folding Engraved Plates Calf Bind1533 Eck Vs. Martin Luther On Penance & Confession Catholic Theology ReformationAntique Bible History Holy Land 1869 Egypt Syria God Moses Gustave Dore LeatherEaston Press Leather 4 Volume Set Lord Of The Rings Series J R R Tolkien Printed 1541 A Very Rare Plutarch In Commerce Magnificent Medical Atlas 82 Hand Colored Plates/9 Fold-outs/iconographie/1866Western Treasure Hunting Prospecting Book Mining Antique Gold Silver Mineralogy1827 2 Vol Set Paradise Lost John Milton Engravings Illustrated Satan Angels The Making Of Star Trek: The Book On How To Write For Tv! Pb 1972 8th Printing!1873family Holy Bible Gustave Dore Antique Leather Bound Victorian Folio OldNorman Wilkinson. Keith Henderson. Geoffrey Chaucer. Limited Edition Vellum 1908Undine - De La Motte Fouque. Illus. By Rackham, Arthur. Signed Limited Edition. A Voyage To China, 3 Volumes, 1797. 3 Xl Maps. Rio De Janeiro, Great Wall.The Abominations Of Yondo ~ Clark Ashton Smith ~ Arkham House 1960 1st Ed ~ HcdjPeter Pan In Kensington Gardens. J.m.barrie. 1912. Arthur Rackham. 50 Plates. Alcoholics Anonymous First Edition/ First Printing Big Book With Charles Towns.De Situ Orbis/1789/pomponius Mela/26 Copper Engraved Maps/fine Leather Binding1835 5 Vol Set Topographical Dictionary 116 Colour Maps England Samuel Lewis1612 King James He BibleArthur Rackham 1st Edition 1st Issue. A Midsummer-night's Dream 1908 ShakespeareFlorence K Upton. Bertha Upton 1st Edition 1st Issue 1905 Golliwogg's Fox-hunt1779 4 Vols Voyages Travels America Drake Raleigh Engraved Plates Egypt Sphinx 1634 Fortunio Liceti, Pyronarcha, Fever, Medicine, Lightning, Thunder Vellum 1stThe Clock Strikes Twelve ~ H. R. Wakefield ~ Arkham House 1946 1st Ed ~ Hcdj ~1817 Lalla Rookh Fore Edge Painting! Magic Rare Finebinding Antique Book ArtSiegfried And The Twilight Of The Gods. Limited Edition Signed By Arthur Rackham1669 Heylyn Cosmographie & History Of The World, Cosmography America Africa AsiaMichael Cisco 5 Vol Set Centipede Press Signed Ltd. Ed. Slipcased Out Of Print!1760 Scarce 1st Thus Life Of Francis Bacon + New Works Full Leather Folio London1746 Paradise Lost Milton Satan Adam & Eve Calf Engraved Plates Demons *irish*The Cyclopedian Atlas/1848/fine Leather Folio 14"/30 Copper Engraved Maps/1st Ed1683 King James Bible Old New Testament Apocrypha CambridgeUnited States History Antique 1857 Indians Revolutionary War Of 1812 WashingtonWow! 1634 Christian Warfare By John Downame 1st All Books Folio Reformed Scarce1688 Pierre Magnol Botanicum Monspeliense Botany Plants Illustrated NomenclatureJardine Naturalist's Library Entomology Vol 2 Beetles Coleoptera Hand ColouredStephen King Signed - Best American Short Stories 2007. Harcover. Rare.Stephen King Signed - Limited Edition He Is Legend. No Reserve! 1653: Very Rare - One Of The Most Important Of The English Christian Hebraists1889 1st Ed Golden Days Of ’49 California Gold Rush Niners Foreedge Painting1787 1st Edition Works Of Samuel Johnson Sir John Hawkins Uniformed 10 VolsFull 1836 19th C Journal/diary John Parrish Of Burlington Nj Quaker Farmer#1 YqzSiegfried And The Twilight Of The Gods Arthur Rackham 1911 First Edition Wagner Dæmones Circa Energumenos & Maleficiatos, 1629, Torre, Exorcism, DemonologyLehr-geist Und Eiffer- Volle Send. Schreiben Francis De Sales, 1754, Mauracher