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    

1578 Agrippa Complete Works Occult Philosophy 2 Vols* Magick Grimoire DemonologyRare Plutarch *1548* Parallel Lives Greek & Roman Woodcuts Latin Gilt BindingAldine *1513-17* Post Incunable Perotti Cornucopiae Dictionary Latin CultureDescription Of China 1813, 80 Hand Coloured Plates.Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. J.r.r.tolkien. 1st Edition Set. Superior Condition. Antique Cookbook Victorian Recipe Book 1882 Vintage Cookery Home Family Old RareAntique 1903 The Crimson Fairy Book Edited By Andrew Lang Hardcover - 326 B36Printed 1558: Ovid's "aggrieved Heroines Of Greek And Roman Mythology" -1872 Paradise Lost Paradise Regained John Milton Wooden Covers Illus Bible DevilRare Agriculture *1674* Willem Goes Woodcuts Gardening 1st Rural Economy DesignC1915 Ex Rare Alice In Wonderland Ae Jackson First Edition Lewis Carroll AntiqueMedieval Illuminated Manuscript,handpt.gold Initials,deco.border/flowers,c.1460Antique Cookbook Trade Secrets Farm Home Recipes Victorian Bees Jewelry Soap DyeAlphabetum Confessarioum Georgio Gobat 7bks Matrimoniale Baptizantium ConfitentiAristotle *1560* Nicomachean Ethics Greek Moribus Nicomachum Filium Philosophy 1720: Folio: Collected Edition Of Machiavelli1790 Hume's History Of England, Great Britain, 8 Vol Set, Plates, Portraits CalfNight's Black Agents. Fritz Leiber, Jr. Arkham House. Signed.Zaehnsdorf Binding *1894* Coaching Days Coaching Ways Illus Hugh Thomson RailtonStephen King Limited Signed Dolan's Cadillac, Presentation Copy, Rare Russia, Moscovia & Tartary Commentario Topographico &c, 1630.Indian Rocks Beach & Cedar Key Florida Handwritten Ledger/diary/book 1874-88 20 Book Lot! Easton Press, Leather, Usa Presidents, Signed Jimmy CarterHillary Clinton Signed Living History Autograph 1st Printing President BillRare 1748 Monumental Set French Leather Books Dictionnaire Universel De CommerceShepherd's Week *1714* John Gay 1st Edn Six Pastorals Binding Du Guernier EngrvsHarry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets. Signed By J.k.rowling. C1870 Family Holy Bible Gustave Dore Antique Leather Victorian Unmarked FolioDivi Ambrosii Milleloquium, Summam Totius Doctrinam, 1556, Ambrose, Milan, FolioOrnate Full Calf Gilt Bindings, 12 Vols 1818 Lettres De Madame De Sevigne PlatesIoannis Medinae Ss. Theologiae Doctoris 1581 Eiusdem Ioannis Medinae1683 Sermons Or Homilies, Queen Elizabeth, Oxford, Calf Folio, Gilt Royal ArmsArthur Rackham Alice's Adventures In Wonderland Lewis Carroll 1907 First EditionUnited States American Atlas 1892 Gazetteer Maps History Tourist Guide Antique From Russia With Love. Ian Fleming. 1957. 1st Edition 1st Print. Ori Dust JacketMedieval Illuminated Manuscript In The Vernacular,handpt.gold Initial,c.1460Rare Roman History *1554* Appian Alexandria Froben Civil Wars Roman Empire LatinPhoto Drama Of Creation Magic Lantern Slide Jehovah I.b.s.a Watchtower #80Salomonem Commentarios Salomon Præuius, Juan De Pineda, 1611, King SolomonFirst Edition Ernest Hemingway Across The River And Into The Trees Hardcover+ DjThe Lord Of The Rings J.r.r. Tolkien 1972 Deluxe Edition On India PaperCharles Robinson Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam 1920 Deluxe Full-leather 1st EditionVan Houtte & Lemaire - Volume 1, 51 Botanical Prints - 1845 Flore Des SerresIslamic Manuscript Quran Book Koran Fabulous ConditionDuns Scoti Ordinis Minorum Theologoroum Omnium 1580 Bartolucio 2vols VellumMedieval Illuminated Manuscript In The Vernacular,handpt.gold Initial,c.1460Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. Lewis Carroll. 1914. Limited Edition 282/1000Aesops Fables. Sir Roger L'estrange Kt. Stephen Gooden. Signed Limited Edition. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. Signed By J.k.rowling. Hillary Clinton Signed Hard Choices Autograph Signature 1st President Bill Western Pioneer Emigrant Guide Book Prairie Plains Railroad Maps Land AntiqueCake Decoration Candy Making Cookbook 1896 Antique Ornamental Confectionery Old1901 Handy Andy Samuel Lover Tale Of Irish Life 2vl Leather Illus #86-900 CopiesC1842 Manuscript Book Of Receipts, Recipes, Cookery, Baking, Wine, Pickling Soup1773 Revolutionary War Handwritten Sermons Journal Philadelphia Unitarian SocietThe House On The Borderland. William Hope Hodgson. Arkham House. FinePride And Prejudice Jane Austen 1895 Peacock Charles BrockErnest Hemingway Old Man And The Sea First Edition 1952 Mosher Press Ltd Ed *1900* French Medieval Legend Wicksteed Binding VellumBleeding Shadows Joe R. Lansdale Subterranean Press