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    

Superb Georgian Handwritten Puzzle Poetry Story Book- C1830 Illustrated AntiqueKircher Principis Christiani Archetypon 1672 Fanfare Presentation Binding 1st NrFear And Loathing In Las Vegas Hunter S. Thompson Signed First Edition 1971 Dj1587 Zuallart Pilgrimage To Jerusalem Holy Land Palestine Greece Italy Rome MapsPlutarch Souzomena Opera 1572 Estienne Stephanus Greek Editio Princeps 12 Vol NrBroughton A Concent Of Scripture 1590 Ortelius World Map Rembrandt 6 Plates NrHenry Baker's The Microscope/1753/rare 1st Ed./17 Copper Engraved Foldout PlatesWither A Collection Of Emblemes 1635 De Passe 200 Plates Lotteries Fine 1st NresThe Holy Bible/1633/black Letter King James Bible/ot-nt/rare Early Edit/*completArthur Rackham 1st Edition Sleeping Beauty 1920. Original Dust-wrapper1756 Samuel Johnson's Dictionary Of English Language -2 Lthr Vols- 1st AbridgedThe Ingoldsby Legends/1907/rare 1st/1 Of 500 Copies/36 Arthur Rackham Color Plts1844-1936 Antique Leather Book Lot 16 Bks Dickens Jane Austen Dumas Irving Rare$Antique Grimoire Spells Pennsylvania German Folk Magic Occult Witchcraft Hex*the Holy Bible/rare Early Edition/black Letter King James Bible/o.t & N.t/*1655The Children's Tableaux/*1895/*louis Wain/rare 1st Edition/5 Enchanting Pop-upsExrare Early 1894 Pride Prejudice Jane Austen 1st Edn!famous Peacock Binding WowCharles Darwin*the Origin Of Species*1902*evolution*natural Selection*biology*vgComplete Angler By Izaak Walton Compleat/fly Fishing/antique Tackle Plates 17751849 History Of The Highlands & Highland Clans - Browne - 4 Lthr Vols - PlatesHaruki Murakami - Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki Signed Uk 1st/1st + Ticket + Extras!Charles Darwin-the Origin Of Species-1880-evolution-6th Edition Hardback-antiqueRare 1866 Medicine Recipes Civil War Horse Drug Herbal Farmers Beer Medical1843 Pennsylvania Historical Collections History Genealogy Engravings Coal 1657-1658 3 Vols In 1 Vellum Bound Symbolica Dianae Ephesiae Etc Many EngravingsOld West Railroad Pioneer Tourist Guide Colorado Kansas Utah Idaho YellowstoneAriosto Orlando Furioso 1634 Harington 47 Plates & 1633 Epigrams Complete No ResCorderoy A Warning For Worldlings 1608 Atheism Deism Shakespeare Rare 1st Ed Nr1886 Museum Of Antiquity Christian Babylon Paganism Nineveh Freemasonry Pompeii§ 1819 1st Edition John Smith With Plates + Map Virginia Chesapeake Bay MarylandHandwritten World War Ii Diary-u.s. Army Air Force Corp 391st-signed-1942-44-vgSpenser The Works 1679 Folio London Faerie Queene Fairy Queen 1st Complete Ed NrLrg Antique 1866 Dantes Inferno, Purgatory & Paradise Gustav Dore Illustrations1941 Penguin Paperback (#348) First Edition. Biggles Flies Again. W.e. Johns. Ezra Pound Exultations 1909 Dedicated & Inscribed To Minister At Family ChurchAntique Victorian Home Guide Social Etiquette Cook Book Recipes Penmanship LegalWorks Of Mr. Abraham Cowley/*1688/rare Early Edition/folio 12"/frontis. Dtd.1687Arthur Rackham. 1st Edition Thus. Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens 16 Colour PltsSuperb 1727 Baronetage Of England Heraldry Heraldic Peerage 3 Volumes 1882 Antique Family Holy Bible 2500 Illustrations Huge Vtg Leather/gold Kjv N/r1859 The Illustrated Natural History - Complete In 3 Vols -illus- 1st EditionSalmon Fly Fishing Tying/ties/lures/angling Guide Color Plates Fine Binding 1850Large 1733 Map Homann India Sri Lanka Ceylon Goa Golkonda Puducherry MadrasAntique 1794 Georgian Mysterious Old Book Witch Circus Freak Caricatures StrangeJ.r.r Tolkien -adventures Of Tom Bombadil 1st Edition H/b 1962 Lord Of The RingsAntique Civil War Army Nurse Memoir Hospital Nursing Slavery Union ConfederateAntique Miniature Children's Story Book - The Cats Concert - Nister & Co 1890s1878 Africa Dark Continent Travel Savages Slavery Congo Maps Natives Hunting 1stMuhammad Ali Signed The Greatest My Own Story 1975 Early Autograph1885 Memoirs Ulysses S Grant Civil War U.s. General Biography Antique Union ArmyWilliam Faulkner - Pylon - 1935 U.k. Hb 1st Original DjEvelyn Waugh - Scoop - 1938 Signed U.k. 1st HbElementary Statistics 12th Edition By Mario F. Triola Hardcover Mathematics Used1891 Wild West Antique Railroad Travel Cowboys Indians Gold Mining Pioneers VtgEaston Press * The Count Of Monte Cristo* Dumas Book New Still Shrink WrappedIan Fleming - From Russia With Love -1957 Uk 1st Hb - James Bond / Jonathan CapeThe Rhinegold & The Valkyrie/1910/rare 1st Edition/34 Arthur Rackham IllustratioIan Fleming - You Only Live Twice - 1964 Uk 1st Hb Dj - Jonathan Cape James Bond1847 Andrew Jackson War Of 1812 Battle New Orleans Indians Massacre Mexican 1940 Duck Goose Hunting Decoy Call Winchester Remington Peters Box +many Photos

Recent News: Books

Source: Google News

Literary and spiritual treasure discovered in central Kentucky
Glasgow Daily Times, August 30th

“Years and years ago in my graduate classes at Western (Kentucky University), I'd done a lot of work with antiquarian books and done a lot of research on the antiquarian book business,” Pike explained. “And in that process, I'd learned of the Carey...Read more

'Books and Beeswax'
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, August 29th

She also likes to include scans from both the interiors and exteriors of old books in her compositions, sometimes as central elements, and other times as embellishments to the story she is telling. Floyd says she has been entranced by antique books...Read more

Peter Parley, who was he?
The Ridgefield Press, August 28th

Ms. Coleburn's talk will also include information about children's antique books and their authors although with emphasis on Peter Parley, a local boy who made good. Light refreshments will be served after the presentation and there will be time to...Read more

Darby mayor, Rep. Waters vow to support library
Delaware County Daily Times, August 25th

Darby Free Library which has a collection of antique books and is one of the oldest operating libraries in the country. (Times Staff / JULIA WILKINSON ). By KEVIN TUSTIN, Times Correspondent. Posted: 08/25/14, 11:07 PM EDT | Updated: 32 secs ago...Read more

Woman Discovers Book With Holocaust Connection At Winchester Thrift Store
LEX18 Lexington KY News, August 22nd

She is particularly interested in antique books. “They have more value, I think, because they tell a story,” says Blair. Last Friday, she found a true treasure. The bin was full of editions of Reader's Digests and a book called 'A Child of Hitler...Read more

ILAB Library - All You Need To Know About Rare Books and the Antiquarian ...
ILAB, August 11th

On July 26, 1984, Edward Gein died in a state mental institution. Gein's case stole the headlines in November 1957, when police went to his farmhouse to investigate the disappearance of local hardware store clerk Bernice Worden. Gein had been the last ...Read more

Tokyo International Antiquarian Book Fair – 5th to 7th March 2015. Subscribe now!
ILAB, August 8th

The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of Japan (ABAJ) is pleased to announce the Tokyo International Antiquarian Book Fair 2015. As a celebration of its 50th anniversary, the ABAJ will be holding the International Antiquarian Book Fair in Tokyo from...Read more

Antiquarian Book Fairs - Why do I have to play Lotto?
ILAB, August 6th

When one stands in the queue outside Ludwigsburg, the small fair that starts one day before the Stuttgart Antiquarian Book Fair, one gets a glimpse of all the well-known people of the global book-dealing community. As we are all very busy keeping up...Read more