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    

Ca. 1495: A Miniature Book Incunable Printed In German! 83 Wonderful Woodcuts!!!Casino Royale 1953 Original Dust Cover 1st Edition 2nd - Ian FlemingAntique 1801, 4-vol Illustrated Set, Don Quixote, Foldout Map, Fine Binding, NrMagna Carta/1680/rare 1st Edward Cooke Edition In English/fine Leather Bndg.The New Lieutenant's Rap By Stephen King - Signed Limited Edition - 1 / 500King James Bible 1613 Folio Complete Kjv Speed Map & Genealogies 2nd Edition NrStephen King The Stand Uncorrected Proof (arc)--extremely Rare!Early 15th C Gold Illuminated Breviary Manuscript Vellum Carthusian Prayers YqzRare Signed & Dated 1st Edition Roald Dahl 'charlie And The Chocolate Factory' 1868 Alice's Adventures In Wonderland First Edition Lewis Carroll Antique BookFrancesco Petrarch Works Circa 1610 Antique Vellum Classic - Father Of HumanismArthur Rackham 1st Edition Thus Peter Pan In Kensington Gardens. J M Barrie1812 Antique 3-vol Set Books, History Of New Hampshire, Jeremy Belknap 1791 Map1830-1890 Antique Leather Book Lot 20 Books Dickens Confucius Hugo Holmes Rare $1736-1890 Antique Full Leather Book Lot 13 Books Ills Pope Goethe Poetry ScienceEarly 14th C 1300's Manuscript Vellum Leaf Vulgate St Jerome's Hebrew Names YqzArthur Rackham. 1st Edition 1st Issue. Undine. Very Scarce 1st State 1909Richard Bachman (stephen King!) "the Running Man" 1st Ed. 1982 Nm-mt1834 Indians Of North America Leather Cover Book By Samuel G.drakeLewis Carrol 1897 Through The Looking Glass & What Alice Found There Trout Fishing/1929/eric Taverner Signed First Limited Edit./fine Morocco Leather13th-century Medieval Manuscript Latin Bible 2 Leaves Wisdom Of Solomon VellumSpells And Philtres Clark Ashton Smith Rare '58 Arkham House Hb W/djAubrey Beardsley. Ben Jonson. Limited Editon 1898. Volpone 1 Of Only 1000 CopiesAssassination Of Abraham Lincoln, Late President, William Seward, 1867, Leather1889 Masonry Scarlet Freemasonry Torture Free Masons Knights Templars Occult Peter Pan Leather Bound Book By Sir James Barrie The Easton PressTravels Through The Turkish Empire, 1673.Dreams And Fancies H. P. Lovecraft '62 Arkham House Hb/dj 1st Edition1970 Paperback Book Cover Original Illustration Pulp Art Painting Taylor CaldwelRare 17thc Antique 1696, 1st Edition, Dfense De L'glise Romaine Et Des SouveraWahren Christenthum And Paradies Gartlein By Johann Arndt 1735 Embossed Vellum1895 Rare Old Antique Farming Victorian Farm Veterinary Barns Cookbook Medical Trout Fishing/1929/eric Taverner Signed First Limited Edit./fine Morocco Leather1911 Stories From Hans Andersen First Edition Edmund Dulac Antique BookThe Dying Earth 1950 Jack Vance (his 1st Book) Very Rare!! Pbo Nm60s Syd Mead Innovations Rare Us Steel Book248 Photographs In Album India - Military Sports Boxing Devonshire Regiment11th Century Manuscript Leaf, Vellum, Verses By Arator Of Luguria.President Calvin Coolidge Signed Have Faith In Massachusetts, Rare Dust Jacket1837 Declaration Of Independence Signers Franklin Jefferson Revolt Illustrated Vintage Millennial Dawn Books1957 The King Ranch Limited 1st Edition Saddle Blanket Edition Tom Lea TexasRidley The Anatomy Of The Brain 1695 1st Edition Complete 5 Plates Cowper RareThe Life Of Charles Linnaeus 1794.Vintage Shakespeare's Works Miniature Book Set In Original Box Complete 24 VolsStephen King's The Shining True 1st Signed Inscribed Near Fine In Dw 1977 Look!Precedency Of Kings/1664/rare 1st Edition/james Howell/valuable Research CopyJ.r.r.tolkien~lord Of The Rings Trilogy~1st Editions/10th Impressions,1963/mapsAndrew Wyeth Limited Signed Christina's World, 1 Of 200C1890 Alice In Wonderland Colour Illustrated Lewis Carroll John Tenniel Antique Maxfield Parrish 1911 First Edition Illustrated Book Golden Treasury Of Songs Nr1593 Latin Language Study Grammar Simon Verepaeus Syntax Linguistics GrammaticaA Princess Of Mars Edgar Rice Burroughs 1917 Vg Cond First Edition (1st) Rare Easton Press Lord Of The Rings, Hobbit And Silmarillion Tolkien Set Leather1853 Key To Uncle Tom's Cabin Harriet Beecher Stowe 1st Edition Slavery South $$Rare Book 1667 Oliver Cromwell Horoscope Astrology Book Partridge Gadbury Lilly1852 G.b. Sowerby 'conchological Manual' Conchology Shells Hand Coloured Plates1968 Daring Mystery Original Paperback Pulp Book Cover Illustration Art PaintingWhite Fang / Jack London / 1906 / 1st Edition / 1st Issue /

Recent News: Books

Source: Google News

One for the books: Next month brings the 43rd Annual Antiquarian Book Fair in ...
MPNnow.com, August 22nd

ROCHESTER — An antique book dealer and a librarian meet for lunch. This is not the set-up for a punchline. Instead, the 1972 meal at a Mt. Hope Avenue restaurant in Rochester yielded satisfaction beyond that of hunger, setting in motion an antiquarian ...Read more

Make Plans Now for the 2015 Tennessee Antiquarian Book Fair
Memphis Magazine (blog), July 6th

Now in its fifth year, the Tennessee Antiquarian Book Fair, held at the Sewanee Inn on the campus of the University of the South, offers book lovers a chance to view (and purchase) rare and vintage publications from some of the best booksellers in this...Read more

United States Returns Stolen Antique Books to the National Library of Sweden
Federal Bureau of Investigation (press release) (blog), June 17th

Richard Zabel, the Deputy United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Diego Rodriguez, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the return of two...Read more

With owners aging and money tight, Whately Antiquarian Book Center is up for sale
MassLive.com, June 4th

For more than 25 years, dozens of booksellers have set up shop within the red brick walls of the Whately Antiquarian Book Center. Loyal customers have grown accustomed to the rows on rows of used books, acquired by the hundreds and thousands in ...Read more

Postcard from the London Antiquarian Book Fair
Fine Books & Collections Magazine (blog), June 1st

Antiquarian book dealing is “one of the very last businesses that is truly collegial,” Windle told me. Without a contract, people send each other very expensive books through FedEx because there is so much mutual trust, he added. The only way people...Read more

Photos: Lose Yourself In First Edition Fitzgeralds At 55th Annual Antiquarian ...
Gothamist, April 11th

Grab your bifocals and shake out your dust gloves, because the 55th Annual Antiquarian Book Fair is up and running, at the Park Avenue Armory. This year, over 200 dealers from around the world have shipped in their papery wares for the weekend-long ...Read more

Antiquarian Book Fair Offers Victorian Children's Peep Shows
New York Times, April 2nd

Victorian children peered into mass-produced accordion boxes of paper prints called peep shows, which gave the illusion of depth and motion. The layers of scenes, pierced with viewing holes, represented parks, gardens, battlefields, theaters and ...Read more

Antique Books Turned Into Exquisite Paper Sculptures
Co.Design, March 6th

South African artist Barbara Wildenboer thinks of books as living things. In her art, she operates on them, cutting apart old books to reveal the sprawling yet delicate central nervous systems trapped within the pages. Inspired by the delicate fractal...Read more