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    

Charles Darwin*the Origin Of Species*1872*1st Printing Of 6th Edition*evolution*Incunable 1481 Barbieri On Sibyls Prophecy 29 Woodcuts Michelangelo RenaissanceCasino Royale, By Ian Fleming, 1953 True First EditionHarry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone Pb, True 1st Edition/1st ImpressionActs & Monuments By John Foxe/*1610/rare/2 Vols./elephant Folio 17"/fine LeatherErnest Hemingway Signed Book "for Whom The Bell Tolls" 1941 London, J. CapeRare "american Sniper" "signed" By Chris Kyle And Co-auth/ Jim Defelice 1/1ed1683 King James Holy Bible Fine Contemporary Ornate Binding Elaborately Gilt Vg1894 Natural History Animal Kingdom Antique Color Illustrated Indians Warriors1859 Antique Freemasonry Masonic Secret Manual Occult Illuminati Knights TemplarRare! 1885 History Of Freemasonry Washington Occult Masons Knights Templar 33rdAmerican Ornithology/1832/rare 1st Edit/3 Fine Morocco Leather By Morrell-londonGardeners Calendar *1745* Miller Months Fruit Plants Trees Kitchen FlowersColes Book Arcade Worlds Smallest Dictionary And Locket Pendant CaseAnno 1240:a Original Medieval Illuminated Bible Leaf,france,paris!dragon Initial1885 Ulysses S Grant Memoirs First Edition Civil War Maps Illustrated Union ArmyRare 1938 1st Edition Biggles Flies South By We Johns Hardback Book - Xx N29Gardeners Dictionary *1771* Miller Husbandry Wine Trees Fruit Kitchen EngravingsHarry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone - First Edition(ca. 1000 Years Ago) Story Of Man From Ireland Killed In Austria!wonderful Book!Original 1783 Revolutionary War Era 6 1/2" X 4 1/4" Almanac Almanack CompleteRetir'd Gardener *1706* London & Wise 2vol Plates Liger Design Fruit Kitchen 1st1864 Civil War Medicine Herbal Wounds Nursing Anatomy Opium Quack Recipes ColorLive And Let Die, By Ian Fleming, 1954 True First Edition1632 Galileo First Edition Of «dialogue Concerning The Two Chief World SystemsAnne Harriet Fish. The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam 1st Edition 1st Issue 19221896 Alice In Wonderland Antique Lewis Carroll Alice's Art Adventures Rare BookThe Blue The Red Fairy Book Series Edited By Andrew Lang 12 Volumes 1889-1910Anno 1607: A Very Rare Old Book Printed In Barcelona Catalonia (spain)!Winston Churchill's Second World War/1948/rare 1st Ed-1st Issue/145 Maps & Plts1771 Works Of John Bunyan - Large Folio, Illustrated, 2nd Scottish Edition! Wow!1633 Gerarde, The Herball, General History Of Plants, Botany, Woodcuts, FolioRare Treatise Fruit Trees *1653* Austen Grafting Remedies Prunning Cures OrchardEdgar Allan Poe: The Raven 1st Printing, The American Review 1845 Original Parts1570 Divine Liturgy Of John Chrysostom Byzantine Constantinople Bible CommentaryPride And Prejudice - 1899 Rare Vintage Edition - Jane Austen - Illus C E BrockStephen King-the Dead Zone-easton Press-1st-signed Original Art By Jill BaumanTolkien The Two Towers 1955 1st Rare (hobbit Middle Earth Related)Antique Homeopathic Medicine Cures Medical Herbal Cures Apothecary Home Made VtgThe Reformation Triumphant Acts Parliament Anno Ii To Vii Edward Vi 1548-52 NrRare Original 40 Minature Leathervolumes Of William Shakespears Plays & StandAntique1770 Georgian Leather-bound Book Collection Rare English Poetry Full Set1879 Grays Atlas Of The United States +world W Color Maps-clean ConditionJohn Locke *1740* Works 3v Human Understanding Bindings Education GovernmentLeather Binding *c1860s* Common Prayer Gauffered Gilt Metal Clasps Bagster BindgTolkien. Lord Of The Rings.1st Edition, 5th, 4th, 2nd Impressions. 1955/56. LotrEdward Establishes The Reformation Acts Parliament Anno Primo Edward Vi 1548 NrJoyland By Stephen King - Limited Edition Hardcover W/jacket And Illustrated1873 Antique Victorian Cookbook Cookery Recipes Game Meat Cakes Preserves ScarceAnno 1240:a Original 13th Century Medieval Illuminated Bible Leaf,france, Paris!Bloody Mary Repeals The Reformation Acts Parliament Mary I 1553-57 4vol Folio Nr1651 Jeremy Taylor's Clerus Domini & Xxviii Sermons - Bible - Folio 1st EditionAntique Civil War Union Confederate Army Military Slavery Us History Abe LincolnPlanting & Gardening Improvements *1739* Bradley Green House Plates VegetationBerean Bible Teachers Manual, Ibsa, Watch Tower, Jehovahs Witness, 1909Antique 1889 Old West Book Cowboys Indians Gold Mining Pacific Railroad LeatherYear Of The Spanish Armada Acts Parliament Anno Xxxi Elizabeth I 1588-89 1st Nr1800 Washington's Political Legacies George Washington Death Funeral John AdamsCarrie Stephen King Signed Limited Traycased Cemetery Dance Artist Remarque10vol Henry Fielding *1806* Works Tom Jones Life Murphy Leather Wild Quixote

Recent News: Books

Source: Google News

Chattanooga Bookseller Billy S. Arant, Jr. To Be Featured At Florida ...
The Chattanoogan, January 29th

When he's not dealing in the antiquarian book trade, Mr. Arant is a medical doctor specializing in treating hypertension and cholesterol disorders. He also has an extensive collection of knife rests from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. There are...Read more

Antiques Roadshow Appraiser, Rare Book Expert to Speak about Old and Rare ..., January 29th

The antique book store owner and rare book appraiser will be giving a talk about rare and antique books at the at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Medfield on Feb. 2. The event starts at 7:30 p.m. this Monday. As owner of Boston's Brattle...Read more

Why is Turkey censoring lingerie, antique books?
Al-Monitor, January 29th

When did Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has been praised by international media for its democratic reforms during its first few years in power, start to turn into what it is today — a ruthless political machine that cracks...Read more

Featured event: Paper Americana Show
Cecil Whig, January 29th

The show will feature more than 30 dealers from several states — including New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey — selling antique books, postcards, newspapers, art prints, advertising and regional collectibles, photographs and general ...Read more

Jimi Hendrix's Delinquent Bar Tab – 48th California International Antiquarian ...
ILAB, January 29th

The 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair will run from Friday, February 6 through Sunday, February 8, 2015 at the Oakland Marriott City Center. Sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA) and the International ...Read more

CA Antiquarian Book Fair Exhibition, Seminar & Event Schedule
Fine Books & Collections Magazine, January 23rd

OAKLAND, CA—The world's pre-eminent celebration of the written and printed word returns to Northern California at a new venue in downtown Oakland. The 48th California International Antiquarian Book Fair will run from Friday, February 6 through Sunday, ...Read more

54thExhibition of Antique Books will display Hafez book
Iran Book News Agency, January 15th

According to IBNA correspondent, the second major exhibition of antique books and rare manuscripts will be held in Stuttgart, Germany from 23 to 25 January, 2015 where Hafez's Divan will be viewed at the exhibition by book enthusiasts and collectors...Read more

54th Stuttgart Antiquarian Book Fair
Fine Books & Collections Magazine, January 14th

The German Antiquarian Booksellers' Association would like to invite you on a bibliophilic time voyage on the occasion of the 54th Stuttgart Antiquarian Book Fair from 23rd to 25th January 2015. About 80 leading antiquarian booksellers from Germany...Read more