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    

Tolkien The Hobbit 1937 Very Rare (lord Of Rings Middle Earth Related) Aubrey Beardsley. 1st Edition 1st Issue. Under The Hill 1904Antique Revolving Bookcase 1904 Set Of 35 Miniature Shakespeare Book David Bryce1957 Copy Jonathan Cape Casino Royale By Ian Fleming From Collection. James BondAntique 1894 Through The Looking-glass By Lewis Carroll Hardcover - 465 M041829 Sir John Franklin Journey Polar Sea 4vl Set 24 Illus Map North Pole CanadaAlice In Wonderland Antique First Edition Alice's Rare Adventures Lewis CarrollFolio Society Limited Edition, The Sound And The Fury, William FaulknerAlice's Adventures In Wonderland First EditionAubrey Beardsly. One Of His Rarest. Houses Of Sin. Ltd Edition 1897. ParchmentCaptain Sir Richard F.burton's Narrative Undercover-pilgrimage To Mecca-madinaGeorge Washington: Letters - 1st English Edition - 1795Charles Robinson.1st Edition 1st Issue. Beautiful 1912. Large Format Art NouveauRare Easton Press Leather A. A. Milne Winnie-the-pooh Set W/wooden BoxMassacres Of France 1574 16th Century Rare Elizabethan Huguenot History £1 No RIan Fleming - Thunderball - Jonathan Cape. Uk 1st Edition 19611601 Matthieu 'histoire De France' Henry Iv Religious Wars 2 Vols Vellum1885 Victorian Guide Etiquette Letter Writing Manners Cook Book Home Farm GamesStephen King Ps Publishing 4 Slipcased Limited Editions Salvador Dali Les Diners De Gala Surrealist Art Cookbook 1973 1st Edition Hc 1959 Cambridge Holy Bible Morocco Leather Turquoise Presentation Reference KjvC1910 Alice In Wonderland Frank Adams Colour Illustrated Carroll Antique BookEaston Press - The History Of America Complete 16 Vol. Set - FineThomas Fuller Historie Of The Holy Warre 3rd Edn 1647 Full Calf Leather BindingDreams From My Father 1st Edition 1st Printing Barack Obama 1995 Signed Early InRare 1613 1st Black Letter King James Quarto "he" Bible / Barker / Kjb / GenevaTrans-himalaya Discoveries And Adventures In Tibet By Sven Hedin In 2 Vols -1909Simply Stunning Pablo Picasso Les Dejeuners - 30 W45Romanarum Antiquitatum, 1606.Circa 1900 The New Book Of Poultry By Lewis Wright With 45 Colour PlatesCarrie Stephen King Letter G Of 18 Copies Ps Publishing 40th Annivesary Ed. Sign1698 History Of Medieval France Illustrated Mezeray French Wars Portraits Kings1811 History Of The Puritans Daniel Neal 2vl Set Full Leather Europe ReformationElements Of The Clock And Watch-work/1766/rare 1st Ed./16 Copper Engraved PlatesIan Fleming - The Spy Who Loved Me - Jonathan Cape. Uk 1st Edition 196217thc Antique 1648 Thomas Fuller Religious Leather Bound Book, The Holy StateHarry Potter Sorcerer's Stone 1st Printing / 1st Edition J.k. Rowling GuardianThe Americans Robert Frank 1st Edition Book Introduction By Jack Kerouac 1959System Of Surgery/1768/dr.laurence Heister/2v/40 Copper Engraved Surgical PlatesOutlander By Diana Gabaldon ~signed~1st Edition~1st Printing~1991~fine Use Of Weapons - Iain M Banks - Signed Science Fiction - 1st Edition RareThe World Set Free - H. G. Wells 1914 First American EditionCrimean War British Officer’s Pocket Diary- Found In Trenches At Sevastopol 1855Rare 1860 Charles Darwin On The Origin Of Species 1st American Ed. 1st State*1970 1st Edition One Hundred Years Of Solitude By Gabriel Garcia Marquez W/dj1890 Gustave Dore Illustrated Antique Ornate Holy Bible Companion God TheologyAntique Confederacy History 1898 Civil War Confederate Csa Slavery Folk Myth OldThe Passage Justin Cronin Cemetery Dance Publications Letter Jj Of 52 No Resrve1785 Captain Cook Voyages Easter Island Pacific Ocean Islands Hawaii Tahiti1875 Picturesque Europe Antique Medieval Castles Ireland Cities Steel Engravings1795 History Of India Hindostan Thomas Maurice Shiva Krishna Hindu Hinduism Art1967 Historical Romance Original Paperback Book Cover Illustration Art PaintingIan Flemings' Gold Finger !st.ed.1st Imp. Hardback Pub. Cape 19591805 Amazing Non-confirmist | Baptist Diary - William Jay, John Rippon, SurreyOriignal Clark Ashton Smith Pencil Drawing Arkham House1871 General Robert E Lee Biography Civil War Confederate Soldier Antique C.s.a.Ian Fleming - On Her Majesty's Secret Service - Cape. Uk 1st Edition 1962Clowd Of Witnesses John Speed Very Rare 1st Edn London 1616Superb 1905 Photograph Album - British Colonial India - 243 Titled Photo's "legacies" Of George Washington, 1800, Leather-bound

Recent News: Books

Source: Google News

An Interview with … A Record Breaking Rare Book School Attendee! (Who also ...
ILAB, July 30th

And I believe knowledge is a 'critical success factor' for those in the antiquarian book trade, so these courses add to my knowledge base. Second, there are few other places where you'll find, all at one time, 60 other like-minded folks all not only...Read more

Get your hands on history and learn how to save heirloom treasures
Lahaina News, July 29th

Attendees will learn how to properly clean and store various treasures and artifacts like heirloom dolls, Hawaiian quilts, antique books and more using gentle, noninvasive cleaning methods. Questions about how to save your own heirlooms are welcome...Read more

Fall Crafts At Lyndhurst Marks Fourth Decade
The Daily Voice, July 29th

The show includes one-of-a-kind and limited edition creations in every material imaginable including: earrings made of sterling silver and python; handbags made from antique books; scarves made of bamboo; pears made of bronze; necklaces made of ...Read more

Williamson, Brentwood library events: July 29–Aug. 4
The Tennessean, July 28th

Hours are 10:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday; and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday. Choose from paperbacks, hardcovers, fiction, nonfiction, children's books, antique books, coffee table books and media items such as audio books, CDs, DVDs and videos...Read more

Antiquarian book expert visits library
Republican Journal, July 24th

Camden — Craig Olson will visit Camden Public Library Tuesday, Aug. 4, at 7 p.m. to give a talk on Identifying First Editions: The Treasures You Might Find on your Bookshelf. Olson runs the antiquarian book dealership Artisan Books & Bindery on Islesboro...Read more

From Seoul to London – An interview with TJ Kim, antiquarian bookseller in the ...
ILAB, July 20th

And now, for the first time, the South Korean colleagues exhibited at this year's London International Antiquarian Book Fair. T.J. Kim, owner of Tmecca Korea, Inc. in Seoul, was one of them. He tells us about rare bookselling in his home country, his...Read more

In the Press - US Returns To Sweden Millions in Antique Books Stolen by ...
ILAB, July 13th

In the 1990s rare and valuable 17th century books were stolen from the National Library of Sweden. Now some of them have been returned to Sweden with the help of two American antiquarian booksellers. The official repatriation ceremony took place in ...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