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    

J. R. R. Tolkien Lord Of The Rings Uk 1st Editions 3 Vols + D/w 1962/31884 Victorian Cook Book Antique Recipes Pastry Confectionery Home DecorationAndrea Palladio *1619* Caesar's Commentaries 42 Double Page Engravings ChatworthAnno 1498: A Very Rare Incunable!Rare Theatrum Machinarum *1662* Bockler Engravings Hydraulic Machines Pumps1620 London - Don Quixote - Cervantes - Don Quichote - First English TranslationBible *1519* Post Incunable Pigskin Latin Gothic Text WoodcutsPost-incunable Voragine *1507* Legenda Aurea Woodcuts Medieval Church ChatsworthHuge Lot Of 45 Easton Press 100 Greatest Books Ever WrittenAnno 1506: A Beautiful Post- Incunable -original Calf Binding!over 500 Years OldBinding Baskerville Common Prayer *1762* Leather & Gilt Church Sacraments1880 Antique Wild Old West Railroad Indian War Pioneer Texas Utah Lds California1887 Victorian Writing Penmanship Letters Etiquette Manners Cook Book Home Farm Ca. Anno 1490: Unidentified Incunable!Rare John Bale *1551* Actes Englysh Votaryes Woodcut Celibacy Church SaintsAccedence Armorie *1597* Gerard Legh & Bossewell Workes Heraldry Crests WoodcutsLot Of 173 Original Lithos Etching Picasso Miro Dali Chagall Mourlot Signed1581 London - Seneca His Tenne Tragedies - Shakespeare Macbeth - First EditionCa. Anno 1519: Manuscript Of Work Of Martin Luther! Almost 500 Years Old!Anno 1626: Old Book Bound In Vellum Manuscript!Plutarch Lives Plutarchus Vitae Parallelae 1491 Venice 1st Illustrated Ed No ResRare Travels Barbary & Levant *1738* Shaw 1st Plates/maps Customs Egypt AfricaOriginal Paperback Book Cover Illustration Art The Wild One Motorcycle Painting1939 Girl Beautiful Collection Art Studies 1st Ed Art Deco Book Nude PhotographyCaracciolus Sermones Poenitentiale 1472 Renner Venice Incunabula Bible Islam Nr14th Century Manuscript On Vellum Fragment St Augustine On Psalms Bible MedievalBinding Characteristicks Earl Shaftesbury *1773* Baskerville 1st Philosophy GiltEaston Press The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald Leather Gold Gilt Hb 1991Wilson History Of Great Britain Life & Reign Of James I 1653 Frontispiece 1st NrFirst Uk Printing American Declaration Independence *1776* Annual Register 1777Antique 1883 Life On The Mississippi Mark Twain Clemens Leather Bound Book RjiAntique Vintage 1881 The Complete Home Cookbook Victorian Household Etiquette1894 Rare Book Pride And Prejudice By Jane Austen Peacock Illustrated EditionIan Fleming-james Bond-the Spy Who Loved Me-1st Ed-1st Imp Cape H/b+d/w-chopping1960 For Your Eyes Only 1/1 + Dustwrapper 1st Edn Ian Fleming James BondFore-edge Painting *1676* Matthew Hale Binding Contemplations Moral & DivineFahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury Easton Press Leather Hb Near FineThe Knight And The Dragon Tom Hood Ernest Jessop Illustrated Arts & Crafts BookHistoria Vitis Pontificum Romanorum *1660* Platina Woodcuts Lives Popes Binding1620 Important Tudor Period Personages First Edition Extremely ScarceWeldon The Court & Character Of King James 1651 Frontispiece 1st Complete Ed NrMartin Luther *1577* Commentarie Fiftene Psalmes 1st Bull & Foxe Black Letter1877 Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, By Lewis Carroll, Very Early Edition1581 London - Seneca His Tenne Tragedies - Shakespeare Macbeth - First Edition1758 The History Of England 10 Vol Set, Leather Bindings, Illustrated, 2nd Ed' George Anson *1756* Voyage Round World Navigation Engrv Maps Plates Sea ChartsStephen King, Revival, Uk, Unread Limited Uncorrected Advance Proof, 159/2001936 Rare Highlight & Shadows Arnold Genthe Nude Fine Art Photography Book Nr1830 Thomas Paine Revolutionary War American Independence Leather ~ 2 VolumesHuge Vellum Lot Of Antiphonal Leaves Spanish Illuminated Music1928 First Printing Edition Winnie The Pooh House At Corner Bear Child A A MilneRare Signed Hells Angels Hunter S Thompson First Edition Autograph No Reserve1543 Johann Carion Chronicles Adam & Eve Genealogy Woodcuts Reformation ClassicSalvador Dali 1st Ed Les Diners De Gala Surrealist Art Cookbook 1973 FelicieStephen King Cujo Uncorrected Proof Copy 1982 Very Rare Pb1864 Antique Homeopathic Medicine Home Cures Medical Herbal Apothecary RecipesDaniel Defoe - Life And Adventures Of Mr. Duncan Campbell, Deaf And Dumb • 17201790 Culpeper's English Physician & Complete Herbal. Medicinal & Occult. Illust.1691 Life Of Oliver Cromwell Commonwealth England Elzevir Civil War Puritan1699 Life & Reign Of French Sun King Louis Xiv France Spanish Succession War

Recent News: Books

Source: Google News

Art Movements
Hyperallergic, May 29th

The absence of page-holders to secure the antique books at the press conference is somewhat concerning (in the video beginning at the 49-second mark). London's National Portrait Gallery unveiled Sean Henry's sculpture of World Wide Web inventor Tim ...Read more

Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - A 17-foot timeline
ILAB, May 29th

Some time ago I started cataloguing recently-acquired material in preparation for the London International Antiquarian Book Fair. I'm not sure how this will fit on the stand, but… This large, folding chromolithograph (it's over 6.5m long) is Adams...Read more

A trove for booklovers: Noted collector's books to fill tables at symphony sale
The New Orleans Advocate, May 28th

This year, keep a sharp eye out for some very special books, collected and cherished by longtime Symphony Book Fair volunteer, Tulane University professor and antiquarian book dealer, Joseph Cohen. Cohen, who died last year at 88, was one of New ...Read more

Jewish Vegetarians Rejoice: The Resurrection of a Rare Yiddish Cookbook
New York Observer, May 28th

The cover featuring elegantly illustrated vegetables including carrots, cukes and beets, which had been discovered at an antiquarian bookstore in the Welsh antiquarian book town of Hay-on-Wye and donated to YIVO in 2008, popped out at the women...Read more

Stolen art returns home to Rome
BBC News, May 26th

The United States has returned stolen Italian antiquities, including artworks and antique books - recovered in the US - to Italy. Italy has spent the last decade campaigning to retrieve art and cultural artefacts its government says were looted or stolen...Read more

Hold History in Your Hands at the 58th London International Antiquarian Book Fair
Fine Books & Collections Magazine, May 22nd

From May 28th to 30th the halls of Olympia will once again present an unparalleled array of literary material at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair. Now in its 58th year, this major three-day event is one of the largest and most prestigious ...Read more

Tokyo, World Antiquarian Book Plaza, 23 April – A report by ILAB Pop Up Book ...
ILAB, April 30th

One of the most fascinating things about Japan is the harmonious blend of old and new. If you spend enough time there, seeing a thousand-year-old temple set among sky scrapers or watching as elegant ladies dressed in kimono rush past teens sporting the ...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