The two kings of the book-collecting jungle are signed books and first editions. Collectors like scarcity, so first editions are sought because their print runs are usually low. The attraction of autographed books is a bit different. A signed copy is considered an extension of the author (or editor or illustrator). After all, he or she actually handled and wrote in that particular copy of the book!

While it may seem like there should be a direct correlation between an autograph in a book and its value, the connection is not so simple. There are various types of books as well as signatures, both of which can impact desirability of a signed copy. For example, if you have a signed first edition of a classic like Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” you own an extremely valuable commodity. But a signed copy of the Barbara Walters memoir “Audition,” inscribed during one of the countless stops on her well-orchestrated signing tour? Not so much.

Signed books range from ones with just the writer’s signature to others with an inscription to a specific person. Most collectors prefer the basic signature—why would Jack want a book inscribed to Jill?—though others are of the opinion that the more the author writes by hand in a book, the better.

No matter a specific collector’s view on inscriptions, most appreciate a scrawl from one famous author to another, like a copy of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” with a note to Allen Ginsberg on the inside cover. The ultimate in inscriptions, though, is to find that rare book containing a note from the author to whomever the book is dedicated.

When it comes to signed books—or plays, for that matter—first editions are always more sought after, as are books by famous authors. For example, there is no shortage of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” but an autographed copy still demands a pretty penny. Other autographed first editions by popular authors include Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita,” Ginsberg’s, “Howl,” and Gary Snyder’s “Riprap.”

One of the ultimate signatures is the reclusive Harper Lee’s on a copy of her “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Lee only wrote one novel, which limits the supply, and she was notoriously stingy with her signature when the book was published, although she also signed a few in 1995 when the 35th-anniversary edition of the book was published.

Although contemporary autographed books don’t tend to garner the same attraction as vintage books, first edition or not, there is one glaring exception: J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Pot...

Also prized by some collectors are books signed by illustrators. Some of the most popular of these include William Timlin’s only book, “The Ship that Sailed to Mars,” and Thomas McKenney and James Hall’s “Indian Tribes of North America.”

Other autographed books that have proven popular with collectors include memoirs by U.S. Presidents, including Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, and Barack Obama. As for mainstream authors, some of the most collectible signatures are by such authors as Joseph Heller, Stephen King, Hunter S. Thompson, Herman Melville, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

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    

1953 Harvey Giant Rabbit Play, Signed Inscribed Mary Chase & Harvey, 21 IllusSleeping Beauty Illustrated Arthur Rackham 1920 Signed Ltd Edition C S EvansRare Charles Bukowski Signed Poetry Book Early 1955-1963Ernest Hemingway Signed Book Some Of My Best Friends Are Jews By Robert GessnerStephen King- Dolan's Cadillac Signed Limited # 84 Of 1000Polar Antarctic Malcolm Hanson Lida Hanson Signed To Admiral Byrd Ltd 1/150 1946Crime Novel The White Cowl F. Hewitt Harrison Signed To Admiral Richard Byrd Dj"jesse James Was One Of His Names" Del Schrader W/ J. James Iii Signed 1st 1975*Vladimir Nabokov Ada Signed First Edition Inscribed Butterfly Collectible BookSigned Rising Up And Rising Down By William T. Vollman Mcsweeny's First EditionFolks I Knowed Horses They Rode Signed Lance Phillips American Saddlebred SaddleMuhammad Ali His Life And Times Hauser Thomas 1991 Signed Easton Collector'sRare (#26/50) Signed By Charles Bukowski, Black Sparrow Press (1971)Vladimir Nabokov Lolita Signed Inscribed Butterfly Collectible BookVladimir Nabokov Pnin Signed Inscribed Butterfly Collectible BookSlaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut Easton Press Signed Leather Bound Collector EdGeorge H.w. Bush Signed Easton Press "speaking Of Freedom" Harry Potter And The Philosophers Stone - J K Rowling - 1997 SignedThe Master's Healing Presence Bible - Benny Hinn Signed, Kjv - Calf Leather, NewKurt Vonnegut Jailbird Signed And Numbered Copy Slip Case Golden Gilt Edges 1979Agatha Christie Signed First Edition The Clocks - Collins - Collectible BookAnniversary Edition Mustang Signed By Carroll ShelbyAgatha Christie Signed First Edition The Pale Horse - Collins - Collectible BookSigned George Bush All The Best First PrintingSigned, Rare (#84/100) Video Of Charles Bukowski Reading With DoodleAgatha Christie Signed Death In The Air - Triangle Books - Rare Collectible BookSigned - Thomas Hart Benton Artist In America (1937 1st Ed) (+ New Bio) John Glenn: A Memoir By John Glenn - Easton Press - Signed First Edition Lec Limited Ed Red Badge Of Courage Stephen Crane Art Signed John Steuart Curry1930s Colored Print Of Chicago's Art Institute By S. Chester Danforth - SignedWhy Courage Matters By John Mccain - Signed First Edition - Easton Press - Mint Signed Association Copy 1st 1st Ernest Hemingway - For Whom The Bell Tolls Memoirs By Harry S Truman - Two Volumes - Special Kansas City Edition - Signed Albert Camus L'ete Signed First Edition The Summer Gallimard Collectible BookJk Rowling Signed Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire Hardback Robert Kipniss The Graphic Work Signed & Inscribed Numbered 132/160 Signed AgainSigned Railroad China Encyclopedia Erie*canadian Pacific*new York Central +more2 Typed Letters Signed Of Warren King Moorehead Relating To American ArcheologyJ M Coetzee Nobel Lecture His Man And He Signed 1st Hb RareJ K Rowling Hand Signed Autographed Harry Potter Book Azkaban Charles Ponsonby [signed] West Kent Yeomanry & 10th Batt The Buffs 1914-19 -1920Jean Paul Sartre Signed First Edition Lucifer And The Lord French PhilosopherGolden Book Of Biology Signed By Charles Harper 1967 Revised Hb IllustratedJ M Coetzee Childhood Of Jesus Signed Booker 1st Uk Hb RareAnne Rice Violin Signed Deluxe B E Trice Rare Only 50 Copies Exist No ReserveGabriel Garcia Marquez Signed 1st Cuban Edition Crnica De Una Muerte AnunciadaAlbert Camus Signed Booklet Acceptance Speech Nobel Prize For Literature 1957Albert Camus La Peste Signed 1st Edition The Plague 12 Watercolors Edy LegrgandRoyo World's Beyond The Paintbrush - 1st Edition In Box - Signed In Pen By RoyoSigned 1st Edition The Galloping Ghost Signed Barnhill Uss Enterprise WwiiJean Paul Sartre Intimacy Signed Collectible Book French PhilosopherPhotographs Tri-tone Portraits By Brian Griffin 1988 Signed Copy PortraitureTrick-em On Gooch Creek C.b. Kitchens 1957 1st Signed HumorSigned Charles Peterson Screaming Life Book. Rarely Seen Signed!Trump: The Art Of The Deal - Donald J. Trump *signed* 1st /1st -1987 - Hardback1768 An Attorney's Practice Epitomized Law Book With Hand Written Notes + SignedRare! Hand-signed The Rommel Papers *erwin*frau Rommel*afrika Korps*wwii*nazisJ K Rowling Hand Signed Autographed Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire ! Dreamfall By Joan D. Vinge, Signed First Edition, # 808 Of 1,400, Easton PressThe Terror Dan Simmons Signed 1st