What books do you collect, thinking maybe one day to discover their value or sell them at a high price? I know; I do too. Unless you really know your books, however, chances are you're wasting bookshelf space. You may make money on the genuine item, but most rare book dealers will tell you they're the exception, not the rule. I keep some books out of nostalgia—for instance, various editions of "A Christmas Carol"—and that's as good a reason as any. There's also a shelf of 19th and early 20th-century novels from my grandparents' house, probably with little value to anyone else. But I like them.
Some people, not so many these days though, like the look of old books around the house, and collect them for that reason. They're fun for others to browse, so if you have the room, go for it.
Would-be collectors may search for the publication date of an old book when they come across a valuable-looking specimen in a thrift shop or bookstore. Maybe they buy it for a few dollars, thinking they've perhaps found a priceless edition of Dickens or Melville. Don't count on it. You can end up a hoarder that way. I suggest buying books that truly appeal to you as a reader, out of love, not greed.
A book's value depends greatly on its condition, content, scarcity and author. Is it a first edition? So much the better. There has to be customer demand for it, as well. And, remember: Not all valuable books are old. You really have to find out what's in demand. To familiarize yourself with what goes into a book's value, stop in at a rare book dealer, such as Brattle Book Shop in Boston. Ken Gloss presides over the store's collection of rare and unusual books. Gloss often speaks at libraries and clubs across the region—I saw him in Lancaster's Thayer Memorial Library last year—to better inform the public about what makes a book valuable. He also looks over the books his listeners bring in. Most aren't worth much, but once in awhile there's a good result. Similar antiquarian book stores are scattered about the region.
For a current listing of individual book dealers, check the Southern New England Antiquarian Booksellers, which maintains a listing of its members, many of whom are in this area and deal in special interests areas; often they operate out of their homes. Members of SNEAB hold an annual book sale is April 17 in Lexington.
Most libraries try to vet the books donated to them for resale, in the hope of not selling a rare book for $2. They may use online services, or set up a connection to a collector. But since there really aren't enough volunteers at most libraries to research book value, the good books sometimes go right through to the book sale piles—and your chance to pick up a winner.
Some booksellers maintain web sites to help you determine if your books are worth anything (abebooks.com is one such site).
I'm just weird enough to wish that I had the funds and time to visit bookstores all over the country. What fun that would be—were it not for writing groups, grandchildren and volunteer obligations. But here at home you can be a bookstore fan as well. I always find peace with a cup of coffee and a book. Here's a chance to win a gift card AND a $3,000 contribution to your favorite book store. Indie publisher www.landmark/sourcebooks.com is conducting a "recommend your bookstore sweepstakes." Frankly, it's easier to locate the sweepstakes by doing a Google search for sourcebooks. The contest closes on Friday, Feb. 19. Their site also offers an annual review of book choices for the year, which may interest clubs hoping to preview what's coming up.
In a similar vein, www.readinggroupchoices is offering a gift certificate for books to readers who nominate their favorite recent books. What the heck? Give it a try.