Old Books: Not Really an Investment

Note: While this will crosspost to Facebook, I won’t be seeing any of the comments there for a few days, as I’ve left social media to avoid spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  If it matters to you that I see it before Saturday, best to comment on the blog.

Old books are weird. People often think they’re valuable, but the truth is, most books still in existence today were printed in enough numbers that they’re really not worth that much.  Of course, the older it is, the more likely it’s going to be rare, which increases the value, but unless we’re talking “Gutenberg Bible” or “Shakespeare’s Folio,” it’s probably not going to be worth much even then. Age alone is no indicator of value; much depends on the rarity and condition of the volume.

One of the silliest parts of old book buying is the differences between one version and another.

One of the old books I own, The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke, was printed in 1921. It’s worth about $8. The 1919 edition, on the other hand, is worth $1400, partly because only 1000 of them were printed.

Another book I own, printed in 1819, is “Prayers and Offices of Devotion for Families, and for Particular Persons,” by Benjamin Jenks, Rector of Harley, in Shropshire, England. This 196 year-old book is worth a grand total of $25. Other copies, from just a few years prior, are worth over $100.

Fortunately, I don’t buy old books for their value (I couldn’t afford to, if I did).  I just like holding a nearly 200 year old book and thinking about all the hands that have touched it over the years.  It’s a connection to generations of human lives I will never touch in any other way.

Published by Michael R. Johnston

Father of an eighth grader, high school English teacher, writer. Fifty years old and feeling almost every bit of it on some days, and not a bit of it on others. Based in Sacramento, California, USA

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