Are Book Collector’s Guides Worth the Money?

February 24, 2011 | Author: | Posted in Hobbies

The old book collecting maxim: “A book is worth what someone is willing to pay for it,” offers little satisfaction to the collector hoping to place a price tag on his or collection, whether for ego-satisfaction or in preparation for selling a book. Although a professional book appraisal offers the most authoritative information regarding the possible value of a volume, the average collector often chooses the less expensive, and with it, less reliable source: a price guide.

A price guide has several distinct advantages for the average collector: they are simple to use, relatively inexpensive (many may be found ranging between US $20-50) and usually offer pricing information for the more common books within a collecting specialty. For example, Collector’s Guide to Children’s Books: 1850-1950 by Jones and Jones sports a retail price of $13.95 and specializes in popular children’s books priced, with rare exceptions, for the average collector. On the other hand, Robert A. Wilson’s Modern Book Collecting, priced at US $60, offers estimates for “first books,” by nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers.

Despite its advantages, a price guide is not without two possible problems, one relating to how the guide’s author(s) have obtained their information and the second relating to how the collector uses the information he or she has been given.

In my opinion, authors of the most reliable price guides gather information from a wide variety of sources, including dealer catalogs, online auctions and traditional auctions. Unfortunately, one will occasionally stumble across a price guide that uses either auction records or dealer catalogs and, thus, lacks the balance and reliability necessary to be truly helpful to the book collector. In addition, the better guides’ authors have many years of experience handling, grading, selling and appraising books within his or her specialty.

Once a collector has found a reasonably reliable price guide, it is up to him or her to use the guide responsibly and take its finding’s with a grain of salt. In Book Collecting 2000, the Ahearns sum it up with the following comment: “The prices in this book are intended only as guides. We are not trying to be as specific as it appears. We are more concerned with indicating that a certain title in a certain condition is $50 rather than $500 than with indicating it is $50 versus $60.” May we as collectors have the wisdom to remember this.

So, are price guides worth the money? My answer is a qualified yes. Yes, if the estimates are based on a variety of sources, the author has significant expertise in his or her collecting specialty and the reader remembers that book values found in price guides are only estimates – no more and no less.

Samet Yahya Bilir is a freelance writer who writes about vacation and leisure topics such as Oslo top attractions and London landmarks and monuments .

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