Old Books Hold Hidden Treasures
With the high-profile television show, "Antique Road Show," and the high-rolling buying and selling frenzy on the e-Bay Internet site, many people are re-examing the dusty old boxes of books inherited from Uncle Bert or Grandma Mildred that have been languishing for years in the basement, garage or attic. Surely there must be at least one hidden treasure there somewhere, but how does one find out such information? Simple. Look in the Yellow Pages under "Book Dealers - Used, Rare," start making calls, and ask the poor bookseller who answers to evaluate the books, sight unseen, over the telephone. The world of rare, collectible and antiquarian books is complex indeed, and it often takes a lifetime to get beyond basic knowledge. However, there are some general guidelines that can be followed by anyone from the avid reader to the compulsive collector.
Condition, condition, condition ... this cannot be emphasized enough. Any defect whatsoever lowers the value of a book, especially with modern first-edition fiction and literature. The collector of modern first editions expects the books to be absolutely perfect, so these books must look like new, unread copies, with pristine jackets. This applies to older volumes as well. Books with water damage, mold, mildew, smoke odors, discoloration, insect damage, cobwebs, text underlining, ink notations, lengthy inscriptions or torn jackets have little or no value.
Book-club editions are nice reading copies but have no value as collectible editions. Generally speaking, it is fairly easy to spot a book club edition, there is no price on thedust jacket, and frequently there is a "slug" indentation on the lower right-hand corner ofthe rear cover.
Dust jackets are essential, especially with fiction and literature. They must be present and absolutely perfect. There should be no sign that human hands ever touched the cover of the book.
Buying and maintaining books can be relatively simple, and by following a few guidelines and practicing preventive maintenance, a good solid library of quality books can be built with little effort. When buying a new book, buy a first edition whenever possible. With the enormous print runs of some titles these days there are literally millions of copies available, and a first edition doesn't have a higher cost when the book is first published. Some publishers will state on the verso (left side) of the title page if a book is a first edition, and some publishers run a string of numbers instead. If all the numbers starting with 1 are present, then the book is a first printing because the numbers are knocked off on subsequent printings. Wrap the jackets in protective mylar covers. These protectors are made of an inert, acid-free material and cost just a penny piece. Most out-of-print and antiquarian booksellers use and sell these covers.
Lose the pencil and the highlighter. Read the book and mark up the cheap paperback edition. Don't write your name in ink inside the book, don't write a lengthy inscription inside the cover and don't paste a bookplate inside the book. Do that to book club editions.
If you live in an older home, don't shelve the books on an outside wall. The dampness will come through from the outside and attack the dark bindings, and after a few years, the books will be mildewed. If you live in a humid climate don't store your books in the basement, in cardboard boxes or in the garage. Once again, the dampness will destroy your volumes -- leaving you with science experiments.
Buy the books you like, and buy copies in good condition so you will still be happy to have them on your shelves in five years. Keep them in a fairly stable climate, out of direct sunlight, away from flooding basements and leaking roofs, and over time you will have a handsome collection of books that could be potentially worth some money.