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Getting Started as a Book Hound: Where Love of Antiques and Books Meet

By Edited Nov 4, 2015 0 0

What Is a Book Hound?

Being a book hound to me is great.  It's one of my favorite passions and hobbies, in part because it combines literature, antiques, and sometimes even bookbinding all in one.  What is a book hound?  "Book hound" is a general term that is given to individuals who look to make some money on the side, or make a full time living, through finding valuable antique books (often first editions) cheap and then selling them for closer to their full retail value.  

A book hound can come in many forms.  This can be an owner of an antique book store or used book store, someone who specializes like a picker in rare books, going to estate sales, garage sales, used bookstores to find diamonds in the rough and then sell them either online or to actual brick and mortar antique bookstores.  There are also many book hounds who do this as a part time gig: collecting antique books for themselves from authors they love and then selling others on eBay, Abebooks, or an occasional sale to a bookstore or collector.  

The thrill of the hunt is always there for an antique book collector who is looking for the next big score.  Part of what I love about searching for rare first edition books is you never know which one will pop up.  Boxes of books might have a hidden treasure or they might have nothing at all, but that's part of the fun...and once in a while it's really neat grabbing a book for a nickel or dime that shows the words "Aeroplane" or "Moving Pictures" on the cover.  Living history - and one that always leads to more books, more authors, more studying of books, and learning even more about many of my favorite writers of all time.

If you love history, literature, authors, antiques, or all of the above - you may absolutely love what book collecting has to offer you.  Buying and selling antique books is popular and it's not hard to see why.  One of the first things you'll need to think about is getting yourself a couple of excellent price guides to start off.

Solid Book Value Guide for Beginners

Antique Trader Book Collector's Price Guide
Amazon Price: $24.99 $5.22 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 4, 2015)
One thing you'll quickly find out if you pursue your hobby/passion/obsession with becoming a book hound is that you will need more than one rare antique book collector's guide. There is no perfect beginning guide, but in my personal experience I liked having several basic guides that helped me get started, especially early ones that have pictures, descriptions of how to get started, and obviously specific details both on extremely rare first edition books but also those that are common enough that you might be able to come across them here or there. A first edition of "Thinner" as Richard Bachman or "The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway might not be as interesting as finding a first edition of "To Kill a Mockingbird" but you're much more likely to find the first two as an amateur rare book collector.

The Things You Must Learn to Look For

There's too many books to always know everything about all of them - but there are literally tens of thousands of great antique books out there, and you'll be amazed how much you can learn while studying books over the years!  There are some basic skills, however, that every would be antique book hound needs to pick up on in order to get up to speed on appraising rare book values.  While this is hardly a comprehensive list, let's look at some of the things that consistently come up when trying to judge the value of an older tome or first edition:

  1. Copyright date and print number - This is an important one.  Depending on what era you're looking at the way this is printed can change, but the most valuable collectibles are first printings of first editions.  There are two common things to look for: one is a stamped "First Edition" with no other information, so a "First Edition - 1926" means it's a good chance it is a first printing. The other is to look for a series of numbers counting down from 10.  If the count goes all the way to 1 then you have a first printing. Second printings and on are rarely worth much of anything.
  2. Type of damage - The type of damage any particularly old book shows makes a huge difference.  Any water damage or mold damage will plummet the value of a book especially since that can not be fixed or repaired the way that say a minorly loose binding could be.  
  3. Dust jackets matter - You will want to know that with many modern books (think early 1900s and on) the majority of value with a first edition comes with the condition of the dust jacket.  This is because the dust jackets are extremely rare, show the cover art, and in great condition they make a book stick out.  Prime example: it's easy to find a copy of Main Street by Sinclair Lewis is worth $25,000 with a Near Fine dust jacket, $1,500 for a good dust jacket, and less than $50 for a great first edition with no dust jacket.
  4. Common grades - There are common grades given to help determine the value of a book and its dust jacket.  In descending orders grades are: As New, Fine, Near Fine, Very Good +, Very Good -, Good, Fair, Poor.  There are some grading systems that dilenate NF+, NF, and NF- as well.  You'll want to learn about these grades and what red flags move a book down the ranking scale.

While there are plenty of skills that come with knowing these things - being able to identify what type of damage is done to the spine, what's repairable versus what's not, these are the basic skills you will keep honing over time to learn more and more about grading antique books and determining their value.

Another high quality beginner's guide for book collecting

Book Finds: How to Find, Buy, and Sell Used and Rare Books
Amazon Price: $15.95 $4.90 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 4, 2015)
This is another guide that I think is a great beginner's guide. As I said before you'll find you'll want several, and if you really dive into collecting books as a great passion don't be surprised if over time you find yourself with an entire library of books together that will help you to identify a wide variety of books and find their value.

Great Discoveries

One of the best things that has come out of being a book hound for me are the discoveries you make.  For example Sinclair Lewis is an author I greatly admire, whose works had an amazing influence on many classic authors.  He was the first American author to win a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize for Literature, and is the only author to actually turn down the Pulitizer Prize he won.  Steinbeck named him as a huge influence, and in his day he was greater than Fitzgerald and up there with Hemingway - and actually helped pave the way for many authors who came after him.

The reason I know so much about him?  Like so many others I mis-took him for Upton Sinclair (if you don't think this is common, just look at how many searches there are for "Sinclair Lewis Jungle" in Google each month).  After studying up on Lewis I read many of his works, but I found out about him because of the list of books in a price guide ranging from the more recent worth little more than the cover value to the older ones worth many hundreds of dollars even without dust jackets.

Knowing about Sinclair Lewis all came from picking up a guide - many other books, many discoveries about authors and how the greats really got started (hint: pretty much NONE were overnight successes) and much more.  Diving into the world of valuable antique books connects with so many other fields - it's a love and a passion you'll never regret taking up!

Three books is what I started with

Instant Expert: Collecting Books
Amazon Price: $14.95 $9.63 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 4, 2015)
Instant Expert - maybe not so instant but a lot of research can get you up to speed quickly and help you learn exactly what you need to know in order to really speed up the process and start enjoying the benefits that come from learning how to identify, find, and buy rare antique books for sale afterwards.

Not all antique books look like this - but they're beautiful, aren't they?

Picture antique collectible books
Credit: Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antique-books-woodward.jpg

This picture is public domain in the United States due to time frame.

Good Basic First Video on Finding Rare Books

Covering Other Aspects of Modern Book Collecting

Modern Book Collecting: A Basic Guide to All Aspects of Book Collecting: What to Collect, Who to Buy from, Auctions, Bibliographies, Care, Fakes and ... Investments, Donations, Definitions, and More
Amazon Price: $14.95 $8.16 Buy Now
(price as of Nov 4, 2015)
When it comes to collecting modern books, there's more than just identification and this book does a very nice job of covering over all those important details of becoming a successful book hound.
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