Make Money Collecting Things Rare and Old Books

About how to make money collecting rare and old books, where to buy and sell books for your collection.

How to Make Money Collecting Things


A Chinese named Ts'ai Lun invented paper around 105 A.D., but the first European paper mill wasn't built until 1276. Over 150 years later, a German named Johann Gutenberg was credited with introducing movable type. The first books of popular literature in England were published by William Caxton from 1477 to 1491. Books proliferated through the 17th and 18th centuries as the printer's art improved and literacy spread. About 1796, a Bavarian printer stumbled upon the principle of lithography, the basis of modern illustrations.

Books were a popular form of entertainment during the Victorian age. Fiction, particularly that of novelists such as Dickens, captured the public's imagination. The 1800s also brought two important developments: the crude "penny dreadful," forerunner of the cheap, mass-produced paperback novel, and the circulating library, both of which helped to establish reading as a common pastime.

Though many bibliophiles--book collectors--spurn paperbacks, these cheap books have become the mainstay of the publishing industry, and their popularity has increased dramatically in the last 30 years. Their mass production and comparatively low price have made more books available to more readers than ever before.

Where to Look for Old Books

That depends on what you're looking for. If you're interested in antiquarian books--those printed before 1800--you should visit rare book dealers and book auctions. But take along a fat wallet.

Modern books can be found everywhere--in used-book stores, in attics, behind walls. Because of their popularity and availability, books are always lying around somewhere, and people are often glad to get them off their hands.

As a book collector, you should limit your interest to certain genres, themes, or nationalities of authors: science fiction, W. W. I, series books, cinema books, Russian literature, utopian literature, etc. Normally, the most valuable books are first editions. Subsequent editions generally have little value, and book club editions are worthless.

Books need protection from glue-and paper-eating insects, from dampness, and from excessive dryness. They should always be stored upright and handled carefully.

The beginner with a small budget may want to specialize first in paperback books, for many top writers today got their start in paperback, probably because paperback houses are often willing to invest in avant-garde writers and offbeat genres. H. P. Lovecraft, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, John D. MacDonald, and other popular writers are best known from their paperback books.

Prices (1977)

The limited and signed first edition of In Cold Blood (1965)--one of 500 copies signed by Truman Capote--was selling for $85; a first edition of An American Tragedy (1925), numbered and signed by Theodore Dreiser, was selling for $150; a first edition of Prufrock, signed by T. S. Eliot on the title page, was selling for $1,000; a first edition of Tales of the Jazz Age, signed by F. Scott Fitzgerald and dated Sept. 27, 1922, sold for $800; a first edition of The Gates of Wrath, signed and numbered by Allen Ginsberg, in mint condition, was selling for $50; a first edition of White Fang, signed and dated by Jack London, was selling for $400. And in April, 1978, a Gutenberg Bible fetched $2 million at auction.

Where to Sell Books

Nearly every town and city has a used-book store. But for more information, see or subscribe to AB Bookman's Weekly, P. O. Box AB, Clifton, N. J. 07015. A year's subscription is $25.

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