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Caring for your collections: Getting a book valued

This guide will help you look after your own books and papers. It will also explain how to get your books valued.

Useful websites

The internet is a huge resource, and one of the most popular internet sites in the world is Amazon which lists out of print books as well as the latest publications. As with everything on the internet, the authority of websites can vary, and in terms of valuing one's own books, the prices shown may be the asking prices not the achieved prices. Since 1997 the secondhand book dealers' market has been revolutionised by the internet, and printed secondhand book catalogues are much less common now. Some specialist internet sites are listed here.

Valuation of books

When trying to place a value on a book, it is important to remember that, like any other second-hand or antiquarian item, it has no absolute value. Its commercial worth, if any, will depend on a number of factors, including its condition, possibly its age, its rarity, its desirability as a collector's item, and whether or not there is any demand for such an item. Books are not necessarily valuable just because of their age. The State Library has many resources which can help people assess the value of a book, but State Library staff cannot give formal valuations. Expert advice is available from approved valuers or from secondhand and antiquarian dealers.

There are many reasons why people seek to value books

Trash or treasure Owners may have been left some books which look old, and wonder if they might bring in some money. Or they may be moving into a smaller place and don't know what to do with their books, but would like some money for them, or failing that, advice about who might like them.

Sentimental value Owners may have some books which they treasure, and don't want to sell at this point, but they may require some conservation work. Are they worth what it would cost?

Restoration Owners may want to have an idea of the value of their books in order to assess what sort of conservation work is appropriate.

Insurance Owners may want to seek a value on books for insurance or probate purposes, in which case this valuation must be done through an accredited valuer

Locating an antiquarian book dealer

Dealers in second-hand or antiquarian books are listed in the yellow pages of the telephone directory under the heading, Books secondhand and/or antiquarian, and there are many listed in Adelaide and the metropolitan area, and in some country centres. A dealer will not be able to give a valuation over the telephone, because the actual items and their condition need to be assessed first hand. However, an experienced dealer can often give a negative opinion over the telephone on the basis of a general description of the category of material under discussion. For example, a group of school books, Book Club editions of popular works and lightweight coffee table books are unlikely to be of value.

If required, a list of the books may be provided for the dealer. Information should be taken from the title page, not the cover, and should include the name of the author, the exact title of the book, the name of the publisher, and the place and date of publication. However, a dealer will need to look at the actual copies in order to determine their condition and value. Other lists and information about book dealers can be found in Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers website.

How the State Library can help

Although State Library staff are not qualified or permitted to value books, just as they are not qualified to offer a legal or a medical opinion in the context of a reference enquiry, what Information Desk staff can do is assist you to discover more information about the books you are seeking to value, and whether they are indeed trash or treasure. This guide can assist you to determine things such as how many editions of a work were printed and when, whether copies of a particular edition have appeared on the antiquarian book market, and many other interesting pieces of information which will add to the sentimental attachment to a book. Most of the resources listed here are held in the Library's Ready Reference collection near the Information Desk, and staff can show you these resources without delay.

In the case of evaluation for conservation purposes, you can make an appointment to see one of our Librarians responsible for rare books, who may be able to give advice in conjunction with a conservator. There are a number of book binders listed in the yellow pages under Bookbinders. As well, the government agency Artlab provides a fee-based conservation service.

In the case of valuing for probate or insurance, you will need to check with your insurance company for their policy. It may be desirable to keep a list of books, or a photocopy of title pages, and to separately insure valuable items over $1,000.

As a very general guide, books that may be in high demand include:

  • any book printed anywhere before 1500
  • books printed in England before 1640
  • books printed in America before 1800
  • books printed in Australia before 1850
  • first or best editions of important literary or historical works
  • books with illustrations by a collected artist
  • examples of important developments in the craft of printing.

Price guides

The Library has a number of publications which are price guides for books, and there are two different types: the auction record which can be thought of as the wholesale value of the book and the book dealers' price guide which lists the retail price of the book. The Library holds American, British (ceased in 1997), and Australian book auction records. These auction records are a general guide only, because the book in question must be comparable to the one described in the auction records, particularly with respect to quality of binding, general state of repair and the edition.

There is no such thing as a fixed value of objects such as books, or an established rate of declining value for years of wear as in car insurance. Prices may fluctuate from year to year or within a year depending on whether a particular item was in fine or used condition, or sold at a specialist auction attracting keen competition, or whether there was something interesting about it which was not noted in the auctioneer's catalogue entry. Sometimes variations are simply due to changes in the economic climate at the time. Auction prices are frequently wholesale prices, which may be recorded in overseas currencies, and will be affected by inflation. The overseas market is different from the Australian one, and Adelaide is different from Sydney, but sometimes local markets are better than national or international ones for certain sorts of items.

Overseas book sale prices

Current prices for out-of-print, used books and collectables can be obtained at AbeBooks which is a centralised resource for thousands of professional booksellers worldwide.

Older values can be accessed from:

  • American book prices current 1986 - 2004. Divided into two parts: Autographs & Manuscripts and Books which have realised at least A$65 at selected auction houses in the United States in particular, but also in Europe, England and Australia
  • Book auction records 1902/3 - 1997. An English publication which lists English language books which realised at least A$140 at selected auction houses during the year's season in the United Kingdom in particular, and also in the United States, Australia and South Africa.
  • Bookman's price index 1964 - 2004. An American publication which lists books priced at A$150 or more from antiquarian book dealer catalogues from the United States, Canada and the British Isles.

Valuation of Australian books

Australian and South Australian publications, even modest-looking items such as pamphlets, may be of value as collector's items. The principle is not to be deceived by an unimpressive appearance. A useful starting point is to check the bibliographic details in standard reference books, such as:

Australian book sale prices

  • Australian book auction records 1969/70 - 2006. Lists books published in and/or about Australasia, the Pacific, New Guinea and Australia which have realised A$45 or more at least once in the two year period covered by each volume. If a book does not appear in any of the book auction records it may still have value, but more likely it probably has little or no monetary value.
  • Guide to fine and rare Australasian books 1986-1995 by Brian Howes. Lists Australiana books priced at A$50 or over from Australian and New Zealand antiquarian book dealers' catalogues

The Cultural Gifts Program

One of the reasons people need to contact an approved valuer is to access the Cultural Gifts Program (previously known as the Taxation Incentives for the Arts Scheme) which encourages gifts of significant cultural items to public art galleries, museums and libraries by offering donors a tax deduction for the market value of their gifts, under Subdivision 30-A of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997. Donations must be accompanied by at least two valuations of the current GST inclusive market value, provided by approved valuers. The website includes a list of approved South Australian valuers. To discuss making a donation to the State Library under the Cultural Gifts Program, please contact the Library on (08) 8207 7250 or by email.