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Caring for your collections: Getting a book valued

This guide will help you look after your own books and papers and explain how to get your books valued. It also provides information and links to resources about preserving digital material.

How the State Library can help

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. See 'What makes a book valuable' for a discussion of these. 

The State Library has many resources which can help people assess the value of a book, but staff are unable to provide valuations.

Expert advice is available from approved valuers or from secondhand and antiquarian dealers.

Although State Library staff are not qualified or permitted to value books they can assist you to discover more information about the books you are seeking to value.

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 may add to the sentimental attachment to a book. 

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.

Locating an antiquarian book dealer

Found in the Yellow pages under Secondhand Books and antiquarian. 

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. 

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.

The Cultural Gifts Program

The Cultural Gifts Program (previously known as the Taxation Incentives for the Arts Scheme) 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 (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 us.

Useful websites

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. 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, or the market in which the item was offered for sale.

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 those website listed above:

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

Secondhand or antiquarian catalogues

Whilst many printed secondhand or antiquarian book dealers' catalogues have become a thing of the past, replaced by online resources, the State Library still holds some of these catalogues, which can be found by searching the subject headings Catalogs, booksellers, Rare books catalogs (and by country eg Rare books Australia catalogs)

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:

  • 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.