Quick and affordable online appraisals of books & manuscripts

Communicate directly with a qualified books & manuscripts specialist and get a fair market valuation of your item, typically in 48 hours or less.

Quick and affordable online appraisals of books & manuscripts

Communicate directly with a qualified books & manuscripts specialist and get a fair market valuation of your item, typically in 48 hours or less.

Are old books & manuscripts valuable?

What is the difference between a book and a manuscript?

A manuscript is the earliest draft of a completed original work that an author submits to an editor or publisher or agency for publication. Before the invention of printing, books and manuscripts were hand-written and hand-illuminated, truly an art in itself. In the world of second-hand and rare books, a manuscript may specifically refer to any author’s work in his/ her own hand. 

A book, on the other hand, is a number of pages; made of papyrus, parchment, vellum or paper; bound together and protected by a cover, that depending on the age and origin of the book, could be composed of expensive materials like leather or gemstones. 

How are books and manuscripts valued?

There are many reasons for which art collectors and brokers value books. Factors that determine the value of a book are as follows:

Demand: This is the first and most important factor. Without demand, a book isn’t valuable and won’t be considered rare (since demand never exceeds supply). There are many books out there that only have a few copies in circulation but they are not considered rare. The reason for this is that they are not in demand. The age of the book is also not a factor in its rarity.

Availability: This is the next factor that determines if a book is rare, next to demand. If there is a high demand but limited availability for a book, then it is considered rare. There are also instances wherein there is sufficient amount of copies but they are available only in one location (which makes them difficult to buy for collectors). Some books may fetch a high value because they have gone out of print i.e. they are no longer being printed but are still sought by readers and collectors alike. Some of the most sought after out-of-print books of 2017 were Arranged Marriage by Chitra Divakaruni, Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Special Features: There are instances when books are published in more than one state. Some copies are therefore different, and more rare, than others. These differences are referred to as “points” and can impact the value and scarcity of said book. The copy of a book printed for the first time ever is considered a first edition book. Special or limited edition books are the copies of a book printed on a certain type of paper, or featuring a specially illustrated cover, or bound by a distinctive kind of binding. Limited edition books are generally printed in limited numbers and reserved or withheld from sale. Some of the most expensive manuscripts and books sold are usually First Editions or Limited Editions.

Association: Another factor that contributes to a book’s rarity is the association with the owner or author. Specifically, if the book contains the original signature or inscription from the author, then it will command a higher price as compared to similar books without the signature.

Physical Condition: An old book is worth more if its binding and all its pages/ contents are intact. Defaced covers, mutilated pages or missing illustrations can severely reduce the price of an antique book. Thus, be sure to take proper care of any books you inherit or own.

What is a "rare" book?

Since the invention of the printing press in mid-1400, countless numbers of books, documents, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets have been produced. However, only a few thousands among these would be considered rare by specialists. 

In the simplest terms, when the demand for a book exceeds its supply, it becomes a rare book. However, there is no single or easy formula to determine the rarity and valuation of books. 

Scarcity is not the only factor that determines the value or rarity of a book. It may so happen that the book you own is still easily available in the market but its contents and the physical characteristics are so distinguished that it may be worth a lot more than you could imagine.

What is a first edition book and how can it be identified?

A first edition is the first version of printing for a certain book’s commercial distribution. This is considered as the first printing of a book, for the purpose of book collecting. The first edition of a book is prized because this is the closest thing that a reader or collector can get to the source of the book. In most cases, the first edition also features the original cover art and typos. When collecting first editions, you need to be cautious about the ones that claim to be one (when in fact they are not). This is what happens when a book is printed and published in different countries. The books with the highest value are the first edition books printed within the native country of the author.

Due to the level of demand on first edition books, it is important to know how to identify them when collecting rare books. The most important clue you should be looking for is the printing of the words “first edition” on the copyright page of the book. You can also check the number line that is also located at the copyright page. Usually, if there the number one present in that line, then it is most likely a first edition book.
It is also good to match the date on the copyright page with that on the title page. If these two dates match, then you can guarantee that you have a first edition book in your hands.

Are old books and manuscripts currently in high demand?

It is clear that book collectors are growing by the numbers. As mentioned above, the fact that books are being printed less and are instead produced in digital copies these days make these books even more valuable. Many of the book collectors build up their collection less of a hobby but more as a form of investment. This is a bonus, though, for those who already have a fondness for book collecting. With the expected growth in demand in the market, you can ensure that you will make a huge profit over time, should you decide to sell them.

The condition and the rarity of the book itself can have a direct impact on the book value. For instance, if you bought a first-edition copy of a book in the 1990s for $20, that same book would now be valued at around $150 (within 10 or 20 years). The actual cost valuation will vary depending on the type of book, some could be valued more. While it is not entirely a large valuation, it is still a noteworthy investment for book collectors.


Lindsey Bourret is the Managing Director at Mearto. In addition to overseeing the daily operations of the business, she also enjoys sharing her extensive knowledge of the fine art and antiques market with our customers through our website, blog, e-newsletter and social media accounts.

Examples of online appraisals

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Pierre Bonnard Lithograph

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