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Ex-libris-publica depreciation of rare/valuable books
October 25, 2012 2:26 PM   Subscribe

I saved some interesting books from being thrown out by my public library. Apparently they were discarding part of their local historical collection. I grabbed a bunch that looked cool/interesting and it turns out one or two of them have sold online for decent sums. I'm not interested in selling any of them (they are cool!) but I am curious as to how their ex-libris-publica condition affects their worth.

They all have spine labels with call numbers and barcodes and stuff on the outside, writing (in pencil) on the title pages, and sometimes they're stamped with the name of the library (various places like on the edge of the book or on one of the blank pages in the front). They've all got WITHDRAWN stamped on them too, though sometimes it's only on a sticker or box.

Some of them have been repaired extensively, one even to the point of having a custom-built archival box. Inside that box the book is literally falling apart, though still totally readable. Some of them are in excellent like-new condition aside from the library markings. Several are on the spectrum between.

So, out of curiosity, in the rare & valuable book market what sort of standing would these books have compared to non-publica editions in similar condition?

Subquestion: I'm a total bibliophile and have a hard time wrapping my brain around actually selling any of these titles, even if they're not worth a tiny fraction of non-WITHDRAWN editions. But I am interested in learning bindery and book repair. If I were to practice on other throwaway books from the library (it seems a never-ending stream!) and get really good at repairing this sort of ex-libris-publica destruction would the value of my collection benefit from my efforts?
posted by saguaro to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I realize that my question reads contradictorily:
one or two of them have sold online for decent sums.
vs.
I'm not interested in selling any of them

Allow me to clarify: I've seen listings for non-library editions that match the ones I have on websites like abebooks and ebay while just looking up information about that particular edition of each of the books I saved. I haven't sold any of the ones I brought home.
posted by saguaro at 2:32 PM on October 25, 2012


Let me ask to clarify this as well: you know that the worth of a used book is pretty much entirely dependent on its condition, right? So the one that's falling apart in a custom-made box, though readable, is basically unsellable (unless it's a First Folio or something).
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:36 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


That particular title is rather rare, middling old, and a first edition of a Beloved American Dead White Guy's first published work. I bought it for a song, so I guess that's what it's worth, but my real question is 'outside of a library how many verses of the song does that WITHDRAWN stamp juuuust edging off the sticker on the front cover lop off?'

Yes I understand that an old/rare book's monetary value is based on its condition, but given two books in similar condition save, say, a sticker on the front and a withdrawn stamp on the blank page inside—what's the discount? Is it worth repairing? Those are my questions.
posted by saguaro at 2:44 PM on October 25, 2012


Library Editions are worth half.
posted by bensherman at 2:44 PM on October 25, 2012


> Library Editions are worth half.

Is that a professional judgment (i.e., are you a bookseller)? My impression is that they're generally worth a lot less.
posted by languagehat at 2:46 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sorry to threadsit. But here's another specific one and then I'll disappear.

One of these is a Limited Editions Club printing, individually numbered. It is in comparable visual condition, save the library stuff, to another of the same printing that sold recently on abebooks. I could pull the stickers off the bindings and erase the pencil markings inside and it would be indistinguishable. But even with that, if I were interested in selling it as-is (I'm not—it's huge and fascinating and going to take me decades to read)—but if I was interested... it would be valued at a lot less than half?
posted by saguaro at 2:50 PM on October 25, 2012


If I were to practice on other throwaway books from the library (it seems a never-ending stream!) and get really good at repairing this sort of ex-libris-publica destruction would the value of my collection benefit from my efforts?

Extremely doubtful. Go to the library and look at a guide to book values. Collectors value books because they are in good condition (think comic book collectors). Your ex-library books don't qualify for this market.
posted by goethean at 3:15 PM on October 25, 2012


Condition will dramatically affect the value of your books. Those library stamps etc will render them effectively valueless - except in so far as they might sell to people who don't care about the value and are looking for sentimental or very cheap purchases (i.e $50 or under these days).

Unless your book is something truly rooly, rooly exceptional (e.g first print run that was limited to 200 copies of one of the biggest authors of all time, of all time!), than it is not worth much. Hell, minor foxing can dramatically the lower the value of books. Names on the inside, bashed up spines, stamps etc etc have a huge impact on price, in my experience.

Can you confirm a) that you're looking at sold prices for the books in question? Be aware that it's incredibly common practice to list rareish books online at simply outrageous prices waiting for that one sucker who will buy. (strangely, the rise of abebooks has not greatly diminished this practice despite the fact you can now see just how outrageous those prices are).

Mefite Justinian is somewhat of a rare book collector and he may be along in due time to add his perspective.
posted by smoke at 4:09 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Several decades ago Brooklyn Public Library sold off a lot of its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books, which were so heavily disfigured with library stamps that they introduced a new descriptive term to the antiquarian book trade. You don't see it much any more, but dealers used to refer to ex-library copies as being 'severely brooklyned'.

I don't object to ex-library copies, because I like owning books that have passed through many hands. But their resale value is generally very small, and rebinding them will not add to their value. Never mind what they're worth; just enjoy owning them. As A.N.L. Munby wrote of his collection of 'cripples': 'their modern bindings are sound; they can be lent to friends, put in one's pocket and taken up the river; and if they fell into the water it would not be the end of the world'.
posted by verstegan at 4:09 PM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


I work in a used book and record store. Ex-library is the Kiss Of Death for almost every book; folks just do not buy them for more than a dollar, in my daily experience; serious collectors almost always pass them over for non-ex-library copies, and when we're trying to determine the value of an unusual or rare book using sites like bookfinder.com, we routinely ignore all ex-library copies until we get to the 'real' books.

No offense to librarians, of course, but seriously: Kiss Of Fucking Death. Now, if you've got a first edition of Kerouac's On The Road then sure, an ex-library copy will be worth something. But I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of ex-library books I've paid cash for in the past six months, and count on the fingers of the other hand the number of ex-library books we've sold for more than a dollar in that time.

There will be fingers left over, too.
posted by mediareport at 6:02 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ok, that said, I should mention that we do sometimes manage to minimize or eliminate library markings enough to list a book online. You can carefully cut the strapping tape over the plastic that covers the dust jacket and sometimes salvage a decent dj, then run a heat gun on low gently over the stickers and use an exacto knife to slooowly lift, then heat, then scrape and lift the stickers off, and then use elbow grease and WD40 to remove what's left of the glue.

But it's still an ex-library book. Anyone with half a brain would be able to notice - the strapping tape leaves marks on the hardcover boards, the stickers pull off ink from the dust jacket, etc. - and we always mention that fact before listing one. You'd be foolish to try to pretend it's not an ex-library copy. But sometimes, if you're lucky, you can get an ex-library copy of a decently-priced book to look pretty ok in the right light, and find a person or two who wants the book but doesn't want to pay collectors' prices who'll lower their expectations about condition just enough to give you a chunk of change for an ex-library copy of something relatively valuable.

Sometimes.

But most times, you're looking at a seriously devalued book. Much more devalued than bensherman's guess of half.
posted by mediareport at 6:20 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


a person or two who wants the book but doesn't want to pay collectors' prices who'll lower their expectations about condition just enough to give you a chunk of change for an ex-library copy of something relatively valuable.

*waves* Hi! I'm that guy! You'll kindly let me know if you get a library edition of the Codex Seraphinianus?

Thanks to all so far for your sage and candid advice.
posted by saguaro at 7:45 PM on October 25, 2012


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