What are good places for buying first edition hardcover books?
August 12, 2010 4:08 PM   Subscribe

What are good places for buying first edition hardcover books?

The collector in me wants me to start up a collection of first edition hardcover fiction books. I don't care if the books are autographed, etc. I just want reasonably priced first edition hardcovers of classic books of the 20th century and possibly late 19th century. The maximum amount of money I'd pay on a first-edition hardcover book is probably $50, but I know some books, especially ones from the 19th century, probably wouldn't be able to be purchased for this price.

I currently purchase most of my first-edition hardcover books from Amazon.ca, but there must be other great sites out there for getting used hardcover books for a reasonable price.

Can you recommend sites, please?

posted by GlassHeart to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Powells constantly buys books, so they might be a good source.
posted by peep at 4:12 PM on August 12, 2010

posted by beagle at 4:16 PM on August 12, 2010

Have you checked a local used book store? The one near me weeds out first editions and has a special display for them.
posted by ghharr at 4:16 PM on August 12, 2010

Abebooks is your first port of call.
posted by Erasmouse at 4:17 PM on August 12, 2010

Alibris and AbeBooks.
posted by grapesaresour at 4:20 PM on August 12, 2010

Ebay - at least in Australia - has a lot. Remember, you get what you pay for; signed books that look too good to be true, generally are. This said, I have found the main problem is the opposite - people wildly overestimate what their books are worth.
posted by smoke at 4:39 PM on August 12, 2010

AddAll, which includes AbeBooks.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:52 PM on August 12, 2010

I like Bookfinder.com's interface.
posted by peagood at 5:09 PM on August 12, 2010

Try your local library. Many have used books for sale, and you never know what you might find! We get booksellers/collectors in all the time - it's amazing what $1 will buy.
posted by jenny76 at 5:11 PM on August 12, 2010

If you've just decided to start up a collection and have basically nothing, abebooks (which others have linked to) is a perfectly decent place to start.

However, you've said that you want to start up a collection of first editions of "classic" 20th and 19th century books but that you wouldn't want to pay over $50. Not to burst your bubble but these are not compatible desires assuming you aren't using a really idiosyncratic definition of the word "classic". So I think you probably need to come up with a more realistic focus for your collection.
posted by Justinian at 5:24 PM on August 12, 2010

For perspective, I looked at my shelves and randomly selected a couple books I think most people would accept as classic books of the 20th or late 19th century. Mine are reprints. Here is why:

Nabokov, Lolita: 1e would run you in the $2000-$5000 range depending.
Steinbeck, Grapes of Wrath: I couldnt even guess, but over $15,000.
Orwell, 1984: Maybe $10,000?
Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises. A real first edition, first printing? Many thousands.

You get the idea.
posted by Justinian at 5:36 PM on August 12, 2010

There are affordable classics -- I've seen a first Canadian edition of an L.M. Montgomery novel for $20. The US edition was earlier, but it was still a very fine book.

ILAB is the major international site for buying and selling rare and antiquarian books.
posted by jb at 11:35 PM on August 12, 2010

If you're already happy with Amazon, this script for Greasemonkey helps compare prices quickly. That said, I've had good luck with Abebooks. It comes down to practice, being able to read between the lines of the seller's description and knowing the history of prices over time. I find that putting want alerts for books slightly out of my price range teaches me a lot about this.

Speaking of price, there are many ways you can collect "classic" literature without breaking the bank (and Justinian is right to doubt your price cap). I have two ways to keep within my budget and still come up with fascinating specimens: one, I buy first edition paperbacks. Some people find 'em repulsive, but not only do they offer a greater challenge in finding mint condition pieces, but the variety of cover art can be astounding (especially if you include SF).

Two, horizontal collecting. Instead of trying for a large variety of authors and style, focus on something extremely specific. This can be anything: one author, one geographic area, one year... Personally, I'm collecting every signed edition of a particular sports figure's autobiography, and not only is it satisfying just finding another copy, but the row of identical spines are guaranteed to start a conversation any time someone peruses my library! "Whatthehellisthis?Whoneedstwelvecopiesof...?"
posted by Chichibio at 1:13 AM on August 13, 2010

« Older Memory in books and media   |   How do I write a program to analyze my data? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.