How and where to sell "vintage" books?
March 24, 2005 7:35 AM   Subscribe

Where's the best place to sell "vintage" books, and how do I find out about pricing them?

I've got a collection of books, some 19th century, some early 20th, many with interesting and attractive bindings. Unfortunately we need to sell them as we're moving to a smaller house. Where would be the best place to sell these, and how would I price them (without using an expensive valuing service)? I also have many children's annuals from the 1960s, e.g. Rupert, Dandy, Beano. Any help would be much appreciated!
posted by tommyc to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know too much myself, but here is a similar question that might have some helpful answers for you.
posted by louigi at 7:50 AM on March 24, 2005

Tommyc, where are you? In NYC we have the Strand and Books of Wonder. As an ex-employee of the Strand (though not a book buyer) I want to warn you that they may not be worth as much as you think. Strand sells leatherbound 19th-century books of no particular worth by the foot to set designers and decorators, if that illuminates the issue at all.
posted by scratch at 8:30 AM on March 24, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks louigi, I got some good tips from that thread.

Hi scratch, I'm actually in London, England so I'm not planning a visit to the Strand any time soon (as much as I might want to). Also I'm guessing many of these books will have an appeal to Brits because of their "Englishness"
posted by tommyc at 10:43 AM on March 24, 2005

ABEBooks as referenced on the thread louigi linked above.

I've not sold there myself (I sell records on GEMM), but the function is the same - a well-designed database with books from thousands of individual sellers. Use the database to figure out how to price your titles based on condition. If it's not in there, it's either very low value or very rare.
posted by omnidrew at 10:57 AM on March 24, 2005

Best answer: 1. Casual sellers should know ABEbooks requires you to download its software, apply online and pay a minimum US$25 monthly fee in order to sell through its sites. It may be worth it if you have a number of books to sell during that month, but it's probably not the way to go for a casual seller with only a handful of books.

2. The best way to find the value of a book online is to use Bookfinder, a search engine for buyers. It's not as well-known as ABEBooks but it's search strength is at least its equal, and in my experience often provides more comprehensive results, as demonstrated in this AskMe thread. Most major book search engines tap the same databases, but Bookfinder by default also lists books with similar titles, which can make all the difference when sellers' titles have slight variations. Remember, too, that asking prices are just that; the true value of a book might be significantly lower than the sometimes-overly-hopeful prices listed online. Still, it's probably the easiest way to get a general sense of the market for specific books.

Questions of condition and market interest, however, are best settled by also taking the books to a local used or rare book dealer. The store I work in routinely offers appraisals of small numbers of books for free when people come in and say, "I'm wondering how much this is worth." Ask around for reputable dealers nearby.

Overall, my suggestion would be to use Bookfinder to get a general sense of what other sellers are asking for similar editions, then take the books to a few of the more knowledgeable antiquarian bookshops in town to see what they'll offer. You'll then have to decide if you want to invest time and effort to list the books at an auction site. I'd estimate that if you go to an honest bookshop you'll be offered between 1/5 to 1/3 of what the owner expects to ask for it, depending on how much chance the owner thinks s/he has of selling the books to someone else. That's the tradeoff for asking a business with significant overhead to assume the risk that the books won't sell at all.

If you don't like that percentage, or are convinced the books are particularly collectible, then by all means try auctioning them yourself. I wouldn't be surprised if you eventually end up taking most of them to a shop, though.
posted by mediareport at 12:02 AM on March 25, 2005

(Oh, please take the fractions above with a huge grain of salt; book valuation is obviously a highly subjective procedure and different stores/employees may have widely differing opinions on the value of a given book. If you want absolute precision, do something else.)
posted by mediareport at 12:15 AM on March 25, 2005

Response by poster: You stars! Thank you all for your help!
posted by tommyc at 4:41 AM on March 25, 2005

No problem. There's really no substitute for calling around and then visiting used bookshops to get a sense of various dealers' competence and honesty. Some places might require appointments, although most U.S. stores I've visited don't.

[Btw, posting at 3am I missed the fact that ABE requires only that you convert your list of books "into an electronic format." If you use something like Excel, ABE can import it, and thus doesn't require that you use its own program. Sorry for the confusion.]
posted by mediareport at 6:13 PM on March 25, 2005

For British annuals such as the Beano, you might want to take a look at 26Pigs
posted by IndigoJones at 9:57 AM on March 26, 2005

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