Black Sea For Sale
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Ascherson, Neal
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Collectable Books - How to price them

Collectable books can be hard to value. This article gives some advice on how to price collectable books for re-sale.

If you have a few dozen items on your shelves, and you want to know what prices to ask for them in your first advertisement, then the easiest way to check prices is by searching a site such as this one for particular titles.

For many titles, you may find a number of copies for sale by different booksellers, and this will help you judge how much your own copy is worth. A check of a database can be made in a fraction of the time of a similar search through magazines and catalogues, although these are also worth looking at. Most advertisers will have some experience of selling, and all are anxious to avoid the two common mistakes of overpricing (and getting no response), and underpricing (being besieged with customers all wanting the same book).

If a book that you have for sale is quite often advertised - for example, Ian Fleming's "You Only Live Twice" - then you should have little difficulty in comparing the condition of your book with those advertised, and obtaining an estimate of its value. Very often, however, the item is seldom seen for sale. This is perhaps because it is very rare, or more likely because it is of fairly specialised interest. In this case, it can be very time-consuming looking through listings in magazines or on web sites to find copies of your book, which you may find vary considerably in price anyway.

An alternative is examining catalogues from other booksellers who specialise in your particular field. These can be ordered by sending a stamped addressed envelope in response to catalogue advertisements in book magazines and from booksellers on the internet. You may also find items that you would like to buy, as well as a useful guide to the value of your stock.

As your stock grows, you will probably find it useful to have some reference volumes and price guides on your shelves, to enable you to assess the value of your stock more easily. There are many price guides available in many different fields.

A handy price guide to 20th century titles is "Modern First Editions: their value to collectors" by Joseph Connolly (currently out of print). This gives a guide to the price of the works of many popular authors, as well as U.S. and U.K. bibliographies for most of the writers. A useful feature of the book is that prices are given in the range 'A' to 'Z' (from the cheapest to the most expensive), with the scale of values at the time of publication given on a free removable bookmark. Thus, as time goes on, this scale can be updated, enabling an approximate value to be placed on the book at a future date. This avoids the difficulty, to some extent, of a price guide being out of date as soon as it is published. It doesn't, however, take account of the meteoric price rise of some items such as "Watership Down", which is very difficult to predict.

"Lyles Printed Collectibles", published by Lyle Publications in paper-back has sections about children's stories, comics, magazines and annuals, alongside more unusual collectibles such as bus tickets and ocean liner menus. Black-and-white photographs are given, with a brief description and price beneath each item.

Of course, by its very nature, the book market is unpredictable, and so although many prices are likely to increase steadily over the years, there are occasional exceptions. An example is the set of "Giles" annuals, published by the 'Daily Express' since 1946. I was lucky enough to obtain a near-complete set about twenty years ago, when they could be bought for 30p or 40p each. The early annuals now fetch prices of 50 and more, and they don't look like falling in value. So, although current prices can be approximated by updating old values, you should be aware that this is not always true.

Another useful book is "Miller's Collecting Book" by Catherine Porter, published by Millers at 19.99. This provides general coverage of many fields, including first editions, spy novels, topography, childrens, illustrated, literature and so on. Of course, because of its general nature, it can only give a rough guide to the value of items not actually featured in the book.

The only truly accurate guide to pricing items is experience. I have had many items in stock which have been valued at 10 but which no-one wanted for 2. Conversely, some items are given a modest value, but can fetch twice as much in the market. As an example, "William" first editions by Richmal Crompton seem to be even more popular than the price guides suggest.

Some booksellers pitch their prices deliberately above average. This is not necessarily as bad for the collector as it might appear. It means that the bookseller is more likely to have a good stock of items that the collector is interested in, but at a higher price. Other booksellers deliberately undercut the market rate, usually because they are run on a tight budget and need a fast turnover of stock. It all depends on the bookseller and how he wants to run his business.

Finally, one thing that experience has shown me is that price is not necessarily the major consideration for collectors. Of course it is important, but I know that if I see a book advertised that I particularly want for my collection, a few pounds either way on the price is unlikely to affect my decision to buy it. This seems to be true for many other collectors; the condition of the book is often of greater importance.

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