by Thomas Lee

#112, 14 January 2008

Determining the Fair Market Value of a First Edition Fiction Book

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The question dealers are most often asked by collectors is, "How much is this book worth?" We wrote our 20th Century First Edition Fiction: A Price and Identification Guide to answer this question. The value of any collector grade book is influenced by several factors, among them condition, rarity and demand. In our price guide we have captured the average selling prices for over 2,000 selected book titles by 145 of today's most popular fiction writers.

These prices are intended to be a reasonable starting point for estimating a book's value. The prices are listed in tabular form with six values being shown for each hardcover title and four for each paperback. The different values reflect the book's differing grades. The highest values are for books in "fine/fine" condition, and values go down from there to "good/good."

In our previous BookThink articles we discussed briefly how books are graded. (A more detailed discussion is contained in our price guide.) It's important to remember that the condition "fine/fine" refers to a book which is without any discernable flaws. In other words, this is a very nice book. Although internet ads for books in this condition are common, the number of books that actually achieve "fine/fine" condition is fairly small.

We occasionally have people telling us that the values in our price guide are high. We would hope that, with a little work and armed with the data that we provide, a collector can do better than the prices that we list. But we add one word of caution. Be certain that apples are being compared to apples. One only has to look at any online bookselling site and see descriptions such as "fine book in fine dustjacket with a one inch closed tear to dj rear panel and slight water stain to bottom page edges" to see that this can be a problem.

Kurt Vonnegut, who some refer to as the modern day Mark Twain and who passed away last year, broke through in the literary world in 1969 with Slaughterhouse-Five. Ten thousand copies of the first edition were printed by Delacorte Press. These sold out very quickly, and most early copies were read many times. The result is that very few "almost new" copies exist today. Our price guide shows the value of this title to be:

Fine/fine: $1,500

Fine/Near fine: $1,250

NF/Very Good+: $750

VG+/VG: $400

VG/VG-: $250

Good/Good: $100

This book is very, very difficult to find in either of the top two grades. Most "nice" copies that are for sale are, in fact, no better than VG/VG-. The rarity of the book in a high grade condition is reflected in the large premium that books in these conditions demand. Collectors are doing themselves no favor when they focus on the $1,500 price, then get a VG/VG- copy for $250 and think that they are getting a bargain.

Our price guide provides a good estimate of a book's value only if all of the steps described in our previous articles have been followed. That doesn't mean that there aren't bargains out there. There are plenty of them. But inherent in the way that many books are sold today (i.e through sites such as eBay) is the concept of risk/reward. When a buyer can't actually see a book, he is rewarded for the risk he is taking by getting the book for a slightly lower price. The secret is to be able to recognize a bargain when you see it and not to be confused by a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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