Extra Cash from Old Books

If you have a passion for ferreting out value in what others might dismiss as "junk," locating and selling old books is one way of earning extra cash.

| March/April 1985

Have you ever wondered what the old books in that attic trunk are worth? And what about those dusty volumes on the top shelf of Grandma's pantry?

Books such as these just might bring in a tidy little sum. During my first year of college, while working in a public library, I became interested in old books and in the market that exists for them. I discovered that getting the right book to the right person can be a profitable venture. And ever since, I've been making money in my spare time buying and selling old, rare, and out-of-print books to second-hand book dealers, who in turn sell them to collectors, scholars, and people interested in reading on specific topics.

If you, too, have a fascination for old books, and if you have a bit of detective in you, you may have the makings for a profitable part time home business. But first, you need to know what makes books valuable and who's willing to pay extra cash for them.

What Makes Books Valuable?

When you're talking in terms of collector-quality volumes, you can eliminate several categories right away: textbooks, old Bibles (they have sentimental value only), modern mass-market paperbacks, and book club selections.The latter are produced in such great quantities and with such inexpensive materials that most aren't worth more than a nickel or dime each, no matter where you buy or sell them (and no matter what some dealers may charge for them). A large number of such books might bring in a few dollars, but don't count on it.

Also, remember that just because a book is old doesn't mean that it's valuable. Many books over 100 years old may be worth only 10¢, while one that's less than 20 years old can cost over $50. A book becomes valuable not because of its age (except, of course, for those that are hundreds of years old) but because of who wrote the book and what it'sall about.

A famous author (such as Hemingway, Poe,Twain, Bellow, or Dickinson) can make abook valuable. A book that's the first of its kind is also worth money (Newton's book on gravity, Freud's first psychology book, a book on atomic energy published in the late 1930's, etc.), as are special, limited, or first editions. An author's signature on the flyleaf, the fact that a volume may have local or regional interest, and other such factors also determine the value of a second-hand book to collectors.

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