Plus, what to look for in a first edition.

By Brigitt Earley
April 29, 2021
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Credit: DNHanlon / Getty Images

You've heard the stories about rare books being discovered, netting the unsuspecting owner hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars. If you're an avid reader with a bookshelf full of beloved titles in at least one room of your home, how do you know if your favored tomes could do more for you than provide hours of entertainment? Believe it or not, you don't have to have an antique book on your hands to net any significant amount of cash. There are plenty of titles published within the last forty years or so that are surprisingly valuable, says Joshua R. Mann, co-owner of B&B Rare Books in New York City.

Take Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, for example. Though many know the first Harry Potter book as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the later is the more well-known, and that's because the book has been through hundreds of print runs under this title, says Mann. But the first printing of the book was very small—only about 500 copies—and held the former title. Because of the name change, the series' eventual popularity, and the scarcity of those first run copies, any books with the original title are considered to be worth a great deal of money. How much? About $100,000 says Mann. While the vast majority of books on your shelf probably won't garner anything close to that, you may find a few collectibles, including banned Dr. Suess books. First editions of the author's earlier works, such as And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, could earn you around $10,000.

There are also a number of Stephen King books that might be worth at least a few hundred, or possibly even a few thousand dollars, says Mann. Think first editions—particularly any signed limited editions from the 70s and 80s—like Carrie or The Shining. Similarly, a first edition of A Time to Kill by John Grisham might be worth a couple thousand dollars because the initial print run was so small. Think you might actually have something on your hands? Here's what to look for.

A First Edition

Open the book to the copyright page, says Mann. For a book to be worth anything significant, you typically have to have a first edition copy from the original publisher. Generally speaking, for books printed in the last 40-plus years, you'll find this information on the number line, says Mann. "Number lines typically start with the number one and end with the number 10," he explains. "You want the number line to start with the number one—anything other than that probably won't work in terms of value."

An Author's Signature

The only exception? Later printings signed by the author. "That's a game-changer," says Mann. "Even if the book itself isn't valuable, the author's signature is worth something." Take other Harry Potter books for example: Any signed book by J.K. Rowling is worth at least several hundred dollars, he says.

A Dust Jacket

If the book was issued with a dust jacket, you absolutely need that dust jacket for the book to hold its value, says Mann. "A dust jacket often represents about 90 percent of the value of the book."

If your book checks all of these boxes, bring it to a local bookseller who can help you develop a valuation. They can also direct you to a preserver if you opt to hang onto your collectible. But in the meantime, keep it out of direct sunlight and away from high-moisture areas to keep the tome in tip-top condition.

Comments (2)

Anonymous
May 3, 2021
The section about the Harry Potter book is highly misleading. The first book was, and continues to be, published in Britain and Canada (and probably other English-speaking countries as well) as "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." So "any" book with that title is not at all likely to be worth $100,000. The writer was probably trying to say that a book from the first U.S. run might be worth that much--but that's not what was she actually said.
Anonymous
May 3, 2021
The section about the Harry Potter book is highly misleading. The first book was, and continues to be, published in Britain and Canada (and probably other English-speaking countries as well) as "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone." So "any" book with that title is not at all likely to be worth $100,000. The writer was probably trying to say that a book from the first U.S. run might be worth that much--but that's not what was she actually said.