Monthly Archives: January 2013

Which Old Books are Valuable? Part II: Paperbacks

PAPERBACK-articleLargeAny estate you inherit probably has a good number of paperback books in boxes or on shelves. Sorry, used paperbacks have little monetary value. Libraries, Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or other local charitable service organizations will accept used paperback books and resell them for fifty cents or so. Veteran’s Administration hospitals appreciate current paperbacks and audiobooks–since their patients are mostly male, the preference is for thrillers, mysteries, and novels appealing to young men rather than romance or chick lit. (Although there are female patients too, so a few of those might be welcomed.)

You can swap paperbacks you don’t want for other paperbacks you do want through online book exchanges such as There is no charge. You log in your books by their ISBN number and when someone requests it, you can request one you want. You pay only outgoing postage; postage for books sent to you is paid by the sender.

Always ruffle the pages of a book before you sell or toss it. As crazy as it sounds, some people stash money, bonds, or important papers between the pages.

What Sort of Books are Valuable? Part I: Hardcovers

Virtually all estates will include books. Which are valuable and which are throwaways?

booksWhether you are breaking up an entire private library full of antique, gold-embossed, leather-bound volumes or dealing with a few boxes of dusty old paperbacks in the attic, there are often several generations of books in a household, handed down over the years. Some may be rare or collectible. Most will be neither. For some people, books are precious in their own right and throwing them away is heresy. Fortunately, many of the books you inherit can have a future if you can take a little time to deal with them.

imagesA rule of thumb—paperback books seldom have any monetary value, but hard covers, especially if they are first editions or have local interest, are in decent condition, and have original dust jackets, can surprise you.  Leather-bound books have value, even if it is only the cosmetic sort. Interior decorators often buy these for their clients.

If the estate includes a lot of hardcover books, call a local book dealer to come to the house to browse for valuable volumes while they are still on the shelves and easy to see. You’ll find such people listed in the Yellow Pages under “Books” or online at Look for someone who advertises that he buys old books, not national chains like Barnes & Noble. Your local book dealer is interested in hard cover books, old and new, and will make you an offer on the ones he can re-sell.

Throw out or recycle obsolete textbooks, old encyclopedias, phone books, and Reader’s Digest Condensed Books. Box the rest and deliver to the local public library. The librarians won’t want many of your books for their own shelves, but most libraries have a support group called the Friends of the Library that sells donated books for a dollar or so and uses the proceeds to buy current titles. Libraries may accept some new hardcover books—say, less than five years old—for their own shelves. Small community libraries in rural areas are more likely to appreciate your donation than larger, better-funded institutions. Some libraries resell books to a group that comes by periodically to examine all donations for Internet sales potential. Even the books no one wants are usually recycled for their paper content rather than sent to the landfill.

Goodwill, the Salvation Army, or other local charitable service organizations will accept used books for resale (not the categories listed in the previous paragraph). Large print and audiobooks of all sorts are eagerly received by nursing homes and retirement centers, especially the publicly funded ones that have little left in their budgets for amenities. Call these institutions first to make sure they are equipped to accept donations. If your loved one was living in a retirement community when he or she passed away, that facility may have a library for residents that would accept some of your books.

A historic house museum might appreciate books that date from the same period as the house for use as exhibits on their shelves or as research material in their library.

If you find a book you think might be valuable, check to see whether it is a first edition. This is a bit more complicated than it sounds, as the first edition means the first printing, and there might have been more than one printing in the first year. A little research helps: books such as First Editions: A Field Guide for Collectors of English and American Literature can give you information to help you determine whether you have something valuable. But characteristics other than first edition status determine value. Does your book have its original dust jacket? Was it signed by the author? Is its binding broken? Are the pages stained, folded, torn, or marked up with pen or pencil? Is it a book club edition? Bookman’s Price Index, Huxford’s Old Book Value, and other price guides tell you what similar books have sold for recently. You might find those in a large public library, but more probably in a university library. Another way to look up current prices is to use,,,,, or to see what your book is selling for online.

Always ruffle the pages of a book before you sell or toss it. As crazy as it sounds, some people stash money, bonds, or important papers between the pages.