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August 25, 1998

Book Collecting

by Dee Entrekin

Appraising Books

An experienced book appraiser, upon viewing and estimating the number of books in an average home library has a good idea of its value. These books, numbering approximately 500 to 1,000 copies, look familiar to the appraiser.

In the typical home library, there are both paperbacks and hardbacks in both trade and book-club editions of fiction and nonfiction. Included are books on popular subjects, a few references, a set of encyclopedias, a dictionary, a bible, National Geographic or Time Life series, cookbooks, a few gardening, how-to and art books, several coffee-table books, and possibly an obscure book here and there. There could be some sets of literature, leather-bound or cloth. Most of the books will have been published within the last twenty or thirty years.

The appraisal of books at current fair market value is what a dealer might pay. Replacement value is usually what an insurance company will pay the insured for damaged or destroyed books. For a written appraisal, the books must be categorized, itemized, and evaluated in some manner. First, an overall count is made. Then the books are subgrouped according to value.

Generally, the appraiser begins by grouping the books of least value. These include paperbacks, textbooks, condensed books, and book club editions. The current fair market value on these may average about 50 cents each if a buyer can be found. The low market hardback fiction and nonfiction follows at about one to three dollars each. These groupings continue until the fiction and nonfiction groupings are completed. The process continues for the art, reference, travel, etc. until those books remaining require individual listings.

The appraiser then lists collectible first editions, exceptional leather-bound volumes, and other books with values over a certain amount, possibly $15-$25. When this is done, the appraiser can present the owner with a reasonable estimate of current fair market value.

The written appraisal should state whether it is based on current fair market value or replacement value. The report should be clear and accurate, including the work-sheets substantiating the overall appraisal. Those books listed individually should be appropriately described, giving auction records, price guides, or reputable dealers' catalogs that justify the values given. Sometimes experts disagree about values, but the work-sheets should reveal the basis of an appraisal and the integrity of the appraiser.

Insurance companies generally require an appraisal of books at replacement value for their files. The easiest and least expensive way to obtain this appraisal is for the owner to make a list of all books worth $25 or more. For each book, list the author, title, publisher, place, date, edition, and a brief description. Leave space on the right margin for the book dealer to add the appraisal prices. Then, take your list to a reputable dealer to get an estimate of his charges for appraising the books for replacement purposes. The dealer will have to view the books, but the cost is considerably lower if an itemized list as described is available. The remainder of the books, those hardback books that are not text books or book-club editions and valued under $25, should be counted by the owner and listed at possibly $10 each. The insurance company may have guidelines the owner can follow on these books.

Many factors affect the value of a book. The importance of the work, its scarcity, collectors' interest, its edition, condition, binding, and any inscriptions all play a role in the valuation of a book. Antiquarian book dealers commonly appraise books published in this century. If the books or manuscripts are older or of a special nature, inquires regarding their evaluation should be directed to a dealer specializing in the same material. A collectible book dealer will try to help you find the right appraiser.


Dee Entrekin owns Entrekin Book Center.