Learn about the market for collectible books at Friends of the Library antiquarian book clinic

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on April 5, 2018

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Community members are invited to bring up to three books or manuscripts (no magazines, postcards or memorabilia)  on April 7 when the Friends of the Menlo Park Library is hosting a workshop about appraising and valuing old books featuring Bruce MacMakin of auction house PBA Galleries.

No books will be accepted for consignment, but you’ll learn a lot about the current market for collectible books. The workshop takes place from noon to 3:00 pm in the Downstairs Program Room of the Menlo Park Library.

“The community doesn’t really associate us with antiquarian and collectible books,” said Friend Henry Lesser, photographed with fellow Friend Carol Bickler. “The fact is, though, that we receive a fair number of donations each year in this category and much of what we receive isn’t offered in our store, at our sales, or online because we don’t have the space, and those are not the best sales channels for us to maximize value.

“Rather, we sell the higher-value items through auction or to dealers and do quite well for the Library that way. For instance, we recently sold through auction a rare signed copy of a famous novel for a substantial four-figure sum. While that was unusual, we do raise several thousand dollars a year in this category and they’re not all ‘old.’

“We’ve found a number of factors that lead us to believe we may have something of real value (always subject to the actual physical condition of our copy; frankly, some old books fall apart when you look through them and others would only be valuable to someone willing to pay “low” for it and sink money into rebinding): is it really old ; is it a first or early edition; is by a famous author; is it a well-established authority on some subject (even an esoteric subject); is it signed by the author or a well-known owner; does it have some other special provenance like an accompanying letter from the author; is it part of a set and do we have the complete set; does it have eye-appeal (old leather, marbled edges, gold lettering) And the list goes on. But it’s not enough that it’s old, and it’s often not enough that it looks good; it may be worn and still have value to a collector.”

The Friends are trying to broaden awareness that they have a team dedicated to this category and offer a good “home” for higher-value donated books. Explained Henry: “We take care of them, spend a lot of time looking them up, and do our best to find buyers for them who recognize their value. Our hope is to attract more donations in this category and also broaden the customer base.”

Slated for the future is a collectibles sale on May 12. “Our goal for that event is to demonstrate that we have interesting old books to suit the budget of anyone who likes to hold an old book in their hands.”

Photos by Robb Most (c) 2018

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