Shelf of old rare books


Is there treasure on your bookshelf?

Despite the growing popularity of eBooks raising questions over the future of their paper ancestors, rare literature and cult classics are becoming even more popular and commanding a fortune at auction.

If you find a rare book at home that you think may be worth something, here’s what to look out for: 


The older and rarer a book is, the more valuable it could be. First editions of successful titles, in other words the very first copies of the book made available, are considered the Holy Grail. Second editions may command value too, but only if the first edition is extremely rare. 

Good timing

Timing is everything - selling at the right time can add even more value to rare copies. For example, on the 400thanniversary of the death of Shakespeare, a copy of his First Folio was found in a stately home in Scotland. Only about 230 copies are known to exist – to give an idea of its value, a copy owned by Oxford University sold for £3.5m in 2003. 

However, the book doesn’t necessarily have to be 400 years old to have value at auction. A first edition copy from J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series, first released in 1997, fetched $37,000 on online bookseller AbeBooks.

Many first editions have also seen their value increased as a result of film adaptations being released.

Markings from the author

Copies that have notes or a signature from the author are also highly sought after. In 2018 a copy of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ inscribed by Hemmingway from his residence in Cuba in 1953 sold for over $16,000. 

A dust jacket

Rare book collectors Between the Covers say that for modern first editions after 1920, a dust jacket might constitute as much as 80-90% of the total value of a particular book – potentially even more for rare jackets on books published earlier than this. However, it is worth noting that putting a facsimile dustjacket on a book won’t add any additional value in the eyes of a professional dealer. 

Further common misconceptions  

The rare book market is not immune from times of recession or economic uncertainty.  

For the untrained (and perhaps eager) eye, it can be easy to wrongly assess an old book as rare or valuable. 

It is often presumed that misprints make a rare book more valuable, however this is only true for a small number of books. 

Rare books can go down in value. This can happen for a multitude of reasons; authors falling out of favour, failing to fulfil early promise or supply exceeding demand are just a few examples.

The availability to discover, research and purchase rare items on the internet has also affected the value of mid-market books. This transparency has arguably dispelled the myth that all first editions or older books are worth a fortune, and prices are likely to be adjusted accordingly. 

As with any collection, a good place to start if you are looking to invest in rare books is to target books you love or have an affinity for. That way you will still get pleasure from your time owning it, even if it fails to achieve your financial aspirations. 

Selling up

When it comes to selling, rare books have the advantage of not being liable for Capital Gains Tax if they are sold for less than £6,000.

Before going to sale it is important that you get your books and other prized contents valued by an expert, so you know what to expect when selling. 

Given the obvious fragility of a book collection, it’s also vital to make sure your possessions are covered with adequate insurance. NFU Mutual Bespoke Home Insurance can give you peace of mind that your items are covered, leaving you free to enjoy owning pieces of literature history.