Commonly asked questions to help jumpstart your collecting experience!

A book's rarity is determined by several factors, including, but not limited to, its printing and publishing history, the number of copies printed or sold, the book's condition, presence of a dust jacket, signatures, age, the quality of the paper, and the type of binding. Notably, rarity does not necessarilty mean that a book is old (e.g., Harry Potter first and / or signed editions). Scarcity almost always plays a role in establishing rarity. For example, many books by well-known authors have very limited print runs for either a Limited or First Edition. Or, due to their age or general publishing condition, are more likely to be damaged or destroyed. This includes old children’s books, bibles, and cookbooks, which are often difficult to find in very good condition as they tend to be extensively used. With that said, while alll scarce books are "rare" in that there are few copies of or like them, not all scarce books are rare and valuable as determined by the market.

Antiquarian books are older books, typically those published before 1900, with some hundreds of years old. Books published after 1900 are commonly referred to as "Modern First Editions." Truly antiquarian books are often quite rare and scarce, and sometimes of great historical importance. With that said, not all antiquarian books are valuable per se, as a book's rarity in that sense has more to do with the book’s market value, where a book's age is but one factor among many.

An "edition" is defined as all the copies of a book printed from the same plates or typesetting. The numbered edition of a book typically stands as such until the book text is changed materially in some manner. Accordingly, there may be many printings of a first edition before a change in the text is made that is significant enough to require a notation that it is a Second Edition. (See RARE BOOK GLOSSARY and FIRST EDITION POINTS summary for more information.)

The "First Edition" of a title includes all copies of a book produced in its first and early printing(s) before a material change was made to the text or otherwise. As such, a first edition may have many print runs until a second edition is published. Unique to a first edition is the “First Printing” or “First Impression” of a book, which denotes the very first instance of a book’s publication. In rare book collecting, “First Edition, First Printings” are highly sought after by collectors and are often considered the most rare and valuable version of a book.

A "Limited Edition" is an edition where the publishing run is limited to a relatively small number of copies, usually a maximum of 1,500, (with many 500 and under). Limited Editions are typically numbered or lettered (e.g., "210 out of 500" copies), with many signed by the author and/or illustrator as well. Most limited editions, especially signed ones, contain a “limitation statement,” sometimes at the front or very rear of the book, (either after and before the endpapers). The limitation statement will note the total number of copies and, occasionally, it will detail the type of paper or binding of the printing as well.

Limited Editions are not necessarily first editions. Limited Editions are highly sought after not only because they are published in small numbers and tend to be signed, but also because they are often issued and bound in deluxe bindings (and sometimes with a slipcase to house the book). This contrasts with a book's "trade edition" that is published in greater numbers for general public consumption and usually with a dust jacket.

Yes, they are. Although first editions generally boast the most value there are exceptions. Indeed, in some cases collectors may desire and value a later edition equally or more than a first edition because it is special in some way. For example, the edition of The Wind in the Willows illustrated by Ernest Shephard (and signed by him), and published more than 20 years after the first edition and first printing, is as valuable and collectible to some as the 1908 first edition of the book. Indeed, many collectors will acquire both for their libraries.

The condition of a rare or scare book is one of the most important points contributing to a book's value. Copies in “fine,” "near fine," and "very good" condition, are typically the rarest and most valuable. This holds true for all books, but is particularly true for older titles that have survived the test of time and are well preserved. At Grinning Cat Books, unlike some other dealers, we don't typically offer books in less than in "Very Good" or better overall condition. With that said, condition is relative, especially for antiquarian books and other books that were puiblished using subpar bindings and/or paper, notwithstanding their age. (See our RARE BOOK GLOSSARY for more information on assessming condition points.)

Very important. Dust jackets are relevant primarily for "Modern First Editions" (books published after 1900); and they are important and valued due to their historical and artistic nature and the scarcity of them being in sound condition, (especially for early- and mid-twentieth century titles).

Originally designed in the mid-nineteenth century to protect a book in transit, those dust jackets were typically discarded upon the book’s safe arrival. In the early 20th century, however, dust jackets evolved from simple protective coverings to colorful illustrations and promotional aids. Their artistic designs quickly came to be appreciated as descriptive art integral to the book itself.

Consequently, dust jackets of post-1900 "modern" books are valuable because they appeared alongside the first appearance of the book and, as such, are considered part of a book’s original identity. Few early 20th century dust jackets have survived in very good or fine condition over the last 100+ years, making those books quite special and valuable.

Lastly, although Modern First Edition collectors may prefer a dust jacket, vintage books lacking a dust jacket are nonetheless highly sought after and collectible, (although they will sell for a fair amount less than copies of the same title with a dust jacket present and in top condition). For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald titles such as The Greast Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and his other famous books are quite rare and scarce in any condition. A first edition, first printing of The Beautiful and the Damned, with an original first or second state dust jacket in very good to near fine condition, sells for $25,000 give or take. In contrast, a first edition of this title lacking the dust jacket but in the same very good to near fine condition might sell for $4,000 (like the copy we have here). In some instances, collectors will buy the first edition book (or a set) and cover them with beautful, richly produced, facsimile dust jackets, and enjoy and display them just as much!

A “signed” copy of a book appears when an author, illustrator, or other person deeply involved with a book's writing and publication, personally signs the book with his or her name or moniker, and that signature stands alone, (although some signed books are accompanied by a unique author or artist drawing).

In contrast, an “inscribed” copy refers to the insatnce when an author signs a book with reference to another person. In general, the more peronal, authentic, and historical an inscription is the more valuable it is; especially where an inscription contributes to a particular book’s provenance or history. Indeed, inscriptions that include or reference significant historical figures, events, or locations greatly increase a book's rarity and value.

Many people ask us about the difference in value and desirability of book that is simply signed versus “inscribed.” In short, it depends. Sometimes an inscribed note is unremarkable and offered to an unknown person. In many instances, however, the note is to a person that the author knows quite well, to someone who is famous, or to someone strongly associated with the author’s life, the book’s content, publication, or overall story. These are known as “association copies.”

Some collectors do indeed prefer a book that is just signed by the author when the other option is a copy inscribed to someone unknown.

From our point of view, however, inscribed copies are worth just as much as simply signed copies. For example, inscribed copies may evince the author’s or illustrator’s personality in interesting ways, such as by the addition of a turn of phrase or a fun doodle. Association copies, as noted above, are always more highly valued. Regardless, the author or illustrator’s signature conveys value that will never diminish!

Generally speaking, award winning books typically add to the value of a book. Indeed, some collectors focus their efforts on select book award categories and winners (including runners up).

Below, we've listed a number of the most notable book awards and their focus. A more comprehensive list of literary awards and related etails can be found at the American Library Association Web site (www.ala.org) which links to many of the award sites. In addition, you can find additional award-based information at http://www.bookwire.com.

The Caldecott Medal: This award is made annually by the Association for Library Service for Children, (a division of the American Library Association), to the artist of the most distinguished picture book for children. The award was named in honor of Randolph Caldecott, a wonderful nineteenth-century illustrator. Learn more at www.ala.org/awardsgrants/awards/6/all_years

The Newberry Medal: The Newbery is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, (a division of the American Library Association), to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. The award is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Learn more at www.ala.org.

National Book Award: This is an annual award given by the National Book Foundation for the Best Fiction novel of the year. Learn more at www.nationalbook.org

PEN/ Faulkner Award: This award was established in 1980 by writers to honor their peers. Currently the largest juried award for Fiction in the United States, the award is named in honor of William Faulkner, who used the money from his Nobel Prize to establish an award for promising young writers. Learn more at www.penfaulkner.org

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards: Given annually to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values. The award commemorates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honors his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue her husband's work for peace. Learn more at www.ala.org/awardsgrants/coretta-scott-king-book-awards

The Nebula Award: Awarded annually by the Science Fiction Writers of America. Learn more at www.nebulaawards.com

The Hugo Award for Science Fiction Achievement: The Hugo is named in honor of Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the first professional science fiction magazine. The winner is chosen by a mail vote by the attending and supporting members of each World Science Fiction Convention. Learn more at www.thehugoawards.org

The Edgar Awards for the Best and Best First Mystery Novel(s): The Edgar is an annual award named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. Learn more at www.mysterywriters.org

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction: Joseph Pulitzer, a publisher of the New York Globe, established the Pulitzer Prize through an endowment to Columbia University. The prizes are awarded annually. The Fiction Award is given for fiction in book form by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. Learn more at www.pulitzer.org

Pulitzer Prize for History: The Pulitzer Prize for History is for a distinguished and appropriately documented book on the history of the United States.

Pulitzer Prize for Drama: The Pulitzer Prize for Drama is for an American play, preferably an original, that deals with American life.

Pulitzer Prize for Poetry: The Pulitzer Prize for Poetry is for a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author.

The Man Booker Prize: Formerly the Booker Prize, the Man Booker is awarded annually for the best literature in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Learn more at www.themanbookerprize.com

The vast majority of rare and collectible books are made to be handled, enjoyed, displayed, and shared! You can do so with confidence if you follow a few simple rules.

First, make sure your hands are clean and dry before handling them. Except for the rarest or most fragile of books and ephemera, you can use your hands and don't need gloves or other implements. Just be careful and mindful of the way in which you are handling the book and its pages. Moreover, it's also best not to drink, eat, or have liquids or food around your books when handling them. Accidents do indeed happen.

Always keep books out of direct sunlight so they don't fade or dry out and become brittle over time. We recommend covering your most special and rare books with an acid-free, clear mylar cover to protect their dust jackets and boards (where dust jackets aren't present).

Tempertaure and humidity should be at normal levels. High humidity, in particular, will evetually foster mold and warp boards and pages.

In general, books should be stored upright on a book shelf. Keep them straight so that the bindings do not warp or cock. Be wary of heavily painted or stained bookcases and shelving, as residue from paint or certain stains may rub off on your books. In addition, acids that are sometime present in treated wood shelving may migrate into the books over time and cause harm. Nothwithstanding this, most commercially available wood, veneer, glass, and metal shelving are fine for displaying and storing your books.

If you want to display a book "cover foward" that's okay too. In that instance, either ensure the book is resting at a 90-degree angle to the shelf or invest in an angled book display stand. When using a display stand, be sure that the bottom ledge of the angled display is wide enough to encompass and support the full depth of the book, otherwise your binding may warp or you may damage some pages. In addition, when handling or temporarily displaying large folio size books in an "open" manner, you should use a properly sized display crade and/or wedge to provide support and to ensure that the binding is never open 180-degrees, which over time can damage a book's binding. This is especially true for older and more fragile volumes whose bindings tend to be less supple and more britltle with age.

For very expensive or fragile books, we recommend storing them in glass enclosed bookcases. You may also consider storing such books in a protective box or slipcase. These can be purchased or made; and in many cases, storage cases can me made to mimic and relfect the wonderful characteristics of a book's original binding or dust jacket.

Finally, it's always advised to lightly dust your books periodically. And, for books with leather bdinings, you may consider dressing them once or twice a year to keep the leather supple. When in doubt, please call us or another professional to help you with any questions or needs you might have.

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