Aren’t First Editions Valuable? Well, It Depends

Everyone thinks that first editions have great monetary value — but the truth is, most books never get reprinted, so they have little value. Only when a book is well-known, was reprinted several times and is in good condition does its first edition have value.

A Christmas Family's Special Interest

Recently, a local customer brought in a first edition of A Christmas Carol from 1843. Our research indicated that it would go for $1,500-$6,000. This one, while one of the early states (often, first editions are separated into states of printing; e.g., a second-state printing would occur after discovery of a typo or missing page), was an ex libris (from the library of a family) of the famous Professor Cooksell of Yale, and was in mint condition. However, it had been conserved in museum binding, which simultaneously kept it in terrific condition and lowered its value.

christmas carol edition
book edition


We paid $2,300 with a promise to the seller that if we made over 25 percent, we would share the profit with her. We posted it on our online auction, where it failed to reach the $2,500 reserve. We reposted it and, sadly, it only brought $2,250. (We assume it was because of the museum binding.) When it comes to auctions, there are many variables — and it’s not guaranteed you will make a profit. In this case, we lost a little money.

Please note that we only buy first editions, books that are pre–Civil War and earlier, and books of Native American or Civil War significance. We have a special interest in books published in the Americas prior to 1830. Please don’t bring in schoolbooks or books from 1930 to 1960. Old Bibles are not as valuable as you think (because of their limited market), unless they have a rich family history or Native American or African-American significance.

This is an archival article formerly written and is for informational purposes only. The valuations in this article have likely changed since it was first written.

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