How Much is a Book Worth?

(January 21, 2022)

Revised May 24, 2022

Updated, Third Edition

September 28, 2022

“Price is what you pay, value is what you get.” - Warren Buffett



Jeffrey A. Rothermel

Captain's Book Shoppe LLC

1570 S. 1st Avenue

Iowa City, Iowa 52240

Phone: (319) 351-3166


What is a Fair Price for a Book?

It is commonly believed that buyers prefer to buy a book at the lowest possible price, while sellers want to maximize profits (sell at the highest possible price). The area where the two concepts meet is considered the market value. In other words, we perceive there is a fair market value price range for a certain type, or genre of books. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) defines fair market value as "the price that property would sell for on the open market. It is the price that would be agreed on between a willing buyer and a willing seller, with neither being required to act, and both having reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts...." (U.S. Government: Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service. Determining the Value of Donated Property. Publication 561, revised January 19, 2022). The key is both parties are knowledgeable about the item. Second, neither must sell or buy the item.

The term "fair" can be a subjective matter of debate (based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions). Ethical and professional book experts can and will differ about a book's current monetary value. There are a few things almost all book dealers agree upon when it comes to objectively assessing a book's value. Historically, valuable books were reprinted countless times after it became a critical/popular success. Knowing how to identify a true first edition and properly assessing its condition in relation to other surviving books marks its place on the value scale.

Computers and the internet mean determining the current “market value” is theoretically possible. There are data bases listing the prices that a specific book has recently or consistently sells at. There are databases that contain what a book sold for at auction. Independent book dealers often pay for access to those data bases. Such a system relies upon truthful and ethical conduct. Manipulation of databases make for great science fiction stories or action-packed thriller/mysteries. Hopefully, fraudulent manipulation of book sale prices never becomes a true-crime first edition. Who controls the rules to the cyber market matters to not only those in search of conspiracy, but also to the person wondering why the price seems overly high or low.

Generally, there is nothing sinister about book value, but it is often mysterious. Why is one version of Harry Potter worth 99 cents at the thrift store, while a true first edition recently sold for $431,000 through a Texas auction firm in 2021?[1] The answer is the books are slightly different (comparing one confirmed special hybrid apple to another common apple). states: “The true (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling) first edition is … the 1997 UK Bloomsbury edition... Copies are extremely scarce. Only about 500 hardcover copies were printed in the first run, so those are typically the most valuable of the original 5,000 copy run.”[2] More about Harry Potter later, but book people often become passionate over book pricing. Some may think $431K is too much for that book, but if there was no deception or fraud- there is nothing unethical about that book price.

One obvious answer concerning the value of a Harry Potter Book is that there are various markets for a book. Old books may get recycled, and there is a monetary value (market) for paper. Some old books may still have a bit of reading-life left in them and are referred to as "reading copies." The other term for a "reading copy" is "poor condition." If the book is in perfect condition, book dealers list its condition as "fine." The question still remains, why are some Harry Potters worth .99 cents while others sell for hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars?

Book condition is a critical factor in determining if the book’s value is in either the top of the tier or bottom of the “fair market value” price range. The "Independent Online Booksellers Association" (IOBA) basic condition definitions are the following:

A rare book is traditionally defined as "any book which has an enhanced value because the demand for the book exceeds the supply, usually because of its importance, scarcity, age, condition, physical and aesthetic properties, association, or subject matter. If there is no demand for a book, it will probably not become a rare book even if the other factors exist. It is of little or no value if no one wants it. Demand can change as interests change." (Source: U.S. National Park Service, Conserve O Gram 19/1 July 1993)

Scarcity is a critical factor when dealing with rare books. How scarce is scarce? The experts debate these topics with the beginners in order to teach them the centuries old tradecraft.

Photo of three versions of the same book: Order of the Phoenix. Some collectors work to acquire all the various versions of the same book. Book collecting is not only for the wealthy. It is possible to collect interesting books with minimal financial expenditures.

Dust Jackets Matter

Today, hardbound books of fiction are normally published with a dust jacket. A dust jacket is defined as: “a loose paper cover which is put on a book to protect it. It often contains information about the book and its author.[4] Books without a dust jacket (that should have one), are normally not worth their maximum protentional, rarely is there an exception to this rule. My experience suggests modern books without a dust jacket are roughly 50% - 90% less valuable than one with a dust jacket. What we recognize today as a dust jacket started around the 1850s. Many publishers of the by-gone-eras eventually began to focus less on the artwork contained on the actual cloth book boards of a book and shifted their artwork efforts to the dust jacket around the 1920s. [5]

Note: The $431,000 British First Edition Harry Potter Book was published without a dustjacket. There is an exception to every rule.

Often, the book and dust jacket were published at the same time and remained paired together. Dust jackets and books may wear at different rates depending upon how they were read, handled, shelved or stored. Dust jackets are occasionally thrown away or switched to other books. Book dealers and collectors scrutinize both the jacket and book to determine if they are an original match. Modern technology means collectable first edition dust jackets of various authentic quality are sold on the internet. Original dust jackets in fine condition are monetary worth more than a modern reprint.

Reviewing the Baseline-Economic-Drivers of Book Value

A book must have all its original components (prints / illustrations, maps, dust jacket). Condition of the dust jacket, the spine and cover of the book, the pages to include drawings or maps must all be in superb condition to be at the top of the fair market value scale. Additionally, how many of the books were initially printed? How many remain? Where are they? How often are the books listed for sale? How many people or institutions truly desire to buy or sell the item? Knowledge of the author or the topic are important to truly gauge current and future demand.

Book Clubs

Book Club Bottom Line. Book clubs are not rare and are rarely worth a lot of money. Spotting books priced at rare book, first edition prices but appear to be a book club is a skill collectors develop. Reputable book dealers are very careful about what they list as a true first edition. A fine Catcher in the Rye book club maybe worth a few hundred dollars while a true first edition is worth thousands. Knowing what a book club is and why it sometimes has a limited value in the secondary market is an important aspect of the foundational knowledge concerning book values.[5A]

Allen and Patricia Ahearn write in Collected Books The Guide to Values: “It should be noted that most of the Book-of-the-Month club editions look exactly like the true first editions and may actually state “First Editions,” but they have a small black circle or a blindstamp (either in a circular, square, or maple leaf pattern) in the lower-right corner of the back cover. These books are not first editions.” [6]

Merriam-Webster defines Book Club as: “an organization that ships selected books to members usually on a regular schedule and often at discount prices.”[7]

The Advanced Book Exchange ( defines:

Book Club Edition (bc, bce) A separate edition of a book usually printed especially for a book club such as "The Book of the Month Club" or "The Literary Guild." These copies will usually have the words "Book Club Edition" printed on the bottom right corner of the front flap of the dust wrapper. Occasionally, if the book club does not wish to do a separate edition they will have a publisher blind stamp on the rear board and print a supply of dust wrappers without a price on the front flap and now without the bar code on the rear panel. Book Clubs are not solely an American phenomenon as there have been numerous British Book Clubs over the years.[8]

Blind-stamping An impressed mark, decoration, or lettering, not colored or gilded, usually appearing on the binding. One way that the Book Clubs have marked their editions when they are otherwise identical to trade editions is to use a small square, round or sometimes leaf-shaped blind stamp in the bottom right corner of the rear board.[9]

Craig Stark wrote in 2003 and again in 2008: "Let's dispel a prevalent myth: book club editions have no value. Though this may be largely true, there are so many exceptions." His essay How To Identify Book Club Editions is cited in the endnotes and is worth reading in its entirety. He cites a fine Catcher in the Rye book club with dust jacket has value. Some Franklin Library book clubs are first editions and have value. The appearance of certain science fiction in hardbound collections, first occurred as a book club. The point is, there are exceptions to the myth that book clubs having no value.[10]

Due to some first editions being highly priced and scarce, some collectors opt to acquire economically affordable book clubs. Some book club editions are collected, may hold some value for a limited time, but are rarely considered a rare book. It is worth saying again, book clubs are numerous thus they are not rare, but they are legitimately considered cool vintage.

Reviewing First Editions

"The key to establishing a book's value is to first ensure that it is a first edition. A first edition is the earliest printed copy of a published book. Collectors look for first edition books because these tend to have the highest demand and the greatest potential to increase in value over time."[11] While some highly sought-after rare book first printings continue to increase in value over time, it is my opinion that book club editions of the same book probably will not substantially increase in value. There are undoubtedly exceptions to this rule, but such examples currently escape me. Please contact me, with your insights about this topic.

H.S. Boutell wrote in 1928:

"Generally speaking, the collector of first editions is really a collector of first impressions, a first impression being a book from the first lot struck off the presses, and a first edition comprising all books which remain the same in content and in format as the first impression. A second impression is a second printing. A second edition postulates some alteration of text or format. But these terms are, unfortunately, not strictly adhered to."[12]

First Trade Editions

The archived Online Guide for Rare Book Collectors states:

"The first trade edition is the first edition that is sold to the public - the one found in stores. In many cases the first trade edition is the first edition. But sometimes publishers make special deals and sell specially signed and limited editions for friends of the publisher, friends of the author, or high end specialty publishers like the Easton Press. Quite often in those cases the first edition is considered to be the special signed/numbered edition, and the one sold in stores is called the first trade edition."[13]

Determining First Editions

There is not a single, standard method that all publishers of English books use to mark their books as a first edition. Book dealers and collectors refer to six-hundred-page reference books with the historical and current methods used by publishing houses to denote first editions. Around the Second World War many publishing houses began to standardize through the use of a number line. Number lines are normally found on the publisher's copyright page. Number lines are a tradition of the letter press. The typesetter placed the numbers in succession:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The number one in the long line of numbers meant it was the first impression (first printing).

2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The printer would pull the number "one" from the plate when the second printing began.

AbeBOOKs highlights the various methods and ways number lines are used by publishers.

"The line sequence could ascend or descend or even have no discernable order depending on the publisher. All of these sequences below are first editions.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 (All first editions)

Sometimes the number line is also accompanied by the words ‘first edition’, but be careful because some publishers leave on the words ‘first edition’ even when the book is in its third printing and that fact is reflected in the three in this number line.

First edition 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 (Third printing)

This number line below identifies a second printing printed in 1975. 75 76 77 78 79 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

If you find that the date on the copyright page matches the date on the title page, then it is probably a first edition. Most 19th century publishers placed the date of publication on the title page but that practice faded out after 1900 and the date became appearing on the copyright page.

Some publishers make no statement at all about first editions but booksellers learn to identify firsts by other methods – for instance a particular piece of copy on the dust jacket or a mistake in the book’s text itself that is corrected in later editions."[14]

Another term for other methods is points, which will be discussed latter in this essay.

Rule of the Flags

Publishers and collectors have different views regarding the definition of a first edition. AbeBOOKS states: "In publishing terms, an edition is technically all copies of a book that were printed from the same setting of type and the book is only described as a second edition if substantial changes are made to the copy. However, in collecting terms, a very rough description of first edition would be when it is the first appearance of a work in question."[15] Poetry and short stories may appear first in a newspaper or magazine then at some point later are compiled into a book. Collectors love to debate the essence of a true first. Some publishers will state on the copyright page: FIRST AMERICAN EDITION. Such a statement is clue to a collector that "rule of the flags" is in play.

Publishers desire to print and sell as many books as possible. They know the public prefers to buy First Editions. Harry Potter was published all over the world. Some collectors collect the series in every language it was published. The British author J K Rowling first published her book with a British publishing house, which is typical. It is referred to as the rule of the flags. The nationality of the author is normally the first place their first book was published. If an author becomes popular, it is generally their first book, that had a low number of initially printed books that becomes the priciest, most sought after book. A collector may collect all the books from their favorite author, but it is the very first book which maybe hardest to acquire, thus it is normally selling for more than the other books. British Harry Potter First Printings are worth more than American First Edition First Printings.

Harry Potter Scarcity

American First Edition Harry Potters are collectable and remain desired because there are so few of the original British First Printings. Rare book dealer Pom Harrington stated three hundred of the first five hundred first impression hardbound British Potters went to libraries. This means there were roughly two hundred Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone out in the open market. [16] What happened to each of those couple hundred hardbound books becomes myth and lore.

Noticeable marketing differences between USA and UK Harry Potter first impressions are the British published their hardbound version without a dust jacket, while the American version had a dust jacket. Marketing differences continue with the title of J.K. Rowling's first book. The true first British version is called: The Philosopher's Stone. The American version is called: The Sorcerer's Stone. The American publisher changed the name due to marketing. They "needed a title that said ‘magic’ more overtly to American readers.”[17] Harry Potter highlights how no two publishing runs maybe the same.

Harry Potter collector Peter Kenneth stated in 2018 that American Scholastic hard bound Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone First Printing in fine condition with a dust jacket was worth around $900-$1,500.[18] He also stated there were 30,000 first printings of Harry Potter's Sorcerer's Stone. There have been over a hundred print runs (printings) of the American Harry Potter Sorcerer's Stone. There were literally millions of Harry Potter AMERICAN FIRST EDITIONS published in the last decade. Only the first print run (first printing) of the first edition is the coveted American First Edition. A US Harry Potter is considerably less valuable than a British true first, though the abundance of American copies makes them within reach of many collectors.

Scholastic increased their first print run for J.K. Rowling's second book Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to 250,000 copies. Expert collector Peter Kenneth stated that he considered the value of an American Chamber of Secrets First Printing with dust jacket in fine condition to be around $40 - $50 (2018).[19]


When there is over a million American Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone AMERICAN FIRST EDITION books that could potentially be mistaken as a collectable first printing, how does one determine a true first printing? The answer is "points." Points are: "peculiarities in a published book whose presence or absence helps to determine edition, issue or state."[20]

A great reference is: First Edition Points (An Online Guide for Rare Book Collectors). The benefit of this free cyber site is the concise write up of the points. It then has color photos that depict the points. Last, at the bottom of the page are pre-filled in data of the book for either abeBOOKS or Biblio or Alibris or eBay search engines. ( First Edition Criteria and Points to identify Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (U.S.) ( ) There is a possible draw-back to the now archived internet site. It apparently generates enough revenue to stay online from collectors using it for book searches. The identity of the founders, then the contributors, and internet site administrators remains a mystery. The site is like a sci-fi story. An abandoned space station where the computer is still functioning. Who were the people that created it? How does it continue to operate?

A few highlights of the American Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone First Edition Points are the following for the hardbound book:

"The copyright page has the full number line "1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 8 9/9 0/0 01 02". Below the number line is "Printed in the U.S.A. 23", and below that is "First American edition, October 1998." Boards are purple with an embossed diamond pattern, and a red cloth spine. The dust jacket has a $16.95 price on the upper corner of the front flap. The dust jacket back has a cream/light yellow bar code field with two bar codes in it, and the smaller bar code says "51695". The dust jacket back also has a single quote from the Guardian saying "Harry Potter could assume the near-legendary status of Ronald Dahl's Charlie, of chocolate factory fame." Later issue dust jackets have a substitute quote from Publishers Weekly. The top spine of both the book and the dust jacket lists "J.K. ROWLING" and lacks the "YEAR 1" badge, and the gold lettering is raised on the spine of the dust jacket."[21]

The dust jackets changed over time. The points matter because on occasion someone may swap dustjackets. Collectors prefer original first printing dust jackets. Peter Kenneth stated it was the third U.S. printing that the quote was switched to the Publisher's Weekly. The fifth printing was when J.K. was not printed on both the spine of the book and spine of the dust jacket.[22]

First State / Second State

During the first printing of Rowling's second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the American publisher switched the printing from:



to "Rowling" at the top of the spine on both the book and the dust jacket. During the first printing run of Chamber of Secrets, the publisher added the number "2" under Rowling's name to signify this was her second book (year that Potter was at Hogwarts). Collectors consider the change to be a first printing, second state.[23] You can see a dedicated collector may desire Chamber of Secrets first printing, first state and also the first printing, second state. The first printing, first states are generally considered to be more valuable than the second state.

Biblio defines Second State as: "used in book collecting to refer to a first edition, but after some change has been made in the printing, such as a correction, or a change in binding color."[24]

You will note there is a slight difference of opinion between the collectors and internet booksellers considering the term state.

The Independent Online Booksellers Association defines "State" as:



Variations within an edition, which are made prior to publication; can include: • alterations due to stop-press insertions, damaged type, etc. • the addition of errata leaves, advertisements. • textual changes affecting page lay-out. • some special-paper copies. This term applies only in connection with the printed pages, and not variations in bindings. (e.g.: a small number of copies of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls were erroneously printed without the photographer’s credit on the back of the dust jacket. The presses were stopped midway through the first run, the credit was added, and the second state of the first edition resulted.)[25]

The recurring bottom line is that terms mean different things to different people. Another topic that trips up people are books printed by reprint publishing houses.

Reprint Publishing Houses

The following publishers often republished previously printed books. Some of the listed publishers printed true first editions, but any time a book is from one of these publishers, chances are the book is not a first edition. Craig Stark calls it the First Edition Quick Start guide. If you "simply memorize the following six publisher's names, you'll be three-fourths of the way home...[from] a clueless buyer of fiction into a reasonably accomplished one overnight."[26]

A.L. Burt




Blue Ribbon Books

Blue Star

Bracken Books



Cupples & Leon



Greenwich House

Fiction Library


Grosset & Dunlap


Little Blue Books

Modern Library

Reader's Digest



Street and Smith

Sun Dial



The significance of reprint publishing was that it transformed the trade with firms such as Grosse & Dunlap. Originally, books were singular, hand crafted works of collectable art and knowledge. The reprint houses mass produced inexpensive books for the general public. They reprinted the classics, and a few are still with us to this day, occasionally mistakenly thought to be monetarily valuable first printings.[28] Today, the reprints continue to evoke passions from book collectors and book dealers revealing the hidden fault lines of class, wealth, and education that existed at the time of original publishing.


Numerous factors go into determining the value of a book. Is the collectable book sitting undiscovered in a thrift store? Some factors are more relevant than others depending upon the specific book. The key is knowledge about the item when determining fair market value. Knowing how to identify a first printing, a book club, a reprint, and assessing the book condition are critical factors of knowledge.

Bookdealers have various views on what defines a "vintage book" which is the essence of the book trade, variety. Vintage is where past generations of books linger in the nostalgic twilight. Some vintage books are rediscovered by the modern generations and become cherished. Other books do not catch the attention of the buying public. Value is in the eye of the beholder. Determining the market value is often both a long and fun journey.

Please contact this author via phone or email if you have comments, corrections, or questions to this collecting guide. It was designed to assist Captain's Book coworkers and clients.


Additional Cyber References If you are looking for a fast, instant computer answer concerning the current price listings of your modern book on the internet, you can use your smart phone/computer.

  • Flip the modern book over and scan or type the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) bar code into the used ISBN window at: Book Search: Textbooks, Cheap Books Online Price Comparison (

  • The website: AddALL will list what the book is being sold for by various online booksellers. (The site will often list the most expensive listings first.) Example: On December 5, 2021 Addall stated Amazon is listing the H.G. Wells The Invisible Man ISBN 0553213539 for twenty-five cents for the paperback, all the way up to $294.95.

The ISBN is the unique identifier for every title, edition and format. Books published before 1967 will not have an ISBN. The nine-digit ISBN started in late 1966. Thirteen-digit ISBNs began in 2007. [29] This is an ideal search engine site for older books that do not have ISBNs.

Weekly Radio Show: "Bucks on the Bookshelf" every Saturday, 10:00 am-12:00 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST) on WDBF radio. Live streaming at: WDBFradio llc hosted by Steve Eisenstein.

Facebook Group: Vintage, Rare, & Antique Books. A group for collectors of vintage, rare, or antique books.

Autographed books (Quill & Brush Specializing in First Editions) Autographed Books | Book Collecting Tips (

The Independent Online Booksellers Association has a concise "primer" page for identifying First Editions: Identifying First Editions - Pt. 1 | Independent Online Booksellers Association ( (Accessed September 19, 2022)

The Independent Online Booksellers Association has an abbreviated, concise article concerning Identifying First Editions, A Primer: The Publishers. Identifying First Editions - Pt. 2 | Independent Online Booksellers Association ( (Accessed September 19, 2022).

Printed Syllabus References

Cyber search engines such as Google, Bing, and others do provide instant internet answers about book values. At some point, you may need to dig deeper into the secondary source material. If you were to acquire only one book to assist you on your journey with books, I recommend starting with Bill McBride's A Pocket Guide to the Identification of First Editions. It is concise. Any version (edition) will work. Your local library will likely have Zempl's and Ahearns' works. If not, your library can get them if you have an interest. If you are local to Iowa City, you can stop by Captain's Book Shoppe and use the reference materials in the store during normal store hours.

The other book that succinctly describes the factors of book collecting is John Carter's ABC's for Book Collectors. It is an enjoyable, broad survey for the novice or professional in the trade of collecting. The author was a publisher for Scribner's in London before the Second World War. He was a British diplomat during the Second World War and a rare book dealer for Sotheby's (London) during the Cold War. His ability to make the attributes of a book into "can't put it down, page turner" is a gift most writers about spies have not mastered as well as Carter-the rare book dealer. Anyone that is considering forking over serious cash for a book, will not be disappointed with getting this book first (or second)!

Required References:

(Listed in order of what to review / read first, second, third.)

Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors 7th ed. Revised by John Barker. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.

McBride, Bill. A Pocket Guide to Identification to First Editions Seventh Revised Edition. Hartford, CT: McBride Publishing, 2012.

Zempel, Edward N. and Linda A. Verkler. FIRST EDITIONS A GUIDE TO IDENTIFICATION Statements of selected North American, British Commonwealth, and Irish publisher on their methods of designating first editions Fourth Edition. Peoria, IL: Spoon River Press, 2001.

Ahearn, Allen and Patricia. Collected Books The Guide to Values 1998 Edition. NY : G.P. Putnam Sons, 1983.


Ahearn, Allen and Patricia. Collected Books The Guide to Values Fourth Edition. Comus, MD : Quill and Brush Press, 2011. [Note: A digital version of this document is available for $45 from the authors at the following link: COLLECTED BOOKS The Guide to Identification and Values. eBook Download -- link will be provided once order is processed | Allen Ahearn, Patricia ( ]