Books That Should Be Worth More Than They Are
(this is the fourth installment of Goodwill Find of the Day).
The most fascinating part of book collecting is the utter unpredictability of valuation. In this books are no different than other collectibles. But I am never not surprised to find out what is worth what.
This morning I came home with a pile of books. Let’s take three of them:
Collected Poems of Marianne Moore. First edition, Thirteenth Printing, great condition.
Love and Knishes. 1956.
Peyton Place (!). Fifth printing. No DJ.
I bought the Love and Knishes for the fun of it; I pick up old cookbooks frequently, and sometimes give them to my food anthropologist sister.
I figured a later printing of Peyton Place without a dust jacket was not worth much, but, why not, just a buck.
The Moore I figured was worth very little (13th printing), but for me was the real find: I have never seen a book of Moore’s poetry in the wild. I figured it would be worth maybe about 20 times what I bought it for — in other words, not as much as it should be— and I would be keeping it.
When I got home, I started checking values. (One of my rules is that I am not allowed to look up values while I am thrifitng. It takes me out of the absorptive meditative state I go into when I am staring at spines and things, and it alsotakes away the gambling element of this game*, which is the main reason I love thrifting. )
Before you read any further, guess what each book is worth. While you are thinking, I will show you some pictures of a few things I have picked up recently.
Okay here are the results:
Marianne Moore: probaby around $30. (I was right).
Peyton Place: people really love their Peyton Place. There is a healthy collector’s market out there, based on how important each printing is to the listings. Even though mine is 5th — usually too low to make a book valuable — according to the listings I saw, that’s a valuably low number. So I listed it for $60. Without a dust jacket.
Love and Knishes: probably around $40. $40!! Go figure. Again, sometimes you discover an obscure-to-you title that you bought because it was funny and you liked the cover art turns out to have a fan base.
So according to this quick calculus, my $3 investment could turn into a $130 return. But here’s the thing: you never — or at least I never— know how liquid a book is until you try to sell it. Last week I listed a book that sold for $100 the next day — clearly someone has an alert set up. But I have other titles that should be worth much more than I have listed them for, but no one buys anyway. Shruggy guy.
The takeaway, though, is that the Marianne Moore is clearly the most valuable book, seen through the lens of literary history. Right? Can we all agree on that? Without going into a debate on literary merit, the canon, the value of bestsellers and the like? I mean, in the long run of history? Well: so say I, at least. And even though it is a later printing, it’s in great condition, and should be worth more than a Peyton Place later printing without even a frigging DJ.***
So Collected Poems will be added to the shelf I keep on my stairwell I call “Books That Should be Worth More than They Are.” I feel like I am taking care of these guys until they become sufficiently appreciated in the word.
*Last night I started Ian Bogost’s Play Anything, and am already formulating a theory about how I have made rules for thrifting so it would be a game. More on this after I’ve finished the book.
*Many, many factors go into valuing a book: the size of the initial print run, the condition, the dust jacket, etc. Stay tuned for more lessons in antiquarian arcana.