Summer sale! Find out how to recognise rare books in our versatile shopping guide, prepared just for you by novum publishing. 

In Search of first editions

Who among us book aficionados does not know the situation? It is summertime and you are exploring the streets of a vibrant city. You are intrigued by all the hustle and bustle until you suddenly come across one of the city’s many flea markets. Imagine yourself at Portobello Market in London, Ha’Penny Flea Market in Dublin or Stockbridge Market in Edinburgh– this is where you can find rare and precious trinkets or draw inspiration for your next story. After all, these markets run by volunteers, exotic birds and enthusiasts never cease to amaze: coconut cocktails, barbecued insects and culinary curiosities are just as omnipresent as stacks of records, antique clockworks and the all too familiar scent of yellowed pages – the smell of forgotten books.

At Portobello Market you may find rare books, even first editions.

Recognising rare books that spent hundreds of hours with even more readers. Books that make us feel as if we were in Diagon Alley, rummaging through the stories of the world’s greatest writers and poets. Books that have seen more than they care to tell – in short, antique books. You can certainly remember your last literary love at first sight after a quick rendezvous at the book stand: you have just had a glimpse of the cover, coquetted with its chapters and flirted with the words – time to make it yours. You readily pay whatever the cunning bookseller asks for. Yet you still don’t know: Are you actually holding a piece of history in your hands? Is it really a first edition or have you fallen victim to the charm of another delightful book cover once again?

Recognising rare books is not that easy.

Characteristics of rare books

Just in time for the next outdoor book hunt, novum publishing assembled a shopping guide on how to find valuable editions, rare antiques and precious literary gems!

1. Integrity: Is the book in pristine condition? There are no dog ears or greasy fingerprints from scones or biscuits? Then your find already bears at least some economic potential. Just as with comics, the state of an antique book is essential to its value. Make sure to put your personal bestseller-to-be to the test.      

2. Cover: Hardcover, paperback, typography, colouring and materials – all these criteria determine the assessment of a book cover. Special editions in honour of specific events or occasions are of particular interest. The same applies to exceptional cases of bookbinding, such as several rather old yet impressively splendid editions of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.

3. Misprints, typos, errors: Look for any kind of error and hope to find some. Don’t fret about missing pages, printing ink or blank paragraphs. Such blemishes and flaws are what makes a book really special. You have found a book without preface, end or epilogue? Lucky you!

4. First edition: In the world of books, nothing is as treasured as an “editio princeps”, a first edition. In so-called edition philology, a branch of literary criticism, an edition is only considered an editio princeps, if it is the very first printed version of an author’s work. The second edition might already feature minor changes, thus altering the value of the book. If by any chance you find a first edition of Edward FitzGerald’s famous Rubaiyat translation in your grandma’s bookshelf, you might sell it for up to EUR 45,000 with a little luck and negotiating skill.   

In the world of books, nothing is as treasured as a first edition.

5. Special edition: Hunters and gatherers of rare books pay just as much attention to special editions, such as those on the occasion of an exposition, fair or events of international significance. Let us take a look at the many famous editions of “The Lord of the Rings”: the most magnificent ones feature ribbons, gold leaf letters and ornaments, laid paper and prints in colour, reaching exorbitant prices even on such commercial platforms as Amazon.    

6. Signature: A book signed by the author, perhaps even one of the classics, is financially out of reach to most of us. In many cases, the sentimental value easily exceeds any realistic price. Aside from original signatures, the marks of famous calligraphers or illustrators might also increase the value of your book. Personal dedications will not work in your favour, though. Booksellers are usually not that fond of even the wisest words, unless they were written by a prominent figure.          

A book signed by the author makes a first edition incredibly precious.

A little luck and your next acquisition might just turn out to be a great rarity. Do you have any antique books with intriguing stories about their previous owners or how you found them? Write a comment and let us know!

Keep writing, keep typing!

Yours truly,

novum publishing