We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What are Rare Books?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
Language & Humanities is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At Language & Humanities, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Rare books are books which are, for one reason or another, difficult to obtain. Depending on the book, demand may be high, in which case the book can be quite expensive, or demand may be lower, restricted to a more specialized community. However, this may not necessarily mean that the price drops. Several firms around the world specialize in rare books, tracking down books for their clients and offering various finds at public sales and auctions, and rare book collectors can also be found all over the world.

There are many reasons why a book can become rare. While rare books are often old, this is not always the case, and being old doesn't necessarily make a book rare or valuable, with the exception of really old books. For instance, Renaissance books and manuscripts, by virtue of their age, tend to command a high price due to their historical value and rarity, while books from one to two centuries ago are not necessarily valuable. 19th century penny dreadfuls, for example, might be intriguing collectors items, but they are usually far from rare.

A book may be rare by its nature. First editions, for example, are often very rare because publishers typically keep initial print runs low in case the book doesn't sell. Book collectors who manage to find a first edition of a hugely popular book may be prepared to pay a pretty penny; first editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, for example, were selling for around $45,000 US in 2008. Books with printing errors, inclusions which were later dropped, and other interesting errata may also be rare, as are controversial books which somehow managed to escape pulping at the publisher's.

Books which are signed by the author, especially with an inscription, are also considered rare books, and likewise with books which belonged to someone famous. The bookplate of a prominent historical figure in the front of a book can elevate the value immensely, even if the book itself is not intrinsically valuable. Books which have been turned into films may be made more valuable if members of the cast sign editions of the books, illustrating a situation in which the book is made famous by association.

Collecting rare books can be very rewarding, but also potentially dangerous. Bibliophiles may spend alarming amounts of money on books every year, and they will stop at nothing to get a particularly coveted edition. They are also vulnerable to predatory sellers, such as people who fake autographs or make a book out to be more rare than it is. As a general rule, any reputable seller will happily agree to a third party inspection to verify the book and its provenance, and if you happen to be looking at a rare book signed by a modern author, some authors have verification programs for autographs.

You should be aware that genuinely old rare books rarely reach the public market for sale; most amateur rare book collectors focus on books from the last two centuries. Private collectors tend to hang on to their books, and when they die, their books are often donated to museums, rather than sold. In the rare instance that older manuscripts and books do make it to the open market, they are typically extremely expensive, and they are usually snatched up by academic institutions and private libraries.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By BoatHugger — On Mar 13, 2011

I didn’t realize that old, rare books were so valuable. However, when I had to do a book report on Alice in Wonderland, I quickly learned.

I was researching some information and I wanted to purchase one of the books. I went to one particular website and found one for $16,000! It was by author Lewis Carroll and was one of the original 50 copies from 1865. Apparently, Carroll asked his publisher for 50 copies of the book to give to family and friends. This $16,000 book was one of those 50 original copies.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

Language & Humanities, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.