One of the most difficult tasks facing someone taking care of a loved one's estate is figuring out which items are valuable. We all know that inherited fine art can be very valuable and should be evaluated by a professional and there are endless blogs, magazines, and TV shows that discuss what to do with inherited antiques and furniture. There's a whole book about selling inherited collectible coins. But search for "inheriting rare books" and you'll find almost no information. Yet many people inherit libraries containing hundreds of books and have no idea if any of them are valuable or special. As a result, libraries often get little attention when they are inherited as part of an estate.
We encourage you not to make this mistake. Managing an estate can be complicated and overwhelming, but libraries can often be sources of hidden value, and thus should not be ignored. There's always a chance that tucked away in that library are a few rare first editions or hard-to-find antique items. But if you're facing hundreds of volumes and you have little experience with books, where do you start?
If you have the time to do research yourself, used book websites are an easy place to start. Abebooks.com is the best known, but we prefer AddALL.com. It gives you more search criteria to choose from and more ways to sort your search results. Plus, it pulls together data from many different book sites. To see if a book has sold at auction in the past, you can consult the American Book Prices Current database (bookpricescurrent.com), a tool that virtually every professional bookseller in North America uses.
However, most people don't have the time to enter all those titles and ISBN numbers on a website or go through entire libraries by hand. That's when you should consult an experienced rare book dealer. A rare book dealer will be able to quickly and reliably identify rare or unusual items in your library as well as give you a reliable estimate of what they're worth. The dealer will also be able to draw on their experience to weigh important factors such as a book's rarity, condition, and provenance (the book's ownership history)—factors that a layperson may be unaware of.
Most rare book dealers are willing to evaluate books and libraries and some will buy valuable books and collections. While it is easiest for book dealers to make evaluations in person, many dealers will usually be able to assess individual books based on written descriptions and good digital photos.
If you need help assessing your own library or rare books that you've inherited, RareBookBuyer has helped rare book owners for over thirty years and appraises rare and old books at no cost. The business often purchases pre-1800 material, fine bindings and sets, important illustrated works, limited edition, fine press books, signed books, scholarly works, illuminated and text manuscripts.
This is a guest post by Adam Weinberger, the owner of Rare Book Buyer.