Your Estate Sale Guide to Valuable Old Books

By Pascale Saliba

There are thousands of estate sales held on a weekly basis.  Almost every home will have books.  Identifying valuable, old books from the common books can be tricky.

We’ve gathered some information and tips to help you properly identify and sell estate sale books at the highest value possible.

Can You Judge Valuable Old Books by the Cover?

As you stage an estate sale, if there are a lot of old books, it’s quite difficult to take the time and lookup each one.

Bulk pricing estate sale books is quite common.  Companies will have a price for hardcover books, and another price for a paperback book, but is this enough to fetch good value?

Begin by looking at the visual appeal of each book on the shelf.  A beautiful leather-bound book or one that may have a pictorial cover is eye-catching and worth the time it takes to research.

Don’t be quick to include it in the bulk price pile.

Sift through the books and set aside the ones you find visually appealing.  This will minimize the amount of time you spend researching instead of all the books on the shelf.

What to Look For?

There are some definite details to look for in high-value estate sale books.

Sure, you can use online marketplaces to determine value, however as you’re setting up an estate sale, you may need to pay attention to a few details to separate the possibly valuable old books from common estate sale books for further research.

  • Who wrote it?
  • What is the edition of the book?
  • What condition is it in? (missing pages, ripping, mold, etc…)
  • Is it signed by the author?
  • Did it originally have a dust jacket?

Who’s the Author?

Avid book collectors may focus their collection on the author.  If it’s a well-known author, the book can be valuable.  But even the same author can have one book that’s valuable and another that’s not so valuable.

If the book is by a famous author, the next thing to look at is whether it has historical value or if it’s the first time a famous character appeared in a book.

A book by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887 called “A Study in Scarlet” was the first time Sherlock Holmes appeared as a fictional detective in a book.

Besides a famous author and a famous character, keep an eye for books relating to historical or social events.

When was it Published?

Book collectors generally collect based on interest.  However, some prefer to only include first editions in their book collection.

Determining whether a book is the first edition isn’t always an easy task.

If the book only has the words “First Edition” printed on it, you’re in luck.

If a book is reprinted by a publisher, it may have the words “first (publisher name) Edition”, don’t mistake that for a first edition book.  It only means that a publisher is not the original.

Dates and numbers are other key details to look for.  A first edition book will not have multiple dates or numbers printed on it.  Multiple numbers or dates are indicators that it’s not a first edition book.

Don’t Toss the Book Aside Yet!

Just because a book isn’t the first edition, it doesn’t mean the value is not there.  Just because copies were made doesn’t mean that many copies still exist in circulation.

As you’re looking up books, pay attention to rarity.  If it’s hard to come by or the subject is relating to religion, military, aerospace, medicine and other unique industries, it may hold excellent value.

Condition of High-Value Books

This is important to keep in mind if you’re using online resources to research the value of old books by author, edition and publication date.

Condition plays a big part, and don’t automatically assume that the same book found online is equal in value to the one you’re holding until you’ve determined the proper condition.

  • Sift through the pages to make sure they’re all there.
  • Determine whether the binding is in good condition and the book is still held together.
  • Are the pages legible or have they been stained, ripped or discolored?

Another key detail to look for is whether the old book you’re evaluating had a dust jacket.

Over the years, the majority of dust jackets on antique books are destroyed.  A first edition collectible book without a dust jacket can be worth $200 but one with the original dust jacket can easily fetch over $5,000.

Signed Estate Sale Books

Look for signatures inside the book.  A family signature, and an author signature.

A book signed by a family member with a note or a message will quickly decrease its collectible value, but if the family member or original owner of the book is a famous person, that will increase its value.

Another signature to look for is the author.  Book collectors prize author-signed books because they’re quite rare.

A famous author, excellent subject, great condition, and signed?  You’ve got yourself a prized possession worth looking further into.

Rare Old Books Worth a Fortune

Reader’s Digest recently published a list of worthy first edition books.  As an estate sale professional, you’ll come across hundreds of books, here is a list of extremely valuable first edition books that are prized by collectors and worth finding:

  • First Folio by William Shakespeare (worth $5.2 million)
  • In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway (worth $321,600)
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (worth $55,000)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (worth $180,159)
  • Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (worth $130,000)
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (worth $11.2 million)
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (worth $210,000)
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (worth $194,000)
  • Tamerlane and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe (worth $662,500)
  • Ulysses by James Joyce (worth $355,000)
  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (worth $56,124)
  • The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger (worth between $40,000 to $75,000)
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (worth about $2 to $3 million)
  • The Gutenberg Bible (worth $5.39 million)

Book Resources

Avid collectors generally rely on printed reference guides.  There are many available, but each reference guide focuses on a specific book type.

In your profession, you’ll run into so many type variations, you may need to start your own book reference guide collection in order to look up the variety of books you’ll see.

Online resources tend to be much more efficient for an estate sale professional due to the time constraints during setup.

Efficiently Researching Estate Sale Books

During the estate sale setup, quickly sift through the books to create two piles.

  • Regular books
  • Possibly valuable books

By doing this, you’ve minimized the number of books you have to look up to handful instead of all the books you have at the sale.

Now, you can begin looking at each book for the key factors mentioned above.  Author, date, condition, and first edition or not?

Once you’ve identified a few books that possibly need further value research, begin your search.

The easiest way to find out how much a book is worth in the current market is to check online for similar copies and what they’re selling or sold for.

Websites to Compare Pricing of Valuable Old Books

There’s always the common websites and marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, and Worthpoint, however, it’s best to stick to industry-specific sites when you’re researching a possibly valuable book.

Prices you find on bookseller websites include dealer markup.  You also need to take the details mentioned above into consideration in order to determine a fair market price.

Click on the used books section and fill out the form, including the publisher and date in the keyword section. (The Advanced Book Exchange)

Complete the form on the page with details from the book you’re researching to find similar books and value.

Complete the form on their home page to find rare old books, out-of-print books and compare their prices.

Book Collecting Facebook Private Groups

A quick search on Facebook and you can join many groups dedicated to specific categories.

From antique furnishings to antique jewelry and even collectible books.  Each group has its guidelines, so be sure to read and follow their specific rules.

Members within these groups are generally very knowledgeable and helpful.

Rare Book Industry Organizations

It’s always good to have a good list of contacts in various industries as an estate sale professional.  Keeping these contacts handy will prove fruitful as you continue to conduct estate sales.

These organizations bring together booksellers, book collectors, and professional book appraisers.

“I have built a professional relationship with a book dealer. I pay her for her time and she pulls the rare books aside and prices them. I’ve made thousands off of this investment.” Said Rachel Fitch with Fitch estate sales.

Pricing and Selling Estate Sale Books

Don’t discount the odds of coming across an extremely valuable book.  As an estate sale liquidator, you will see hundreds of books, educating yourself on what to look for is extremely important and worth your time.

We attended a few sales and noticed that each company prices books differently.

Some companies will group certain books together, others will separate the hardcovers and series from the common everyday books and price them individually.

We reached out to our private Facebook group of estate sale professionals and asked them about their method of pricing and here’s what a few had to say:

“Our company will bulk price books except for vintage and coffee table books which are separate,” Peggy Wolf with Manning Wolf Estate Sales.

Another member of our group Gail Dyer Moore with Fresh Start Transitions said: “Books these days are selling so much better now than 5 years ago.  If it is a large collection of contemporary fiction books, etc.”

She continued “We price hardback/softback at the generic prices.  We do research and price volumes and sets separately”.

In Summary

As you can see there are some common methods companies use, but each owner will set their own estate sale rules, pricing, and sales methods.

When a client decides to hire a liquidator and signs the estate sale contract, they do this knowing the company will do whatever is necessary to properly inventory, research, and sell their items at the highest value possible including their estate sale books.

As an estate sale business owner, your experience never stops growing, the more you know about properly researching, pricing, advertising, and selling the items at the highest value possible, the more you will increase the bottom line for your client and yourself.

At we aim to provide you with resources to help you do just that.  List your company online with us and get estate sale leads.  List your sale and get more shoppers.

Log in to the online estate sale auction where you can list items for sale and reach buyers worldwide.

Whether you’ve held sales for years, or just started your estate sale business, there’s no better place to be than around other experienced professionals where you can ask, share, and open discussions relating to a profession you share.

We invite you to join our private Facebook Group followed by over a thousand estate sale professionals that are experienced, and eager to participate in the conversation.

We always enjoy hearing from our readers, if you have anything else to share relating to estate sale books, we’d love to add it to our article.

Leave us your comment below or contact us at for this and other subjects relating to the estate sale industry.