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Many of us have cherished books of our own or have inherited book collections from others, and now wonder how best to preserve them or redirect them elsewhere.
Concise answers to many questions about old, rare, and antiquarian books can be found at “Your Old Books,” a guide sponsored by the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, and the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia.
“Your Old Books” notes that books, like other works on paper, are “damaged by light and by fluctuations and extremes in temperature and humidity.” “Caring for Private and Family Collections,” issued by the Northeast Document Conservation Center, offers more detailed advice applicable to books and collections of papers.
Condition, relative rarity, age, ownership history or association, demand, and bibliographic details all affect market value; and appraisal of antiquarian books can be more an art than a science. We in the Department of Special Collections are not permitted to appraise books or suggest their market value. Some readily available sources list recent asking or selling prices for some copies of antiquarian titles, but buyers and sellers need always to recognize that an asking price concerns a given copy of a given title (and that an asking price is not always realized). Reputable and well-informed book dealers, especially those who belong to recognized professional associations (such as the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America) and who subscribe to a stringent code of ethics, can generally offer practical guidance about the title you own or the title you seek.
Should you wish to donate a book or books to a charitable or non-profit organization, including the Department of Special Collections or the the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries more generally, we encourage you to contact us about our collection policy and needs and to consult your own financial advisor about any tax implications of your decision. The Department of Special Collections is prohibited by university policy and the Tax Reform Act of 1984 from participating in the direct appraisal of gifts.
With these caveats in mind, such published sources as Bookman’s price index, American book prices current, Annual register of book values: Modern first editions (and other specialized volumes), International rare book prices, and Mandeville’s used book price guide may prove useful. All are available in the Department’s reference collection, though some may have been superseded by online resources. The glossaries in John Carter’s ABC for book collectors and Marvin Mondlin’s Appraisals: A guide for bookmen [sic] may also be helpful.
The online catalog WorldCat, which “lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world,” can help in identifying titles and editions. Additional possibilities for searching the catalogs of antiquarian book dealers (and used-book dealers) now abound through the Internet, including useful search functions for the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America and the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. The resources of viaLibri can also be useful.
Please note: Inclusion of sources in these lists does not imply endorsement or warrant by the University of Wisconsin-Madison of their publications, information, services, or accuracy.