Only rare, trendy books catch collectors’ interests at auction

Rare books in top condition continue to break auction records while run-of-the-mill books are increasingly hard to sell, according to National Auctioneers Association members.

“The book market in general is far from great, but if you have good, rare, high-end items, they will bring really tip-top money,” says Philip Weiss, of Philip Weiss Auctions, Oceanside, N.Y.

Due in large part to the rising number of electronic books available online, there is an abundance of paper books on the market, which has hurt the overall book auction market, Weiss says.

High-end literature is another story. A signed, first-edition copy of J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” in excellent condition is rare and can go for six figures at auction, Weiss says. And the top sales price for such a book continues to climb.

“The real collectors are still out there, but you have to get the quality of material they want,” Weiss says.

The book market is trendy and cyclical, which makes it tougher than many other auction specialties, Weiss says. For example, a signed, first-edition copy from J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series in good condition is considered a coveted jewel in the book market, Weiss says, and that certainly wasn’t the case 15 years ago.

Weiss handles estates, and the extensive book knowledge he began acquiring as a child allows him to quickly estimate a book’s worth. More important than knowing what books are valuable, he says, is knowing what books aren’t valuable.

He says books with little to no value include “Reader’s Digest” books, “American Heritage” books, “Book of the Month” books and textbooks.

“Nine out of 10 books are not worth any money,” Weiss says.

Read on about the cultural shift that is affecting the book auction market.

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Filed under Auction Industry, Auction marketing, Auctioneer magazine, NAA Members

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