Buying secondhand books: a small guide
Second-hand is trendy. And for a very good reason: it’s a great way to add something new to your wardrobe or home without doing any additional damage to the environment.
One of the better second-hand investments are books. Books, especially rare and antiquarian ones, can gain value over time without it being too much of a hassle to get your hands on them.
Even if you would just like to add some more reading material to your existing book piles or some extra eye candy to your bookcase, second-hand bookshops are the place to be. You can find hidden gems and rare reading material. Maybe you will even find the next book you just cannot put down.
To make sure you pick out a great second-hand find, we have compiled a small guide with tips on how to find the best second-hand books during your next shopping spree.
Tip #1: Buy from the right retailer.
Of course, who exactly is the right retailer for all your book-buying wishes, depends on what exactly is your goal. If you’re looking for an investment, it is wiser to go to an established retailer. Bookstores such as the Oxfam Bookshops in the UK, have knowledgeable staff that can help you find what you want. Those bookshops usually also have experience in determining the rarity and authenticity of books. If you are not in the UK, you can also try online websites, such as Abe Books, to find rare and valuable books.
If you’re not interested in rare or valuable finds, but just want to add some more reading material to your book collection, you can visit more general charity shops or jumble sales. Who knows what kind of gems you’ll find when you go book-hunting in those places.
Tip #2: Look carefully at the condition.
Books are meant to be read, so some shelf wear marks are bound to appear. Especially much-loved, older books can start appearing quite damaged and rough around the edges. How much damage is acceptable on a book varies from person to person. But if you want to make sure you’ve thoroughly checked all damage before buying, you can use this step-by-step guide:
- Start with checking the cover. Look carefully at the front, spine, and back to make sure you have spotted all the damage.
- Does the book have a dustjacket? Do not forget to check underneath the jacket to spot any potential damage on the hardcover.
- Check between the pastedowns and the endpaper. These are the first and last pages of a book. It’s usually in these spots that a previous owner could have written their name and date of purchase.
- Flip through the book and see if there is anything on any of the pages you do not want in your upcoming purchase. Pay special attention to any potential ageing spots and sun damage around the edges of the papers.
If you have checked the book thoroughly and are satisfied with its quality and the price attached to it, you can consider purchasing it.
In addition to this step-by-step list of spots in the book to check for damage, also consider whether the book might have had a dust jacket that is not attached anymore. Also, look at the condition of the spine. A spine might get a bit loose from its pages over time. It’s a good idea to carefully check if some of the pages are not falling out due to the book’s ageing.
Tip #3: Check if it’s a first edition.
Even if you’re not after a major book investment, it is a great feeling to end up with a nice first edition. For UK books, it’s easy to see if the book is a first edition on the copyright page. Usually, either about halfway down the page or lower, there is a number line that might approximately look like this:
1 3 5 6 9 10 11 4 2
If there is a number 1 in this number sequence (no matter where in the line), the book is usually a first edition. This method of checking for first editions, however, only works for more modern books. Older books will usually have an indication elsewhere on the copyright page that it is a first edition. If you want to be sure, it’s good to do some research beforehand to see what the copyright page of the book you want to buy should look like if it is a first edition.
Tip #4: Think about how much you are willing to pay.
Depending on where and what you buy, a second-hand book can be a nice cheap bargain or a costly investment. The price depends on a couple of factors:
- The age and condition of the book
- Whether the book is a first edition and/or has been signed by the author
- If the book is either rare or popular.
It is advisable to do some research on how much the book you’ve got your eye on is usually charged. And to ask yourself if you are willing to pay that. Some good research will help you find the real deals and snuff out the overpriced ones. And if you just want an easy, cheap read, there are plenty of nice, affordable books to find at nearly every charity shop.