Investing on a Shoestring – Books

This is another installment of a series on shoestring investment options. (See the first post here on silver, the second on maps.) You can be involved on a large scale, but small, regular investments are even more easily accomplished. Please note: I am a certified personal property appraiser — but not a professional investment counselor. These are my assessments, albeit backed up with resesarch and expert opinions. Invest at your own risk.

In high school, I commandeered a treehouse my brother built overlooking the yard. I spent many happy hours up there, a copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (read slowly, to make it last), a mason jar of iced tea and Snickers bar handy nearby.

The same books that give you pleasure can also help fund your retirement, if you choose them carefully. And it’s not just old books, either. According to the Stephen King collector site, a 1974 first edition of Stephen King’s first major book, Carrie, sells for $30,000! (A first edition of his 1989 less-famous collection, Four Past Midnight, values at $1500.)

Rare books go for the highest prices, of course, like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, with a hand-written dedication to his wife. (Sold for $99,000 in 1991, well above the $80,000 pre-sale estimate.) And if you’re lucky enough to snag a small pamphlet called Tamerlane And Other Poems, authored by ‘a Bostonian,’ like the man who paid $15 for one buried under a pile of agricultural tracts in a New Hampshire antiques barn in recent years, brace yourself. You may have to settle for just the reserve at Sotheby’s, like his did: a mere $198,000. (The Bostonian of this “black orchid” of American literature was Edgar Allan Poe.)

Some tips to help, if you’d like to invest in a literary way:

*Study. Not all first editions are treasured ones. Sites like Abe Books are good for checking — even Amazon will give you a better idea what’s hot right now.

*Make sure you have a true first edition. Bookseller World is an excellent starting point for dates and identifying marks.

*Buy the best you can afford — and include the dust jacket. It can really jumpstart the value.

*Take care of your purchases, and hold onto them. Protect them from too much light or heat, and store the most precious books in ‘clamshells,’ protective cases. Time is not always a guarantee, but it’s certainly been kind to many old books. Even waiting a few years can increase the value of the really unusual titles.

*Keep an eye out for the new stuff. One collector studies Publisher’s Weekly regularly, then buys new titles as they become available. (Gets the authors to autograph them, too.)

*If money’s tight, haunt the secondhand places: thrift shops, garage sales, used bookstores. (Hint: Stretch your money even further by helping out at your local thrift shop. You’ll be giving time and effort where it’s needed…and if your shop is typical, you’ll get a healthy discount. Our local thrift charges volunteers 10 cents apiece for books!)

*Every little bit adds up. Do your research, then choose carefully — you can make a profit by reselling not only books, but videos and music. I picked up a DVD of Henry Gates Jr’s African American Lives for $1 at our local library’s sale room — and sold it on Amazon for $10.95. A thick gardening book, purchased for $2, went for nearly $16. Do this several times, and you’ve got a pocketful of cash for speculating — or more substantial purchases.

*Buy what you love…or at least admire. Even if you decide not to sell, or it takes some time, you can enjoy your investments the best way — by reading and absorbing them.

Some booklovers choose only certain authors — others will collect anything rare. Nicholas A. Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books is a lengthy romp into the world of book collecting –and an excellent self-education in the process.

This post is by staff writer Cindy Brick. Cindy has several published books and many published articles on a variety of subjects. You can visit her business website at or visit her personal blog.

One thought on “Investing on a Shoestring – Books”

  1. Update: This isn’t just a fluke; you really can do this regularly. I just sold a book on how to read Mayan hieroglyphs for $16.95 via Amazon. A few weeks ago, I’d purchased it at the library used book room for a buck!

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