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Rare Books > All about rare books and where to find them:

Firstly, we'll get right down to business and say that if you're looking to buy rare books or maps - or indeed any difficult to find literature - then probably the best place to start is Alibris.com. Alibris are a quality Web-site, who have some excellent resources, both for avid book collectors and enthusiasts, and indeed for anyone else who might be seeking a long-lost title.
Alibris search by title search by author

Rare books are Alibris' speciality, but you can also find some slightly less rare books - maybe books that have just been out of print for a while, or limited edition books. One can also usually find a very good selection of signed first editions, though Alibris has many other sections too - including rare illustrated books - which are generally in very good condition and well worth the prices which are asked.

There are several other recommended sources available too, not least of which is abebooks.com. Here you'll be able to peruse at leisure the stock from a network of more than 9000 independent dealers around the world. Second-hand, rare and used books can be located at abebooks.com.

Even if you're just curious about the value of a dusty volume that you've recently discovered hiding away in a long forgotten box, then Alibris is still a good place to go, and you may well find a similar book that will give you just an idea of how much it could be worth if you were intending to sell it. Meanwhile, the message boards at Alibris are also a good place to find information and talk to folks with similar interests, and can often be a useful source of information - even inspiration!

Many folks make quite a profitable hobby - even a living - from buying and selling unusual books, but you should definitely do some homework before re-mortgaging your home to go off in search of antiquarian fame and fortune. Much like anything else, cobwebs hanging from a book don't necessarily infer greater value upon it; conversely, many a book - complete with shiny dustcover, and fewer years under it's belt, may well be worth a nice little sum. Remember, as "old" doesn't necessarily mean rare, neither does "new" necessarily mean available, although often they certainly are synonymous.

ElephantBooks.com is another place where you're likely to find what you're looking for; similar to Alibris they also specialize in out-of-print books and other difficult to locate tomes, and they also carry all the books listed (as opposed to some stores that list books but do not actually have them in stock). ElephantBooks.com also buys used antiquarian and scholarly books - we'll let them tell you in their own words:

" Elephantbooks is always interested in purchasing quality used, antiquarian and scholarly books. We also buy library donations, academic collections, and complete bookstore inventories and private libraries in addition to the thousands of used books we buy direct in our local area." -- ElephantBooks.com

If you're interested in the possibility of selling books to ElephantBooks.com then they can be contacted via telephone (see Web-site) or by e-mail at buyer@elephantbooks.com.

Another useful resource for those seeking that elusive title, including dealers, is ABSNavigator, which is an on-line directory of Antiquarian and used book dealers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Dealer listings can be searched on the basis of country, State/Province, county, city/town, proximity to highway, proximity to major city and dealer specialties. You may also make contact via telephone at 860.526.3896 (U.S. number).

While auction sites such as ebay.com may not immediately spring to mind as being a prime source for rare books, a good selection of first editions, rare and used books can usually be counted upon. ebay.com, ebay.co.uk and ebay.ca (Canada), each have a section devoted to books. You can often also find good deals on new books at the ebay sites too.

Meanwhile, JustBooks UK which we have previously recommended to UK users looking for rare or secondhand books, has now been taken over by Abebooks.com. Until 2004, UK visitors were directed to the main Abebooks.com site, but a dedicated ".co.uk" site now exists at abebooks.co.uk. French and German language sites are also available from the Abebooks.com homepage.

So, how does one become aquainted with the ins and outs of buying or selling rare books? Well, probably one of the first things to do is beg, borrow or maybe even buy a copy of Book Finds : How to Find, Buy, and Sell Used and Rare Books, by Ian C. Ellis. This is an excellent source of information for anyone wanting to find out more about how much their books may be worth, or finding, buying, and selling used and rare books. The book contains a wealth of useful and interesting information - a brief summary is below:


  • A chapter on buying and selling books on the Internet
  • First editions and reader's copies
  • Auctions and catalogs
  • Finding valuable books and selling them for the highest price
  • What's going up in value and what's going down
  • Avoiding beginner's mistakes
  • What bookstore buyers look for
  • The secrets of professional "book scouts"
    Book Finds : How to Find, Buy, and Sell Used and Rare Books

Just for your reference, the ISBN identifier for the above book is 0399526544, and is published by Perigee. The book is very inexpensive - usually coming in at around eleven or twelve dollars (list price is $14.95) but, as always, we're here to compare book prices, so the following link will perform a price comparison for you. Another reference, for prices of used and rare books, which you may find of use is the Rare Books Review magazine. In fact several related magazines may be found in our magazines section.

Another book that we like is ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter and Nicolas Barker. (ISBN: 1884718051).

ABC for Book Collectors, by John Carter and Nicolas Barker    This classic text contains in-depth descriptions of every aspect of antique and modern book collecting from A to Z. All terms are alphabetized for quick reference, including how to take care of pigskin, morocco, or Russian leather, how to tell japon vellum from India proof paper and how to determine "very good copy" in a collectible volume. For first edition collectors, Carter's definition of "follow the flag" explains the historical issues surrounding first and native first texts. The book's pages are charmingly labeled, showing you exactly where the half-title and tailpiece are located and what a printer's imprint page looks like. -- review courtesy of Amazon.com.

The Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) is another fine source of information, (they are the oldest association of professional antiquarian booksellers in America). The ABAA has some excellent search features to enable one to find both books and also booksellers. Although some of the site is restricted to members only, there is still plenty of ability to perform useful research, and the site also hosts several very handy book related message boards. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers is another useful site; The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers is an organisation that encompasses national associations of antiquarian booksellers around the world.

A free online glossary of common book language among dealers and collectors, which is very useful, can also be found at PK Books: for instance, although it sounds like it may probably bite you, did you know that the term "Incunabula" is used to describe books published prior to the year 1501? This is another great site that offers lots of handy tools of various kinds, although one does need to sign up (free of charge) to use many of the services. Enjoy!

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