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The #1 Reason Why Many Antique Book Collectors Sell Their Libraries, and How to Sell Yours

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“My wife wants her living room back.”

It might sound funny, but you’d laugh at the overwhelming number of clients we’ve talked to who have decided to auction their antique book collections because, quote: “My wife wants her living room back.”

Book collections obviously vary in size, but they can take up quite a lot of space – space that is valuable to spouses who’ve got their sights set on reclaiming the room where the library is housed, or who’d rather reinvest the value of the antique books into something the couple can mutually enjoy.

Simply put – selling a collection of books is often about reclaiming shelf space.

When to sell a book collection

For collectors who are no longer regularly interacting with their libraries, selling the collection may be an option to consider.

Interests change and we all develop new focus over the years, so this may be a great time to reinvest in different sorts of antique books, or into a different hobby altogether.

Questions to ask yourself before selling

It can be painful to part with carefully compiled and meaningful personal collections. Therefore, it’s wise to ask yourself (at least) four questions before considering letting a library go:

  • Are you still actively enjoying your collection?
  • Do you have space to continue housing the book collection?
  • Are you in urgent need of cash?
  • Have your life circumstances changed in a way that affects the collection?

Learn how to sell antique books online

“I realized I haven’t opened one of the books in my magic collection for years and thought it was time to pass these along to another aficionado who can enjoy them and learn from them as much as I had.”

Recouping your original investment

If you’ve determined that it is in your best interest to sell, your first concern may revolve around how to recoup your original investment in antique books.

Many serious and even casual rare book collectors have invested heavily in their books, whether the collections are large or small, and have spent many years amassing the library.

Naturally, it is a priority for such collectors to attempt to recoup their original investment and if possible, make a profit.

Depending on your present circumstances, this is definitely a primary factor to keep in mind as you weigh your options.

How to sell an antique book collection

One consignor says: “I’ve been collecting for about 30 years and every bookshelf in our house is packed. We’re planning to retire and have to get rid of a lot of things – the sale of my collection is going to go towards our move.”

5 ways to sell antique books or libraries

There are generally five options to choose from when deciding how to sell antique books. We’ll touch briefly on each of these in this article:

  1. Sell the books privately to a collector
  2. Sell the books directly to a rare book dealer
  3. Sell the books online yourself
  4. Consign select volumes to a major auction house
  5. Consign the books to a virtual auction house

1. How to sell directly to another collector

This is often the most desirable option, but isn’t always the simplest.

If you’ve networked with other like-minded antiquarian book collectors and have contacts who may be interested in purchasing some or all of your collection, you’re fortunate! Talk with them first to see if you can strike a deal.

If you’re new to networking in this area, it may be advisable to join some online forums or even Facebook Groups to see if you can track down an interested private party.

2. How to sell directly to a rare book dealer

Certain volumes of your library may be suitable for selling directly to a rare book dealer who may have the opportunity to resell it to a specific private buyer.

Google “rare book dealers” in your area and contact the one(s) of your choice to find out if they’d be willing to buy your book. Remember that they’ll need to see the book in person to fully inspect it, and perhaps consider making an offer.

Keep in mind that rare book dealers – we included – run businesses which must operate sustainably, and thus can only offer you a percentage of the current market value of your book. A good rule of thumb is that a dealer might be able to offer you, on average, around 40% of the current market value for your book.

Selling to a dealer is a preferable option if you’re looking for a quick turnaround or are in need of the cash, but you won’t likely be making a profit on your original investment.

3. How to sell the book online yourself

If you’re tech-savvy and have experience with online sales, it may be easiest for you to sell your antique book online. This would be appropriate if your book is of lesser value but still has some collectibility.

The best venue for selling is at auction on AbeBooks, Amazon or eBay. eBay sometimes gets a bad rap by some members of the antiquarian book community who label it an online “flea market”, but there have been some incredibly valuable antique books sold there for high prices.

eBay’s reach extends all over the world, with roughly 167 million active users and 25 million sellers. That equates to a lot of exposure and possibility for a well-tailored auction listing.

It’s vital to include a detailed description of your book, and take your time to create the best quality photos of the book as possible. Ensure that you’re explaining the condition of the book to the best of your ability – this is very important.

4. How to consign with a major auction house

Selling extraordinarily rare or desirable antique books at auction has been a tried and true method used by bibliophiles for centuries.

For individual volumes or large libraries from distinguished estates, the prestige and exposure afforded by world-class auction houses such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Heritage presents an attractive solution for high-end antiquities and works of art.

Contact the auction house of your choice with details about your antique book and you’ll typically be put in touch with a consignment representative who will explain the process to you.

Remember that with the reputation of a major auction house also comes the expense of consignment fees, seller’s premiums, buyer’s premiums and a lengthy wait (often 90 days or more) before actually receiving payment after a successful sale.

Auction tip: Be sure to carefully review a consignment agreement for potentially hidden add-on fees.

Though some fees are negotiable and you’ll be informed when you carefully read the consignment agreement beforehand, it’s wise to note that you could potentially run into additional charges such as those for photography, cataloging, restoration, buy-back fees for unsold lots, storage fees, shipping, packing, storage, custom duties and import tax, if appropriate.

The high fees and time frame involved can sometimes make this option prohibitive, depending on your circumstances.

If you have the caliber of books (or quantity of such books) typically seen at prominent auctions and you expect your collection to be valued in the tens of thousands or more, a major auction house will be the most appropriate route for your sale.

5. How to sell at auction with a virtual auction house

A virtual auction house is one which operates completely on the Internet and doesn’t have a physical auction house location.

Because there’s no overhead from a showroom and warehouse, a virtual auction house can keep costs down. Keeping costs down helps to better utilize the profits realized at auction for both the consignor and the auctioneer.Translation: good old fashioned premium service and care for customers.

This is exactly what we do here at Regency Antique Books.

Our auction consignment model is different than the big guys because we serve the needs of everyday antique book collectors, not just the extraordinary collections that make industry headlines.

Put quite simply, we love helping people sell their books.

From our one-on-one interaction with you, the seller, to the opportunity to sell your books in a very reasonable timeframe on the open market, the benefits of consigning an antique or rare book collection with us are many.

Our experience in the antique book field at auction coupled with the skills of our professional photography, design and marketing raise the bar in terms of the presentation of your book. This level of representation is the standard for each of our online auctions.

Ready to think about auctioning your collection?

Learn more about the types of rare and collectible books we regularly handle at auction. Submit your individual volumes or entire collection to us and we’d be happy to review your items to discuss the possibilities.


Learning Guides

In-depth guides on the world of collecting and valuing books, postcards, photography and more.

The Art of Fore-Edge Painting: A Guide to This Rare Form of Book Art

The Art of Fore-Edge Painting: A Guide to This Rare Form of Book Art

Fore-edge painting is a unique form of book art that involves painting intricate designs on the fore-edge (the edge opposite the spine) of a book. This form of art is centuries old and has its roots in medieval times. It involves painting images or designs on the edges of the pages of a book, creating a stunning visual effect when the book is fanned out.

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