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Books May Be Undiscovered Treasure

Aug 17, 2007
Books can be a fascinating type of treasure. Most books bought in America today cost between one and five dollars apiece, but there are books in the world that have been sold for over one hundred fifty thousand dollars.

These books are called "rare" books, and many men spend their lives collecting, buying and selling them. The bookdealers and auctioneers classify them as scarce, rare, very rare, exceedingly rare, or "excessively rare." If a large number of people want to buy a particular book and there are not many available, it becomes classified as one of the rare books. Dr. Abraham S. W. Rosenbach, a famous rare-book collector, paid one hundred fifty-one thousand dollars for a copy of the Bay Psalm Book printed in 1640.

Age alone does not make a book valuable. The reason the Bay Psalm Book is interesting to collectors is not its age, but because it was the first book printed in the American colonies. There are many older books in the world, but a "first" in any connection is a point of interest in book collecting.

The Gutenberg Bible was published in 1455. It was the first edition of the first book ever printed from movable type. The fifteenth century was called the "cradle of printing." Any book printed during this period is cherished.

There are books we know were printed, but of which no copies are known to exist. If you found one of these books it would be "most exceptionally rare"!

Autographs add to the interest and value of books. The more famous the name written in the front of a book, the more highly it is valued. But make certain that it is in the man's own handwriting. Some men wrote their names all the time and so their autographs are less sought after than those that are seldom found.

One rare-book treasure was found in a New York shop by the actor John Drinkwater. It was a copy of Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, presented by the author to Nathaniel Hawthorne and inscribed with Hawthorne's name!

The first appearance of a well-loved book has importance to collectors. These "first editions" are greatly sought after.

Sometimes the books have appeared first in magazines and then been issued in book form. Only the books are treasures. Old newspapers and magazines are often interesting but only occasionally are they valuable.

Look up in your attic. If your great-great-great-grandfather kept the Analectic Magazine dated November, 1814, you do have a treasure. In it first appeared a poem by Francis Scott Key called "Defense of Fort McHenry." Sounds unfamiliar? It begins, "Oh say, can you see by the dawn's early light . . ." It was set to music as "The Star Spangled Banner."

Occasionally a book that is marked "second edition" is really a "first." The printers probably marked it this way to give the impression that the author's work was widely read. One of these books is Edgar Allan Poe's Poems.

Sometimes when a book is printed the type is kept standing. Then, if the book sells well, it is re-issued from the same type.

This second issue of a book is not as valuable as the first. How can you tell? There may be a fading out in the letters. Occasionally, the author has changed a line.

If you have a copy of the Songs of Hiawatha, look at page 32, line 11.

Does it say, "In the moon when nights are brightest," or does it read, "To the melancholy Northland"? If the line tells you about the bright nights, show your book to a collector.

Anyone can start to collect first editions. Take any subject you like, or any author who interests you, and start in. The subject doesn't matter. Even old schoolbooks have been collectors' items. The author who is unknown today may be world-famous twenty years from now. Why not start collecting the books you love? Tomorrow they may be considered treasures.
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This an an extract from The Real Book About Treasure Hunting
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