I Sell Rare Books

Actually, I sell rare and collectible books.

What’s the diff? All rare books are collectible, but not all collectible books are rare.


Okay, I have a copy of John Steinbeck’s first book, Cup of Gold. Just an ordinary copy of the first edition, first printing, but without its dust jacket. It’s a collectible book. Why? It’s the first book by a major author of the 20th Century. He was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize for Literature. But it’s not a rare book. Scarce maybe, but not rare.

Now let’s say that I also have a copy of the same book, but with its famous flamboyant dust jacket illustrated by Mahlon Blaine that is filled with tattooed and colorful pirates. Dust jacketed copies of this book certainly border on the descriptive word “rare.”

Now let’s say that I not only have such a book as the above, but it’s also inscribed by Steinbeck to his sister. I actually own this book. This book, because of its various elements (the dust jacket and the author’s inscription to a close family member), can now be elevated to the rare category.

But let’s back up for a moment. When someone who isn’t a sophisticated book collector hears that I sell rare and collectible books, they assume immediately that I have hundred dollar bills falling out my pants pockets when in reality I feel a body blow if I were to lose a quarter.

Why? I spent more than 30 years of my adult life working in the restaurant business as a waiter and sometimes as a bartender and restaurant manager in order to finance my life as a bookseller, starting in business 35+ years ago with no books, no brains, and no money.

When I say I sell rare and collectible books, it means just that. Sometimes the books are collectible, even if they are plentiful, and once in a while I have a book for sale that is indeed rare. Again, when peole hear what kind of books I sell, they assume every book is rare and worth a million bucks. Not so. Or that every book I have is priced at $10,000 or more. Not even.

Let’s examine a book that illustrates what a collectible book is, and it is one that is very accessible to those who have yet to inhabit the “rare” world.

First Trade Edition

First Trade Edition

The book in question is Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike, published by Knopf in 1981. It is Updike’s third “Rabbit” book. I have the first trade edition with its dust jacket. It is NOT a rare book. According to Allen Ahearn of the firm Quill & Brush, noted antiquarian booksellers and a long-time member of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America, the print run for the first trade edition was 60,000 copies. This is noted on the advance uncorrected proof of the book.

Well, that’s a helluva lot of copies, you might say. Yup. That’s why it’s not a rare book. But the book won Updike the National Book Critics Circle Award, the National Book Award, and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Not a bad triumphrivate, eh? So now what we have is a major novel by a major author of the 20th Century, a triple award winner. That’s a collectible book. And at $25, less than the cost of just about any new hardcover book, it most certainly is affordable.


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