Ask A Librarian

Books’ Values Measured in Significance

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
August 2nd, 2005

Worth not necessarily related to tome’s age

By Mary Helen Hinchliffe
The Dominion Post

Cliff Bishop waited anxiously in the WVU Downtown Library Complex with several books in hand to determine if he was holding a collector’s treasure.

Bishop, along with his wife, Sara, and son, Caldwell, 17, were among more than 60 collectors who attended the Book Lovers’ Roadshow on Sunday at the Charles C. Wise, Jr. Library, featuring Jack Walsdorf, an antiquarian book appraiser and collector.

The family, which has several hundred books in their collection, hoped to find out more information about and the value of their books from Walsdorf.

“The main reason for coming is to find out about the books, but also for (Jack’s) views on what condition they’re in and whether or not they would be worth restoring,” Bishop said. “For me it’s intriguing to read the books and wonder about the individuals that have previously owned them.”

During the event, hosted by Friends of the WVU Libraries, Walsdorf educated attending bibliophiles on several topics, including book collecting, finding a book’s value and how to care for books.

“I tell people sort of trade secrets of how to recognize a good book versus a book club book,” he said. “I see the pleasure they get in learning about their book.”

Walsdorf is the author/editor of 15 books relating to the history of printing and bibliography, and has more than 30 years of book selling and collecting experience.

During his visits across the country he appraises a wide spectrum of books from the very rare to the very common. Walsdorf created the Book Lovers’ Roadshow after retiring at the age of 58. Now 64, he began lecturing in libraries about book collecting. It was during a lecture at the University of New Hampshire that he first came up with the idea to help people in appraising their collections.

“Most people think this was a rip off from the Antique Roadshow,” he said. “In fact it was pure serendipity that the library director asked her staff to bring some books to show me that they had collected.”

During a previous visit to WVU Libraries in 2003, Walsdorf appraised a first print of a two-volume journal of the Captain Lewis and Clark expedition held by a local resident. The books were valued at more than $100,000.

However, Walsdorf cautions book buyers against assuming that the older the book, the more valuable it is.

“There is virtually no correlation between age and value,” he said. “In fact one of the most valuable books, a modern book, is the first edition of the first Harry Potter book published in the U.K.”

Many factors are involved with appraising a book, including its subject matter, condition, edition and author.

However, for Walsdorf the value of a book goes beyond what it is worth in dollars.

“Only with knowledge do you know if the book might be valuable, not purely in a monetary way, but in a scholarship way,” he said. “It might add to the value of the university library, for example, by your donating it. Reading and books are one of the wonderful ways to gain a whole new perspective on things.”

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