If you’d like to sell…
We purchase books quite selectively, determined essentially by three criteria:
Importance is the slightly difficult-to-define quality of a book’s place in history and in literature; Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint might be considered more “important” than his Sabbath’s Theatre. Authors’ first books are often of a special interest. Into this category also fall signatures and inscriptions; most of our modern firsts are signed (beware: especially in the nineteenth century, publishers often included the signature — printed — of the author, usually under a portrait frontispiece; it is not, in that case, a signed copy). Inscriptions can be of special interest, especially if the connection is an important one — this is what is called an “association copy” (a much-abused term); “to my neighbor John” is one thing; “to Mrs. Smith, my high-school English teacher, who inspired me to write novels, and who will find in Mrs. Smyth some definite resemblances” is quite another.
Primacy is clear enough; a first edition (first printing, if indicated) is more desirable than later editions in most cases. This is especially true in nineteenth-century books; many might think that they have a treasure with a leather-bound book, but the title-page might reveal that it is a sixth American edition, photostereotyped — in which case, it is often of considerably less value than a first edition.
Condition for modern books is especially dependent on the dust-wrapper. A good example is The Great Gatsby: a first edition with the first-state dust-wrapper in fine condition can sell for $75,000 and up (and up); the same sort of copy without a dust-wrapper is worth about $7,500. Dust-wrappers (also called just-jackets) should be totally intact, and ideally without fading at the spine, which comes from exposure to sunlight, or indeed darkening (often a product of tobacco). More broadly, we look for books with good solid hinges and an absence of scuffs, nicks, tears or soiling, both on the binding and in the text-block.