If you’d like to sell…
We purchase books quite selectively, determined essentially by three criteria:
By importance we mean 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. 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 can sell for $30,000; 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. 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.