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What to do With Old Books? Vintage & Antique Books, Paperbacks Too – What To Do?

October 31, 2021

If the state has a sizable book inventory or collection, valuing and liquidating the estate library can be a serious task.  From the collection of romance novels, and the boxes of children’s books in the attic, to the rare volume and star of the carefully curated collection, books have value.  Perhaps not the value you think, but a book, whatever the rarity or lack thereof, in the hands of the reader, has a value.  To the executor just trying to empty the house or apartment, to the heir of a serious collector, finding the best destination for the box or boxes of a decedent’s library may present challenges.

For most book collections, there will be a range, from the sellable to the “barely donatable”.  The books that the local donation center turns away may be the chaff at the end of a process where the wheat has been separated and channeled to greener pastures.  The remainder may be destined for the municipal paper recycling bin.  This is part of the life of a library and que sera sera.

That said, our goal would be, let’s minimize that percentage designed for shredding, bring some benefit to local auxiliaries and donation centers that use 2nd hand sales to fund their noble pursuits, and in some cases, turn some portion of the library into estate bank account deposits.

Let’s start there…

Sell

For the higher-end book collections, as the estate’s fiduciary, you should know what you have.  An appraiser can help assign value.  Bear in mind there are generalist appraisers and those that specialize.  Rare books are a specialized field of appraisal and if you have a library or books of value, you should start with an antiquarian book appraiser.  Discuss with the appraiser whether are we talking about replacement values, which is retail, or what the likely offer will be from a buyer, say a used bookstore.  You will find that the numbers will be very different.  You will find that there is a time consideration and hauling books around is time-consuming.  Books are heavy.  (Who knew?) It’s likely that used book dealers will meet your books with, “I’m interested in this, this and this, not this, or any of that.”  For your trouble, you’re likely to have a sum of cash, a bit more knowledge as to where your book values are, and a slightly less heavy box or boxes of books.

Worth noting: established, credible book dealers are very likely to offer a fair price taking into account all the factors involved in assessing, processing, and selling a collection. If you work with a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), you’re sure to receive a proper offer on the most valuable books.  “The ABAA maintains high professional, ethical and financial standards to be admitted. Members offer a fair price when buying because their future in the business depends on their reputation for fair dealing.” Gerard Koskovich, ABAA Member, Owner, Gerard Koskovich Queer Antiquarian Books, San Francisco.

That you may have a diamond in the rough is a possibility, and here, knowing what you have is important.  If you think you have books of significant value, a qualified appraiser is advisable. “Caveat venditor” comes to mind and knowledge is power when placing your estate’s books on their counter and negotiating.

Book Value

There are online resources available to help build your sense of what individual books are selling for.  Be mindful of the date of your information as values change over time, and the condition is also important in the assignment of price.  If you can find a comp (comparable) on EBay or another used goods site, that is a great reference point for sold prices.  Worthpoint, for a cost, is another resource to reference.  Of course, an object’s potential value is only worth what you can find a buyer to pay.  The key term is ‘find’ – and ‘finding’ is time, and time has a very high value – as most people dealing with estates are acutely aware.  Following are some online sites (courtesy of the Facebook Group, Vintage, Rare, & Antique Books) that can help determine book values.  Understand the following will be full retail ‘asking’ prices.

The following sites will indicate retail ‘asking’ prices…
You’re going to need the following info for books you’re looking up to get a close approximate current asking price from the online market…
  • Author
  • Title
  • City of publication
  • Year of publication
  • Edition, if you know it (or limited edition and the #)
  • Publisher’s name
  • Condition
    Classifying condition at the hands of the layperson is potentially problematic.  Professional appraisers study the elements that mark the subtle differences between the condition grades, and grading incorrectly can make a significant difference.  We strongly recommend an appraiser to ascertain the grade correctly.  You can find a local appraiser in the Estate Service Provider Directory for Executors.

The Facebook Group, Vintage, Rare, & Antique Books, has been very helpful to understand and get our head around the process of the liquidation of books (Not to mention the appreciation of fine books).  They’ve provided the above online resources for research.  Thank you! (And Thank You Jenni Hansma of Patrick’s Rare Books.)

Executorium.com is a big fan of Facebook groups for listening learning and access to knowledge.  To qualify this we’ll add you sometimes get what you pay for 😉 and while we often turn to these groups to start to get our head around a subject, we know we’re in the wild west and there’s good advice and bad advice to be had everywhere.

Of course, if you’re planning an estate auction or estate sale this will conveniently sell the books in your charge.  Again, know what you have, books sold through these channels are likely to go as lots or small sum one-off sales and there will be a significant commission.  There’s no reason you couldn’t sell the top layer independently and the books left in the box on the way back from the used book store sell in the estate sale or auction.

Speaking of appraisals, please note that having a qualified appraiser offer a valuation will cost money.  Please also note that having an unqualified appraisal may cost more money. 😉  The point is — while it may be useful and responsible to know the value of the library asset in your care, there is a tipping point where the cost of the appraisal may exceed any potential gains to be had from the information.  A good appraiser should be able to give you an idea of that tipping point as the first order of business.

Donate

Some libraries are open to accepting used books – call first to see where they’re at with donations. Save your knees – lift a phone, not books.

Better World Books has book donation bins across the Eastern US and Midwest and is a web-based B-Corporation.  To realize their commitment to a balance of profit and good works, for every book they sell, they donate a book to a person in need.  They work with a long list of partners, both internationally and locally, including the Digital Archive, Books for Africa, Other #1, Other #2, Other #3 (Perhaps USA, Local, Local?) to meet this standard.  To date, they have provided 31,000,000 books to people who need them.  You can find a Better World Books donation bin here… https://support.betterworldbooks.com/hc/en-us/articles/200605957-Drop-Box-Locations

Books for Africa Books For Africa was founded in 1988 as a 501.c.3 non-profit organization to provide books across Africa.  A Charity Navigator 4-star charity, this group receives books and fulfills its mission with

The Salvation Army also has a book donation program and they pick up.  More info HERE.

The Arc Thrift Store or local auxiliary may be happy to get your boxes of books.  It’s worth a phone call first to see if they are accepting books at this time.

Prisons.  If you have a prison facility within driving distance, consider getting in touch and checking to see if they accept books.

Women’s shelters & homeless shelters.

Keep an eye out for local roadside lending libraries.  What a great way to put some love out into your local world using the books from the estate library!

Fabled Books

Estate Books

This Unique idea came to us from our friends at Seagull Treasure Chest in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

A small but mighty shop in Arizona, Fabled Books, converts old book covers into journals.  This creative idea helps you convert old books into spiral notebooks.  Take those old volumes and make them companions for new ideas, or maybe new books.  Perhaps a “new” notebook with familiar skin to help someone who’s grieving?

Contact Fabled Books via Instagram…
instagram.com/fabledbooksco/

The Chaff

Now that you’ve separated the wheat from the chaff and done your fiduciary duty to get the estate’s monetary from the estate library asset, and have done your good turn to move the lower value balance of books into channels where they may be loved and enjoyed anew, It may be time to move the residue into the disposal category.  Many counties and municipalities accept paper and books for recycling and this would be worth a call to your local town hall or county department of recycling to find out.  Nothing sadder than books in landfills.

However, there may be some uses for dead-end books.  here are a few ideas we like…

15 Brilliant Ways to Repurpose a Pile of Old Books

DIY Hiding Place From Old Books

Make a Book with a Secret Compartment

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