Rare books double in value in past 10 years

Animal Farm, Ulysses and James Bond books have all become more collectable, but a first edition of The Great Gatsby remains the most valuable

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 November, 2015, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 November, 2015, 9:00pm

If you own an early copy of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, James Joyce’s Ulysses, or even a James Bond novel such as Casino Royale, it is not just your mind that might be enriched. A new price index of first edition 20th century popular classics reveals how values have more than doubled over the past 10 years.

Stanley Gibbons, the London dealer better known for stamps and coins, will launch a Rare Book Index of 30 first editions this week, mostly by British authors but including American classics such as JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Far outstripping every other book in the index is The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, which came second in a Waterstone’s poll of the 20th century’s best fiction. Stanley Gibbons values a mint condition first edition of the jazz age masterpiece at £246,636 (HK$2.9 million).

Ulysses, the novel that consistently tops polls as the most admired but least readable 20th century classic, is only the third most valuable book in the index. At £24,557, Stanley Gibbons reckon it is just one-tenth of the value of a rare Great Gatsby.

In total, the 30 rare classics add up to a current value of £560,451, compared to £312,276 five years ago and just £78,497 at the start of the millennium.

Many have seen their value boosted by film tie-ins. Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale has leapt in value from £15,537 to £24,180 over the past two years, while fellow Bond tome Live and Let Die has nearly doubled from £4,560 to £8,060.

JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit is named as the second most valuable book in the index at £65,420, double the price it was two years ago - and triple what a mint condition, first edition copy of The Lord of the Rings is likely to fetch.

Only one non-fiction book makes the Stanley Gibbons top 30. Although unlikely to be considered a modern classic by the general public, JM Keynes’ The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money is widely regarded as one of the most influential works of modern economics. The market value of a pristine first edition has jumped by almost 10 times since 2000, from £720 to £6,820.

This is a market snapshot rather than a tradeable index
Keith Heddle, Stanley Gibbons

The book that has risen in value most since the 1990s, according to Stanley Gibbons, is Animal Farm - Orwell’s farmyard metaphor of the Russian Revolution. As recently as 2002 first editions could be found for under £200, but they now fetch more than £5,000.

But some rare book sellers question the accuracy of the Stanley Gibbons index. Tim Bryars, who runs an antiquarian bookshop off Charing Cross Road in London, says: “I’m fairly sceptical of price indices when it comes to rare books. Prices vary considerably, and with modern first editions it often comes down to provenance. For example, if a book has been dedicated by the author to a particular person and inscribed by him, and this is the dedicatee’s copy, then its value will be hugely higher.”

Even first editions of The Great Gatsby vary enormously in price. At Peter L Stern rare books in Boston, Massachusetts, a 1925 first edition, first printing copy with a “tiny stain”is for sale at US$85,000, while a copy with a “Faint erasure on the front free endpaper; spine a little dull”has an asking price of just US$3,750.

Investors will not, for now at least, be able to use the Stanley Gibbons index to trade in rare books. Stanley Gibbons’ group investment director Keith Heddle says: “This is a market snapshot rather than a tradeable index.”But he added it would help buyers compile a portfolio based on the books and authors that have seen the best growth.

The figures for book values fail to take into account trading costs. Typically, a rare book auction house will charge the vendor 10 per cent to 15 per cent, then another 25 per cent to the buyer on the hammer price.

Which of the 20th century classics will make the best investment for the next decade? Heddle recommends that investors look for books that may be about to hit cinema screens, or which are heading towards an important anniversary, and names JK Rowling’s works as modern classics.

At Bryars & Bryars bookshop, Tim Bryars says the market for standard second-hand books is in steep decline, although rare and collectibles are flourishing. But his top tip is not even a rare book. His bestsellers, fetching the highest prices, are actually maps – in particular early maps of the London Underground.

The Guardian