Book Collecting 101 – Part Five
John Hutchinson, VJ Books
February 29, 2016
Signed or Author Autographed Books
You are now more active, and your book collection has begun to grow. You are adding shelves where once stood empty walls. Armed with your newly found knowledge, you have sorted through your books, retained you first editions and culled out the later printings, bookclubs, paperbacks and inferior copies. Your eye has become more critical. You examine each book you are considering carefully, looking for anything that may detract from its collectability. Is it clean and straight, are the page blocks bright and undamaged, is the jacket free from flaws? Are you sure that it is a first edition?
What to consider next? What will increase the desirability or value of any book you add to your collection?
It’s now time to consider signed or author autographed books. An author’s signature can often add a great deal to a books value. They are the showpieces in any collection. Most collectors build their collections around signed books – they are the backbone of the rare book business.
Publishers have historically sent authors on book tours to promote their newest release. They visit local bookstores, read from their book, take questions, and sign their books. If you are fortunate to live in a major market on the tour schedule, the simplest way to get a signed copy is to attend one of these events. It is important to remember that the more famous the author – the longer the lines. Often bookstores will limit the number of books each customer may have signed, so getting your older titles signed is not always a sure thing. Sometimes you have to buy the new book at the store sponsoring the signing, and that is the only book you can have signed. You can find signings in your area in your local newspaper, and with the advent of the internet you may find tour schedules on the author’s or publisher’s websites. Authors also may attend literary festivals or book fairs where they will also sign their books.
Some authors tour with each new book released and sign huge numbers of books, so signed copies can become quite affordable. Other authors tour less frequently, or not at all, making signed copies of their books much scarcer.
Buying signed books without meeting the author has become quite easy. You can find them in specialty bookshops, mail order catalogues, at book fairs or festivals, or on the internet.
As with the other aspects of book collecting, it’s important to understand the terminology used in the book business relating to signed books.
Signed or Signed and Dated Copy
Probably the most desirable signed book is one with just the author’s signature, or one that’s signed and dated. Dated in the year of publication is more valuable than one with a later date.
Signed, Lined and Dated Copy
More common in the UK, authors have been known to not only sign and date a copy of their book, but also hand write the first line of the book when they sign it.
In addition to the signature the author may inscribe a copy to some individual. “To Bob, with warm wishes,” is a nice sentiment – if you are Bob. It is also much easier to resell your modern signed books if they are just signed. No one named “John” wants a book signed “To Bob.” In other words, inscribed copies are less desirable than copies that are just signed. Exceptions are when the person to whom the book is inscribed is famous in their own right (i.e., another author, a movie star, a former president, etc.), or has a known relationship with the author (i.e., a family member, agent or someone associated with the books creation.) This type of book is also known as an “association copy.”
This copy of a book is inscribed by the author to the person or persons to whom the book is dedicated.
This is a copy of a book given by the author as a gift to the recipient, usually inscribed and often dated very near the time of publication. It is not a copy signed by the author at the request of the autograph’s recipient.
Inscribed Sentiment Copy
This copy of a book is inscribed without being personalized. Anytime an author writes something extra in their own hand values increase. A copy of a book inscribed by Dean Koontz or Stephen King that says, “Stay close – you never know when I will need some fresh blood” would be worth more than one that is just signed. The inscribed sentiment is considered one of the most desirable collectibles. An inscription also makes it easier to authenticate a signed book.
It may seem like a signed or autographed should have a direct link to the books value, however the link is not quite that simple. Values vary based on the size of a first printing, how easy an author’s signature is to obtain, how many they signed if they are no longer alive, their popularity, etc. Tom Clancy’s THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER had a very small first printing and Clancy was a difficult signature to obtain. He did few public signings. Now that he is gone prices for signed copies of that particular title are on the rise.
An author’s approach to signing may change over time. Early in their career they may be more open to touring and signing lots of book. As they become more popular and established, they may be less inclined to go on the road promoting their latest title. At events just a few years ago adventure writer Clive Cussler would stay all night signing everything put in front of him. Recently, at an event in his hometown fans were limited to just two items being signed, and when Cussler got tired – he left. So it will change over time. Do a little research – it will help you determine how much a particular author’s signature is really worth.
Of course, only an authentic signature has value. Dealers certify the authenticity of a signature or inscription by knowing its providence (when and where it was signed) or by comparing the handwriting to samples known to be authentic. The authenticity of signed books and signatures in particular is the number one element of the trust a reputable seller of autographed books is hoping to establish and maintain with their customers. Once you have found a reliable source for your collecting needs you will find it a lot easier to grow your collection.