Culinary History Collection


Current Editor: Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Issue 5 Winter 2004

What Makes a Book Rare?

by Joyce Nester

In Special Collections we are frequently asked, "What makes a book rare?" This question has no quick, easy answer. Webster calls rare "superlative," "extreme of its kind," or "seldom occurring." In the market-driven society in which we live, rare often equates with a high dollar value. But, as any book lover will tell you, books may appeal to us on a intellectual or sentimental level and have a true personal value for which no amount of money has any meaning. These books may be scarce, but might not command a high price. Then there are those considered rare, and thus both scarce and valuable, by an objective collector. These are the books we will consider here.

There are no hard and fast rules. Instead, there are indications of worth that should be considered:

In the end, whether a book is considered rare depends on its scarcity and on market demands. No matter how unique a book may be, its monetary worth amounts only to what a collector will pay for it.

In Special Collections, we turn to professional, qualified book dealers when there are questions of monetary worth. These experts can be found in the yellow pages of your local phone book under appraisers or book dealers. It's always a good idea to check on the professional reputation and credentials of any appraiser with whom you are not personally acquainted. We have additional information about "Appraisals of Donations" at

Editor's note: This article was originally published as "You have a rare book?" in the Autumn 1995 issue of Library Friends, published by the University Libraries at Virginia Tech.

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