Treasure Hunting in Bookland – Tales from a Used/Rare Book Buyer

A while back, I worked as a used/rare book buyer for a locally owned bookstore. I was fortunate to apprentice under one of their most experienced buyers. You can probably imagine what a rush it was to have a job that paid me to go through boxes brought in by customers and scour for treasures. It wasn’t always glamorous. People tend to think their used/old books (especially if they’re by a famous author) should be worth a lot of money. It’s hard to tell people their babies are only worth a couple of bucks (if that). Imagine the ire you would face after going through a box of 40 books and only purchasing 2 of them. People were not happy. Being a truth teller with thick skin was a requirement. Eventually I moved on (sadly, out of necessity) for a better paying job and healthcare.

If you think you have books that may be valuable, but don’t know where to start, click here.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

The bookstore had a rare book room that received visits from book dealers from around the country. This was prior to the internet literally changing the way people purchase collectibles. I would go in and browse on my breaks. My favorite was a first edition, second state (1880) of Mark Twain’s Tramp Abroad. It was exciting to hold something that was published when he was still alive and writing. There’s nothing quite like the feel of an old collectible book, with the thick pages and heavy cover (often leather). New books don’t know what they’re missing.

The most valuable books in my personal contemporary first edition collection were Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and Vampire Lestat. One of the benefits of being a buyer, is you get first choice of items that come in. I snatched them up before they ever made it to the shelves. I stood in line for six hours to meet Anne and get her signature. All the hundreds of fans in line with me, thought it was worth the wait.

Now that I’m semi-retired (and having a better paying job with health insurance is no longer an issue), I’m considering returning to the book seller/buyer world. I’m hoping my old bookstore will have me back as a seasoned veteran. I may end up behind a cash register rather than the buying counter, but that would be just fine. Books are books. In the meantime I’ll continue my volunteer work at our local library (as soon as Covid permits), searching their donations for treasures (which we sell on-line to help fund children’s programs). You would be amazed at what people donate…but that’s a post for another day.

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