Old Books That Sell: 10 Categories That Sell Best

One of the hardest things about selling vintage is knowing what sells best. In this article, you’ll discover ten types of old books that sell: regional, leather, cooking, classic, children’s, biography, coffee table, bird, resource, and miniature. These categories of books have sold well for me from both my booth and online.

I’m going to come clean and tell you right off the bat that I have a bit of a book fetish. Since childhood I’ve been an avid reader of all types of books. Now that I’m an antique seller (25+ years!) old books and books about antiques are on the list.

I may or may not have two towers of books piled precariously in my favorite reading room (the bedroom if you must know). One contains novels and the other antique guide books. Bookshelves in the room hold histories, biographies, and faith-based books.

Just so you know, I have plans for some additional shelving that should allow me to dismantle the towers, LOL.

Can you relate??

Old Books that Sell: 10 Categories that sell best

TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of 10 Categories of Vintage & Antique Books That Sell
Vintage & Antique Book Values w/Chart
Vintage & Antique Books to Avoid Buying for Resale
Where to Find Old Books
Where to Sell Old Books

Ten categories of books sell well for me over and over again. I try to focus my buying on these ten and avoid most others, even if I find their topics fascinating, LOL. I recommend you do the same.

10 Vintage & Antique Book Categories That Sell Best

1. Regional Books

Albany: Capital City on the Hudson by Jack McEneny

I’ve found that there’s a large market for books about the region I live in, and am confident that most sellers will find this to be true for their businesses.

Albany: Capital City on the Hudson (1981), written by a prominent local politician, sells regularly and I have no trouble picking it up for a dollar.

Adirondack Album by Barney Fowler Volume Two

I pick up every single reasonably priced book about the tri-city area (Albany, Schenectady, and Troy), the Adirondacks, the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, the Catskills, and neighboring towns and cities.

Adirondack Album: Volume Two, by local journalist Barney Fowler, serves as another example of a text covering an extremely popular local topic.

I also include biographies of “famous” locals in this category. For instance, books about President Martin Van Buren, who hailed from the nearby town of Kinderhook or Mayor Erastus Corning, who led the Albany political machine with his cronies for so many years.

Books about local artists, inventors, musicians, athletes, and the like should be snatched up whenever you come across them.

2. Leather Books (and others with attractive covers)

Stack of antique leather books

Leather bound books add a certain gravitas to any room in the house. Their handsome appearance, supple feel, and oaky scent make welcome additions to home decor, especially the library, office, or man cave.

While the particular topic often doesn’t matter, a “good” topic (one listed in this article) will improve the value.

Unfortunately, large numbers of books are made to look valuable with faux leather covers.

How to tell real from faux leather:

Real leather…

  • Has a distinctive, oaky odor
  • Is warm to the touch (faux leather is cool)
  • Doesn’t peel (like faux leather)
Antique copy of the book "Know Thyself"

Books with embossed and/or gold gilt embellishment, like the example above (Know Thyself) are also extremely attractive to home decorators. If their spines are decorative, they can be stacked, and if the fronts are beautiful, you can stand them face-forward for greater impact.

3. Cook Books

Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book (red, white, and black cover)

I recommend picking up vintage and antique cook books–another hot selling category– whenever you can as they make up one of the faster selling book types that I recommend in this article.

Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book w/red and white cover

Classics, like Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book and Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book sell regularly, but collectors look for virtual unknowns like “Breads of France” or “Pleasures of Preserving and Pickling” as well, so don’t pass them by.

Unfortunately, many cook books found out in the wild look like they’ve been through the war(!). After heavy usage in an owner’s kitchen, they often have grease stains on the covers and food spatters on the pages.

But don’t pass them up because diehard collectors will often buy particularly collectible examples despite wear and tear. And I have a few tips for cleaning books that should help.

4. Classics

The Poems & Plays of Tennyson (purple dust jacket)

Lovers of great literature enjoy having copies of their favorites on hand and many prefer vintage or antique examples. This includes Shakespeare, Dickens, Hemingway, Melville, Cather, Wharton, and others.

You should also keep an eye out for prominent poets like Emerson, Emily Dickenson, Thoreau, Shelley, Plath, Frost, and Tennyson.

If the covers are bound in leather or decorated or embossed in any way, like this copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this adds significantly to their desirability.

5. Biographies

I felt tempted to call this category “Lincoln” because his biographies dependably sell well over and over again. I like reliability.

This category is a bit tricky since not all biographies make good sellers, but many do! Not very helpful, I know.

As I mentioned in #1 Regional Books, biographies of famous locals do quite well, but as for others, it’s a matter of testing the market. For example, at the moment, biographies of Alexander Hamilton are a reliable seller due to the Broadway show (fantastic, BTW).

Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers (photo of Twain on the cover)

Books about iconic figures, like Mark Twain, generally sell well, even newer examples, like this one by Ron Powers.

6. Children’s Books

The Tale of Peter Rabbit (large antique book with  illustration of Peter Rabbit)

Children’s books delight young and old alike. Adults purchase examples they remember from youth for their children or grandchildren, or to add to their own nostalgic collection. Any antique or vintage copy of Peter Rabbit tends to fly off the shelf.

Vintage set of yellow Nancy Drew series books and blue Hardy Boys

Little Golden Books and series books like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys don’t necessarily fly off the shelf but they are steady sellers. Do buy them for as cheaply as possible (I recommend 50 cents or less) since they typically sell in the $3-8 range.

Little Golden Books: God & The Little Book illustrated by Eloise Wilkins

Books by famous authors or with illustrations by famous illustrators make particularly good sellers and should be readily purchased. I sell quite a lot of Little Golden Books; those illustrated by Eloise Wilkins like the two above, have a very loyal following.

7. Coffee Table Books

Marilyn Monroe (coffee table book)

Coffee table books by and large appeal to decorators. There’s nothing like a group of them stacked in a living room to set the right tone: art books for art lovers, movie star books (like Marilyn Monroe above) for movie aficionados, etc.

Michelangelo the Painter (book)

I’ve had Michelangelo the Painter resting on my coffee table ever since I picked it up at an estate sale for just $2.

8. Bird Books

Favorite AudUbon Birds of America (2)

It may seem odd that I’ve focused so specifically on birds, but I’ve found in my years of selling that bird books sell. Always. Never fail.

Peterson's Guide to Birds (soft cover book)

Guide books, coffee table books, Audubon books–you name it and they will be purchased on the regular.

9. Resource Books

The New Oxford Book of English Verse (blue dust jacket)

Because of their practical nature, resources books as a category appeal to both collectors and what you might call “life-long learners.” The New Oxford Book of English Verse serves as a good example of this.

Saratoga County Heritage (book)

Anyone wanting to learn more about the historical families of Saratoga would be interested in this copy of Saratoga County Heritage.

The list below offers a few of the types of books that fall under the “Resource Book” umbrella:

  • Poetry Anthologies
  • Famous Author Anthologies e.g., Shakespeare, Conan O’Brian,
  • Dictionaries
  • Bibles and related commentaries
  • Atlases
  • Genealogies
  • Bibles

10. Miniature Books

Vintage copy of "Daily Food" (book) 1906

Small items have long appealed to many collectors. Their sweetness is endearing, their craftmanship sometimes awe-inspiring, and their diminutive size makes them especially attractive since they don’t take up much space.

Daily Food (1906) measures in at just 2 1/2″ x 3 3/8″ and is made all the more desirable by its embossed and gold gilded cover.

Miniature "books" Red are plays by Shakespeare, center brown is essays by Emerson

These miniatures (3″ x 4″), while not particularly rare, sell easily for about $8 each. The red contain plays by Shakespeare and the center brown suede book holds essays by Emerson.

Mini red german dictionary and red japanese

These two cuties–German and Japanese dictionaries–can usually be picked up quite reasonably and sold for $6-8.

Honorable Mentions: Textbooks & Modern 1st Editions

I’ve not dealt with buying and selling textbooks online because they don’t hold a lot of interest for me. But I would have been remiss if I didn’t mention that it seems like quite a lot of money can be made with this category. Sellbackyourbooks is a popular site for selling used textbooks.

Antique or modern first editions of famous books is another lucrative area of book selling I didn’t mention. These can be very hard to come by and are therefore not something you should rely on.

Cross-Over Books

Sellers should make an extra effort to look for books that appeal to more than one type of collector. It makes it doubly likely that they will sell quickly–an important goals right? Below you’ll find some excellent examples of this.

Betty Crocker's New Boys & Girls Cook Book

Betty Crocker’s New Boys & Girls Cook Book, which I owned as a child(!), appeals to both cook book and children’s book collectors.

Black leather bound Bible Commentary

This antique leather-bound and embossed Bible Commentary appeals to (1) buyers looking for leather books and (2) those interested in commentaries as reference material.

The Oxford Shakespeare: Complete Works (red book)

Both classic lovers and those searching for a resource on Shakespeare would find The Oxford Shakespeare: Complete Works attractive, but for slightly different reasons.

The Shaker Cook Book (soft cover)

And finally, The Shaker Cook Book also finds followers in two camps: cook book lovers and those interested in the history of the Shaker movement.

Book Values

Most of the books I sell fall in the $5-40 range, (with the notable exception of Cherry Ames: Book of First Aid and Home Nursing, which sold for $140 on eBay several years ago!).

By category, here are some very generalized values that the average antique seller can expect to obtain:

$10-30Regional
$12-50Leather
$8-40Cook Books
$8-15Classics
$10-25Biographies
$5-30Children’s
$10-25Coffee Table
$5-25Birds
$10-25Resources
$8-20Miniatures

I want to mention that value often has less to do with age than you might think when it comes to books. In other words, just because a book is old, doesn’t mean it’s desirable and therefore valuable.

Books to Avoid Buying for Resale

A. Poor Condition

It almost goes without saying that books in poor condition should generally be avoided. Exceptions to this rule would include those that would otherwise be quite valuable. A book worth $1000 in excellent condition will also be worth some lesser amount if condition is poor.

Another exception would be cookbooks which invariably have some condition issues and any book that contains illustrations that could be rescued and sold separately.

B. Library Books

Any signs of previous library ownership–date stamps, tape, etc. reduces the value of most books to almost nothing.

C. Book Club Editions

Signs that your book is a book club edition, and therefore not very valuable:

  • The dust jacket displays “Book Club Edition” on the inside flap.
  • There’s no price indicated.
  • You see a string of numbers listed vertically on the last page.

D. Reader’s Digest Condensed Books

One thing Reader’s Digest condensed books have going for them is delightfully decorated cloth covers. But that’s about it.

E. Paperbacks

Paperbacks, novels in particular, should generally be avoided but some exceptions might include some books falling into the top 10 list above, like regional and bird books. Buy them for yourself, but not for resale.

Where to Find Old Books to Sell

Garage sales and church flea markets typically offer a wide variety of books for extremely low prices–often a dollar or less. I really love stumbling on boxes of books priced at 25 cents each!

Estate sales, however, provide some of the most valuable books, often at low prices as well. Quite often sellers put a blanket price of $1 or $2 per book–quite reasonable for leather-bound books, gorgeous coffee table books, and the like.

Where to Sell Books

I find that most books sell for the highest prices from my antique booth. And since many are valued in the $10-15 range, it doesn’t make sense to sell them online, where I prefer to sell items valued at $20 or more.

Vintage Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book (1950, blue cover)

Books of higher values, however, I’ve found sell better and faster online, this edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book (1950), for example. It quickly sold (with a slip cover) for $40 on eBay, but would likely have languished in my antique booth.

On the other hand, the biography of Mark Twain, mentioned previously, would sell for a mere $3-4 on eBay where buyers can find over fifty copies for sale. But in my booth, it would likely sell for $10-15.

Vintage & Antique Book Video

Conclusion

Vintage and antique books offer an opportunity to make a tidy sum for almost any antique seller. I take advantage of both my antique booth and my online Etsy and eBay businesses, using the later for specialty book with high value. What books have you sold lately?

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28 Comments

  1. Diana, you made me smile talking about your book towers. MY pile of books between dressing table and bed has pushed the mattress off kilter! I tell people I stack them against outside walls and call them insulation! (Balmy 34 degrees in Maine tonite!) I especially enjoy paperback mysteries–I read during my afternoon laydown (gives the low back and arthritic knees a break!) IF I ever drifted off to sleep holding a hardcover, I’d probably get my nose broken! One good thing with a lousy memory–I can come back in 2 years and not remember who-done-it! I am still having a hard time with “books by the yard” for decor. Why own a book if you are not gonna read it??

    1. Hi Kathy! ๐Ÿ˜€ Your comment sounds like one I would make! I can truthfully say that I have books in every room of my house. My kittens frequently knock off the piles on my bedroom dresser. I too have to lie down as a reprieve from arthritic pain in my back and knees and usually fall asleep at night still wearing my reading glasses and reading!! I have old books, collectible books, paperbacks and library books amongst my many favorites. I frequently reread books because of my poor memory!! Thank you to Diana for the wonderful information she shares with us.

        1. Doesn’t she sound just like me; except I have Al to wake me up to tell me to put my bipap machine and carpal tunnel splint on and turn off the light!

      1. Hi Marci, We very well could be soul sisters. I am still getting by with Dollar Tree cheaters for readers–and have them parked everywhere. I also re-read positive/funny books (Stephanie Plum is a fave!) in winter to help combat seasonal affective disorder!!

  2. i love books too and as a former grade school teacher i love to see old textbooks. thanks for the resource for textbooks as those prices have been hard for me to find.
    i also taught french and have some nice french dictionaries and a few other items in french like magazines of famous events which are difficult to find prices for.
    i am always appreciative of your sharing of years of information and experience. i have not found many other sellers willing to do that. thank you.

  3. My Hubbie and I recently purchased a property in Bradford county PA, and the previous owner (s) were ebayers. They both are now in a nursing home. HOWEVER with the purchase of the home, came a BUTTLOAD of depression glass, books dvd’s, vhs, ETC, ETC, ETC. I joined you to get advise and direction. My main issue? How to keep a running stock list as I take pictures and identify…arrgg!

    1. Hi Arlene! The answer to your question depends on how you plan to sell the items. If you’ve never sold antiques before then I would suggest selling the items through an auction house or hiring an estate sale professional to hold a sale for you. If you plan to sell the items yourself online, then you can start an inventory (online or on “old-school” paper). Assign an inventory number to each item and keep track of it on a spread-sheet. Hope that helps!

      1. Thank you I think Iโ€™m going to enjoy it Iโ€™ve got a red plaid cloth covered book of clans and tartans of Scotland it was my grandfatherโ€™s

  4. I always enjoy your insights, Diana. you are right, book have been slow, but steady. I’m having good luck with late 1980s+ first edition Little Golden Books and books about spirituality. cookbooks, not so much for me. I use two online platforms. You are my vintage barometer!

    1. Great to hear about your success with late 1980’s Little Golden Books Deborah, as well as books about spirituality. I’d be interested to know if the spirituality books are vintage or newer? I LOVE being called a “vintage barometer”!!!

  5. So glad you did an article on books! Appreciate your insights.

    I, too, search yard/estate sales for most of the ones you mentioned. I’ve had great success with them in my antique booths. Will have to keep an eye out for bird books!

    Four other types of books that garner sales for me: (1) old books/booklets of hymns or re: religion; (2) old manuals/dealer books (vehicles, radios, aviation, etc); (3) old medical-related books; and (4) anything unusual, out of the main stream, e.g. vintage books about the supernatural/paranormal, magic, etc. The latter I push during Halloween!

  6. Diana, I concur with all of your types of books to seek/avoid, although I was surprised Book Club books should be avoided. I thought that might be a plus, is it because there would be a ton of them in print? Thanks

    P.S. I so enjoy watching your videos and always learn something new from them!

  7. Diana, I love your videos and get so much great information from them. When you were talking about the Audubon prints, you said to put baking powder on them do get rid of the smell….I had heard of baking soda but not baking powder !!! Thanks !!! …Jan

    1. So glad you’re enjoying my videos Jan! Yes, you’re absolutely right. I realized my mistake afterwards and made a correction in the the description below the video.

  8. Guilty as charged; I have lots of books too! I do like ex-library books and will buy them for personal use. I guess I’m a bit nostalgic; I really loved going to the library as a kid.

    1. Yes to ex-library books for personal use Tammy! The library is one of my favorite places. I grew up in a small town, with a small library. Mrs. Metcalf, the librarian, let me “volunteer” after school when I was in 2nd and 3rd grades. I glued card holders in the back of new books and reshelved children’s books–I loved it!

  9. I am so excited to have found your website! I’ve been thrifting and collecting odd items for decades, started selling on Etsy 2 years ago.

    I’ve become obsessed with vintage books over the last year. I’ve gravitated towards cookbooks and childrens books. I’ve found some really rare childrens books, but they are library books. Some are in great shape and the dust jackets are preserved by plastic covers that are easy to remove.

    Are they worth anything? Does being a library book completely negate the value?

    I love the books that have the little cards with the child’s name and the date the book was borrowed. I also love cookbooks with handwritten notes. So I’m happy to keep these in my collection.

    1. Hi Jen! So glad you’re enjoying my resources ๐Ÿ™‚ I haven’t found that being a library book negates the value, but in many cases, it does lower it. Sometimes cook books with lots of hand written notes and cut-out recipes sell very well!!

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