Rare Book Collecting: Price vs. Value

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August 15, 2016 by jillclever

When talking about rare books often the conversation turns to what the difference is between the price of an item and its value. This may seem obvious but that is not always the case. Price seems apparent, being the price you pay for something, rare or otherwise. But value is a little harder to define. Value is subjective and will vary person to person and collection to collection. If something, such as a letter from Thomas Jefferson, fits your collection scope closely it has greater value to you that something you don’t typical collect, like books on Egyptian art. Therefore you are more willing to buy the letter than the book, not necessarily because of its price but because of what it adds to your collection. You may even find that, no matter the price, it is not right for your collection and therefore has little to no value to you.

Then you have the next piece of the puzzle-what intrinsic value does that letter from Thomas Jefferson have for you and your collection. How much is it worth spending for such an item. This now moves toward analyzing the meat of your collection and how badly you feel you want or need the item. This is also of course guided by the money you have to spend. If it is something you have been looking for a long time you are liable to place a greater value (and price) on it than for something you might like for your collection, but that isn’t as prized by you and which you haven’t been scouring catalogs and auctions for. This is when value becomes even more subjective. The price may affect whether or not you purchase the book that you would like to own but don’t value as highly as the letter which you feel you must have for your collection.

In short, each item has a subjective value to each purchaser and each collection. This then affects the price in terms of what one is willing to spend given the budget they have. This proves true for individual collectors as well as libraries. Personality of the individual also comes into play. It can vary greatly as to what value they place on a particular item. In these days of shrinking library budgets it is important for the manager of the rare book collection of a library to make hard, and somewhat subjective, decisions regarding what to add to the collection based on the price they may have to pay to obtain the item, the budget they have to spend and what the item adds to the collection. Therefore, while different, price and value go hand in hand in assessing and adding to any collection.


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