What’s A Signed Book Worth?

Books

There’s nothing so cruel as finding out that your ‘valuable’ signed book is worthless. The BBC asked booksellers how much they gain by selling a signed edition, but the answer is driven entirely by public demand. Inevitably JK Rowling features heavily, drawings add more value to signatures and the most highly prized signed book is one that’s signed to the dedicatee.

Writers can help independent booksellers by adding unique content to books that they can sell to collectors. I always offer to add a drawing or a line of dialogue to a signature because I know independent booksellers can make a little more profit that way.

Over the years I’ve written to many authors, and when I pass old books on I have a habit of tucking my correspondence from them inside the flyleaf. I got this habit from the bookshops of Charing Cross Road many years ago, when I bought a book by Ronald Searle and found a letter inside the flyleaf to his agent. I’ve since found several more.

Signing books is surprisingly hard work in a world where everyone has a novel way of spelling their name. While you’re signing, the reader often has an amusing, complex anecdote to tell, and as you listen you find yourself writing down their most repeated word instead of your name.

Here’s a bit of bookseller terminology from AbeBooks;

  • The term “inscribed” means that the author has written a short note in addition to their signature;
  • The term “flat signed” means the author has written their name and nothing else on the page;
  • The term “autographed” does not mean signed but means that the document in question has been hand-written. So an “autographed manuscript” is a manuscript hand-written by the author.

The site goes on to list its most valuable signed book, which turns out to be one of the most unreadable classics in the world, Moby Dick, at $28,900 – but it’s not even signed by the author. Rather, it’s signed by the illustrator of the 1979 reprint.

It will come as no surprise that JK Rowling’s rarest signatures are second in value only to Shakespeare’s famous six signatures. George Orwell also rates highly because he was able to sign so few copies of ‘1984’.

For the record, the most valuable book I own is the one that the seven year-old me signed and returned, by a twist of fate, to my adult self. For that story, see ‘The Book of Forgotten Authors’.

17 comments on “What’s A Signed Book Worth?”

  1. I’ll be honest, I’d never buy a book just because it has a signature in it. Even for Brian Flynn, the ultra-obscure Golden Age author that I’m currently obsessed about, I bought a cheaper copy of a title rather than spend an extra twenty quid.

    On the other hand, the books that I have that are signed to me by various authors are virtually priceless – to me, at least, although the prize goes to my copy of Dark Serpent by Paul Doherty, as he dedicated the book to me as well , which was rather nice…

  2. Jo W says:

    The signed books I have are all by you Christopher and whether flat signed or inscribed, to me they are priceless. They will not be going to a charity or a second-hand bookshop.
    By the way, is it as hot in Barcelona as it is here in London? 😉

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I have several signed Fowlers, too, and with extra phrases added as well. When I look at those signatures I’m reminded of a very pleasant visit to London (including that evening we had with you, Jo). I have a few other books that were signed but I won’t pay more for a signature because I’m egotistic enough to want the signature to have been done for me. Even if the author is deceased I’d want the writing to have been done for someone specific.

  4. Jo W says:

    Helen, I remember that evening in the Sir John Betjamen too. I hope you are both keeping well? Greetings from me and London. 🙂

  5. SteveB says:

    I do have signed copies of the Foundation trilogy 1sts.They are signed and addressed to someone else, I picked them up in the sf bookshop in Holloway Road decades ago…
    No signed Bryant and Mays yet but Im hoping one day!

  6. Roger says:

    There was the report that unsigned books by Jeffrey Archer were rarer and worth more than signed ones.
    WAs it Margaret Atwood who invented/tried to popularise an internet signing device?

  7. admin says:

    I was once at a panel event where the authors on stage started slagging off another writer who was famous for leaving no book unsigned. A small voice piped up from the audience; ‘I am here, you know.’

  8. SimonB says:

    I have a couple of signed books unknowingly bought as such (no label on the front telling me it was) and also a pair of Pratchett’s which my brother got when he and a bunch of friends took him out to dinner. But the only ones that really enhance the value for me are two where I actually met the author and had a meaningful conversation. One of those is a local history book, while the other is Sophie Neville’s account of the 1974 Swallows and Amazons film. The latter was a good enough meeting that she follows me on instagram.

    Mind you, I did once read a piece of fan fiction about how in a world of ereaders they still had to dig out an old press just so Terry Pratchett could sign copies.

  9. Martin Tolley says:

    Years ago before she could even write, my baby sister signed a lot of my books on most pages with her blue and yellow wax crayons. Those books would be worthless to others but are priceless to me.

  10. Ken Mann says:

    I have a signed Poul Anderson somewhere that is inscribed to someone who doesn’t exist because he was a little deaf towards the end and misheard my name. If I ever meet someone with that name they’ll get an unexpected gift (especially if they were born after he died).

  11. Ian Luck says:

    I’ve got precisely three signed books – two from car boot sales, one of which is a book on the production of ‘Alien’, signed by Ridley Scott; another is a book purporting to be a guide for the budding animator (of course, it’s nothing of the sort), by Terry Gilliam, and signed by him. Each was a couple of pounds. They are two very cool books: the signatures are a bonus. The other is a novel by John Connolly, one of his ‘Charlie Parker’ series. I’d have bought it anyway, but was in town the day it came out, signed, and with a soundtrack CD for the book.

  12. Jan says:

    When I used to work in town I used to find the bookshops in Central London were handy little spots to sit and stare out of to see what was occurring in the street outside.

    Eventually boredom sets in and one day I started to search the shelves to take a look at one of your most recent great literary works – this would have Been in about 2002. (As you can no doubt tell I was bored out of my head that day). Must admit the only place I ever read your short stories was in bookshops in Charing X road. Anyway I digress in Waterstones Oxford street the one nearest to the j/w Tottenham Court Road to my surprise I found just about every copy of your current volume contained an example of your squiggly moniker.

    Suspicions aroused when I checked The Strand Branch nearest to j/w Trafalgar square( in perfect cardy watching territory that Waterstones) lo and behold same thing signed every single copy. No tell a lie half a dozen weren’t. I was very much inclined to sign these overlooked volumes on your behalf a bit like Jeeves purporting to be Rosie M. Banks the romantic novelist in that PG Wodehouse story.

    What was occurring here “Does this phantom author flit round London signing every book he’s ever gotten published?” I thought – I couldn’t fathom it. Weird.

    Anyway a few enquiries were made at the sales desk. Turned out that once signed the signed books can’t be returned to their publishers cos they are shown as damaged.

    I’ve got you well sussed Fowler. Signed copies my arse.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    But have you ever come across a Fowler on a remainders table, Jan? I suspect that would be a booksellers last resort to clear books that just don’t seem to sell.

  14. Jan says:

    H I went to Harrow Show on August Bank Holiday one year to find a whole stock of the literary works of the Fowler on sale at the bargain price of 20p. Couldn’t believe it!

    I think what had probably caused the volumes to be remaindered is displayed on the back cover (paperback) of said volumes was a portrait of the author. The Fowler was sat on a step in a sort of concrete public square. A a guess the Brunswick Centre Holborn or up near the University property nearby. He looked a bit embarrassed I have to say and looked pretty much like a late 20C version of an urban garden gnome. Wearing an outfit inspired by James Dean.
    Was a bit of a startler I’ll tell you. I never bought one. Not likely.

    I must admit I was quite surprised when I finally met C.F. to find out he was tall. The gnome motif had stuck with me.

  15. Helen Martin says:

    What effect *does* the author portrait have on a putative purchaser? That head and shoulders version with him looking out at you always irks me because it doesn’t look like him really and while it might be appropriate for the autobiog it doesn’t fit with the B&Ms. I’m ordering from overseas, though, so I don’t see the picture the way I would if I were looking at it in a store.

  16. Jan says:

    Um…this particular portrait needs to be viewed to fully assess its impact. Indescribable ….

    (Helen don’t be taking me too seriously)

  17. Helen Martin says:

    I laugh, trust me, Jan, but that picture I referred to is just so wrong.

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