What’s A Signed Book Worth?
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’.