Where to Sell Rare Books and How to Get Started

Updated May 25, 2022
Man Holding Book In Library

Whether you're a bibliophile, a collector or someone looking for a possible way to supplement your income, you may be thinking of ways to buy and sell rare books. As if their distinctive smell isn't a strong enough allure, the eye-popping prices that these rare books can sell for certainly are.

What Makes a Book Rare?

Book repair workshop

Many people think that all old books are rare and valuable; however, when it comes to antique books, age isn't hardly a deciding factor in determining if it's rare or not.

Over the years, the criteria used to classify a book as rare has been the subject of great debate among experts in the antiquarian field. Simply put, for many, a book can be considered rare when the demand for the book is greater than the available supply. For others, things like the number of them produced, limited editions, first editions, and niche subjects can justify a status as rare.

Ultimately, it's quite difficult for someone without any training in rare books to know what is and isn't considered one. Since there's no hard rule for any specific genre, time period, author, and so on, it's important to get your books looked at by an antiquarian book dealer and/or a professional appraiser before putting anything up for sale.

How to Find the Right Antiquarian Book Dealers

The Rider on the White Horse manuscript

One of the most important things when looking for a place to consign your book to for future sale is to put it in the hands of the right antiquarian dealer. The proper dealer will be able to sell your book the quickest and for the highest amount of profit, as they should have experience with your works and others like it.

Since antiquarian sellers aren't hugely popular in rural areas, you may have to travel or communicate online with one to reach an agreement to have your book sold. This makes picking the perfect person all the more vital. Thus, these are a few tips to help you make the best choice for your book's dealer:

  • Ask for their accreditations - To make sure that you're getting the best recommendations and assessments, you should check that your dealer belongs to either the Antiquarian Booksellers Association or the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, or similar professional group specializing in book selling, buying, and appraising.
  • Determine their specialty - Almost every book dealer has a specific genre or time period that they specialize in, and it's important for you to know what that is so you can pair your historic tomes to the best dealer.

Which Selling Method Is Right for You?

There are two main ways to sell rare books: through a dealer or by yourself. Of course, there're pros and cons to both options, but realistically only one of these is going to suit your situation best.

Selling Through a Dealer

Rare book dealer Jonathan Wattis with some of the rare chinese books

If you're selling a rare book through a dealer, you're going to 'consign' your books over to them for them to procure the sale for you. Essentially, they can be the middleman between you and the buyer. Depending on the individual, they may offer to buy the book(s) from you outright or they might offer to sell them for you and take a percentage of the profits for their efforts. Either way, selling through a dealer is only really necessary if you have a rare book that's worth more than a few hundred dollars. If you've got a book that's projected to sell in the thousands, a dealer can expedite the process much quicker than you can given their contacts.

Selling by Yourself

There's always the option to sell your rare books by yourself, in which case you should prepare to sit on them for a while. Antiquarian texts aren't exactly a hopping market, so unless it's a hot button item that's connecting to something in the zeitgeist, you probably won't get a sale that quickly. Yet, for people with no access to any antiquarian dealers in their area, this may be the only option.

Additionally, listing your books on eBay and Amazon can be a surefire way for them to get exposure, but not necessarily to get any sales. With these platforms, you're essentially waiting for the right buyer to come along and want to purchase your book. Often, this can lead people to underselling their items just to get them out of their hair.

Places to Sell Rare Books In-Person

There are countless rare book dealers around the world, each with their own thriving businesses and group of clientele. Yet, if you don't have any idea of where you should start with in-person dealers, here are a few of the biggest names in the business:

  • Dr. Jorn Gunther - Dr. Jorn Gunther's antiquarian business specializes in dealing Medieval manuscripts and early printed books to private buyers and libraries. They're based in Switzerland, but also have an online store.
  • Camille Sourget - Located in Paris, Camille Sourget's antiquarian shop specializes in rare books from the 15th to the early 20th centuries.
  • Libreria Antiquaria Malavasi - An Italian antiquarian shop, Libreria Malavasi has been in business since 1939 and the owners focus on procuring rare books from the 16th-18th centuries.
  • Argosy - Based in Manhattan and Brooklyn, this New York old and rare books dealer specializes in all sorts of historic texts and not only belongs to the ILAB, but also was a founding member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America.

Where to Sell Rare Books Online

There are many stellar online retailers that you can sell your rare books from, and a few of these are:

  • Alibris - Alibris is an online retailer that you can sell your rare books through, and they cap their commission to only $60, leaving you with the opportunity to make a substantial profit.
  • Bauman Rare Books - With three locations across the United States, Bauman Rare Books is an elite rare book dealer that sells expensive rare texts; if you're interested in having them consider buying any books from your collection, it's as simple as filling out a short form on their website, taking care to include information about your book(s) such as the binding, special traits, and so on.
  • Biblio - An industry standard retailer in the books business, Biblio not only sells textbooks and novels but also rare books as well. Biblio also takes a commission off of your sales, but to sell on their site, all you have to do is sign-up.
  • Rare Book Buyer - A Manhattan-based dealer, the Rare Book Buyer buys all sorts of rare books but particularly texts from before the 19th century, and you can contact them through their email or phone.

When the Cover's Worth a Thousand Dollars

For some people, their love of collecting and doing detective work for rare books can lead to a load of fun and some serious profits. However, you don't have to be a dedicated collector to be able to sell rare books to a dealer or a friend. With the right research and proper channels, anyone can sell a rare book in their collection with ease.

Where to Sell Rare Books and How to Get Started