Fortunately, this is more fun than work to him, as Mr. Gloss never tires of talking about books. A good thing too, as the appraisers on the "Antiques Road Show" pay their own way and even pay for their own hotel rooms. Their primary benefit is the publicity, but even this is chancy: if no one brings you anything very interesting that day, he points out, you don’t get on TV. Still, you get to meet other appraisers of all sorts of antiques, and those connections can lead to referrals at a later date. It is these future referrals that motivates Mr. Gloss to make the many appearances he does. As he explains, he rarely buys any books at talks like the one he has given this night. What he hopes is that someday down the line, someone who met him at a show will be disposing of a collection, and they will remember him from this night as at least one person they should call.
While most in the audience have come to have their own books appraised, Ken Gloss’ talk offers a lot of guidance that can help any owner get a start on valuing his or her books. He opens the talk by asking what is a valuable old book. For starters, there’s the Gutenberg Bible. Printed in 1456, it’s the first book ever printed. Anything printed in the 1400’s, he explains, is valuable. After that, value is no longer certain. “A book that was dull and uninteresting in the 1500’s may still be dull and uninteresting,” he points out.
The Gutenberg Bible emphasizes his point. A book printed in the 1600’s may sound old, but for a bible, this is not old. Now if it is printed in America and the date is 1640, it’s very valuable. That’s because 1640 is the date for the Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in America, and it is extremely valuable. It may be much newer than the Gutenberg, but like the Gutenberg, it is also a first. On the other hand, a bible printed in Europe in 1640 is far from a first, and unless there is something else notable about it, it is not likely to be particularly valuable.
To take the example further, a book printed in the American Northeast in 1840 may not be worth much because it is not that old for this area, but an 1840 California imprint likely will be valuable. A religious book from 1870 may not be valuable as this is not old for religious texts, but an 1870 book about the telephone and telegraph probably is valuable. 1940 is old for books about computers. Even first edition Harry Potter books can go for $10,000 plus if they are the very first of the first in this series. In other words, “old” is a relative term, and your book should be judged not by an absolute standard of “old,” but by where it fits into its subject’s timeline. And this is why that 1850 book in your attic may not necessarily be as valuable as you think.
The next issue is first editions. Are they valuable? Mr. Gloss points out that most books don’t even have second editions, so that isn’t enough by itself. First the book needs to be historically significant. Then the chances are better that the first edition will be valuable.