We just acquired a collection from some folks who were dealing with the estate of a family member. The gentleman who contacted me shared the story of the passing of his wife's brother, and how they came to have his collection of books.
The process of selling them was uncomfortable for many reasons, the least of which was parting with something so personal and reflective of the man and his passion for books. They contacted many booksellers, most of whom were unknown to the family, and only identified by the receipts kept with the books. Everyone seemed to want some of the books, but no one was interested in them all. Well actually no one, except for VJ Books.
Of the nearly 200 books, many were common to us (and not what we would normally purchase), but we understood the need for a clean and final transaction, so made an offer for them all that proved equitable and acceptable.
As I worked through the several boxes I came to know something about the collector, and his collecting habits, and began to wonder how my heirs will process my books when the time comes. Book collecting is a very personal adventure. We collect for different reasons, and I'm not sure we share those reasons with our families.
As I have trimmed my collection from nearly 5000 titles to its current shape, my process has been personal and intentional. My collection, that once represented highly collectible authors and titles, is now more or less defined by those authors that I consider friends. You will find Clive Cussler, Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver, Stephen Hunter, Ridley Pearson, James Lee Burke, and other well known authors on my shelves, but also books by lesser known authors who are here just because I enjoyed their work and have come to know them over the years. So what is important to me cannot help determine the eventual value sitting here. My family has an advantage, as booksellers, in determining value,and finding someone to buy my collection.
So how do you protect your investment in collectible books? After all, you have spent a lot of time and money building your collection, and don't want them to end up on Ebay, or sitting at your local Goodwill.
Keep a written record of what your books mean to you, and why. Keep a folder of receipts, reviews, comments - anything that may help whoever has the task of sorting through your "effects."
Please do this. Make a spreadsheet (Excel works fine) on each title in your collection. Consider the following as headers: Author, Title, Publisher, ISBN, Cover Price, Year of Publication, Edition (use McBride's Guide if you aren't sure), Book Condition (this is tricky, but important, see below), Jacket Condition, Noted Defects (remainder mark, price clipped, inscriptions etc.), Author Signed (or not), Price Paid, Where Acquired, Current Value.
Conditions (some of our terms, we use a code shown as a numerical value):
01 - First edition, first printing, mint, new/unread in a flawless dust jacket, signed by the author.
11 - First edition, first printing, mint, new/unread in a flawless dust jacket.
02 - First edition, first printing, fine in a fine dust jacket, signed by the author.
12 - First edition, first printing, fine in a fine dust jacket.
04 - First edition, first printing, mint, new/unread in a flawless dust jacket, signed bookplate laid in.
05 - First U.K. edition, first printing, mint, new/unread in a flawless dust jacket, signed by the author.
15 - First U.K. edition, first printing, mint, new/unread in a flawless dust jacket
08 - PBO/Mass Market edition, first printing, mint, new/unread in pictorial wraps, signed by the author.
18 - PBO/Mass Market edition, first printing, mint, new/unread in pictorial wraps.
I am considering a service I am calling Collection Valuation Services, to assist collectors with this process (more on this later).
I hope that my children will want my books, and not seek to sell them, but that may not be what actually occurs. I'll never know. My advice is to protect yourself and your collection by keeping a concise record of what books you have, what they are worth, and why they are important to you.