The Observatory ABAA

Antiquarian Books, Maps and Prints

Specializing in Alaska and other Polar Regions


Primer for the beginning collector of books:

The Internet explosion has fundamentally changed the world of book collecting, in ways both good and bad.  The sheer quantity of books available, and the ease of searching for them, are a tremendous boon to collectors.  On the other hand, the Internet has introduced big business into a world formerly inhabited mostly by quiet, collegial booklovers.  Overall, the benefits for the book collector probably outweigh the dangers, and by following our advice we think you can make your collection experience both fun and low-risk. 

There have always been rogues and thieves in the book trade, of course.  Luckily, book collectors have the same powerful tool today for finding legitimate dealers that they have had for 50 years—the ABAA.  The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America lends its logo only to ethical dealers who will describe books professionally and send them when promised.  To be a member of the ABAA, a book dealer must have been in business at least four years, be of good character, and have a spotless reputation.  Disputes with dealers are resolved quickly and firmly by the ABAA Ethics Committee, which is also responsible for the association’s code of ethics.  As a beginning collector, you will do well to consult the ABAA’s website, at, for the names of reputable booksellers in your field. 

When considering a book dealer close to home, the beginning collector’s most important resources are word of mouth and common sense.

HOW MUCH IS THAT BOOK WORTH?  Value depends on four factors:  Content, author, manufacture, and condition.

Content - If the book’s subject matter is of lasting interest, the value will be higher.  Among our books, for example, arctic exploration is always a popular subject.  Most books about popular culture, such as television programs or kids’ collectibles, will not fare so well over the long term.

Author - In general, bestsellers do not outlast their authors’ appearances on the talk-show circuit.  That said, some popular authors, such as Stephen King, produce books that are in demand for many years to come.  If you truly believe in an author, buy first editions as they are published, store them carefully, and your grandchildren may be glad you did.  After all, if your ancestor had been a fan of Walt Whitman, wouldn’t you be grateful?

Manufacture - A book that is manufactured with care and good-quality materials simply will be worth more than a cheaper version.  For example, there is no contest between a full leather folio edition, AEG (all edges gilt) of a volume on hummingbirds and the same book on cheap paper with paper covers.

Condition - How close a book is today to its original condition will play a vital part in its value.  A Fine (see definition below) copy of the first edition of John Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez in dust jacket will be worth far more than the same book discarded from the public library.

HOW DO I KNOW IF IT’S A FIRST EDITION?  Simple - it usually says so.  Check the front and back of the title page.  Different dates or publishers means this is not a first edition.

WHAT DO THOSE CRYPTIC LETTERS MEAN?  Dealers who describe books in writing invariably use a shorthand.  Here’s the terminology you’ll see most:

·        BC - book club edition; usually cheaper version of first edition, shunned by serious collectors

·        BOMC - Book of the Month Club edition; usually cheaper version of first edition, shunned by serious collectors

·         bds  -  boards; covers, same as cvs

·         crnrs bmpd  -  book corners bent inward, frequently with loss of cloth on the edges

·        collated - book has been checked for the presence of plates (pictures) and maps, and any deficiency noted

·        cvs  -  covers; the outer covering of a book

·        D/J  -  dust jacket; the paper cover on most hardbound books

·        Ex-lib  -  former library book with stamps, discard notices, and the like

·        F  -  fine condition; fewer flaws than many new books

·        ffep - front free end-paper; fly leaf

·        1st ed.  -  first edition; first printing of a book

·        1st pr.  -  first printing

·        frt hge strt - front hinge starting; a serious fault, the cover separating from the body of the book

·        frt hge tndr - front hinge tender; front hinge showing signs of separation (not as serious as frt hge strt), so book must be handled carefully

·        G  -  Good condition; a book that can be in sad shape; all faults must be described precisely

·        mint - a perfect copy; rarely used term, because it indicates no flaw at all

·        plates - pictures

·        VG  -  usual used book condition; presence of dust jacket is described in same manner, e.g., “VG in VG” means a Very Good copy in a Very Good dust jacket

·        recto - front; often used in reference to title page; often indicates a new date or publisher

·        reprint - usually printed by a publisher other than the original one, frequently with inferior paper and binding

·        tp - title page

·        verso - back; often used in reference to title page; generally contains publishing information