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The Good Life

Treasure tome
Grace your bookshelf with rare first editions and author-signed books that you can find on AbeBooks and Biblio.com

Deepika Agrawal

If you are a bibliophile, you either own a library or dream of owning one, much like the Beast’s in Beauty and the Beast. Nothing beats a whiff of a brand new or a very old book. The smooth texture of a fine-grained page, and the weight of a hardbound in your hands or the convenience of a paperback for that comfort book you always need with you, are all things only a true book lover will understand. You treat your most cherished books like sportspersons treasure their trophies. But, how do you build a book collection that’s extra special and unique?

AbeBooks and Biblio.com may have the perfect offerings for you. How would you like a rare handwritten book or a signed one by your favourite author? Or how about making your child’s six-year-old birthday one he/she remembers forever by gifting them a first edition of Oliver Twist?

An online marketplace for books, Canada-based AbeBooks has independent sellers from around the world who list millions of new, used and rare books. Some may have known an author or a relative of an author. Some may have got several books signed over the years during book tours and promotional events. “Our vision is to help people discover and buy the books, art and collectibles that they love,” says Richard Davies, the company’s PR manager.

Depending on how rare the books are, they will cost you a leg and an arm. A signed first edition of F Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby from 1925 can be procured at a handsome price of 20 million whereas a 1960 first edition of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird would cost you 3.6 million. If you can’t get enough of history and war tales, you could get your hands on the collection of original letters and documents relating to the American Revolutionary War. The requisition of these letters written by people such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin comes at a mind-boggling price of 180 million.

“Rare books are treasured as special objects. They are not necessarily bought for their content. A collector may wish to own a first edition because it’s beautiful, or scarce, or the first appearance of that work, or signed, or old, or has a beautiful binding, or was illustrated by a famous artist. There can be many reasons for desirability beyond the book’s content,” says Davies.

Another such online marketplace that ships to India is US-based Biblio.com. In business since 2000, they sell books that are out-of-print, first editions and signed copies. A signed first edition of Charles Dickens’ 10-part series of Oliver Twist could cost you as much as 3 million. A complete series of first edition Harry Potter books signed by the author – JK Rowling is priced at 2.7 million and reaches India within 10-14 days. “We wanted to synthesise this charming old world of books with this emergent new world of books,” says CEO Brendan Sherar on the website’s blog.

Book collectors can also find out the value of the books they own and put them up for sale on these websites. The selling prices are determined according to the books’ condition, binding, presence of a dust jacket, scarcity, significance of the book, demand and whether it is signed or has been owned by someone of significance.

They are not just something to be read. They are collectors’ items that you could take pride in owning and flaunt at your next party. Setting your hands on the ones inked in gold could make you feel like royalty or even inspire you to create your own piece. And of course, it could make you feel like you are a part of the author’s life, the ones you hope to be friends with some day, and the ones you think you already know through their writings.

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