A happy tale of book value
Alternative investments: buy that new novel now - you may find yourself with a lucrative rarity
Sunday 22 October 1995
Take Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers. Although it was published as recently as 1973, first editions are already selling in specialist bookshops for pounds 400 - but only if in excellent condition, with a pristine dust-jacket.
First editions of successful authors' books are increasingly popular - and the market is developing to include paperbacks.
You will know if you have a first edition, because it will normally say inside "first published" or, sometimes, "first printing" - and nothing more. US first editions may even say "first edition".
A first edition signed by the author, particularly if dedicated to a loved one, will boost the price. "Dying helps," says Simon Roberts, deputy head of the books department at Phillips auctioneers. The going rate for Graham Greene novels shot up after he died, and the same may now apply to the work of Ellis Peters, who wrote the tales about the detective monk Cadfael and who died last weekend. And Seamus Heaney's Nobel Prize should be good for the selling-price of his earliest work.
Rarity is another key to price. Authors' early books usually sell for the highest prices, because they had the smallest print runs. Anyone who recognised Ian Fleming's Casino Royale as a masterpiece of its genre, and wrapped it up to keep it in mint condition, could now sell it for pounds 2,000. A first edition of Phillip Larkin's XX Poems, of which only 200 were printed, could fetch a similar amount.
But prices drift as fashions change. The Rachel Papers ceased rising in value a year ago; Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Gothic trilogy, cult books 20 years ago, sell for little more now than they did then; and copies of D M Thomas's The White Hotel, in great demand a few years ago, are virtually worthless now.
Anthony Rota, director of Bertram Rota, specialists in 19th-century and 20th-century British and American books, says that collectors who are investing should buy only authors who will endure. "Don't take the fast risers. Look for a solid body of work," he advises.
The fast risers in the past few years have been a select band of male, white British authors: Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, William Boyd, Graham Swift, and Julian Barnes, whose first editions outprice literary classics. Over the longer term, strongest demand has been for the work of such important literary figures as TS Eliot and James Joyce. A signed first edition of Ulysses can realise pounds 25,000.
But Marie-Helene Oliver of Christie's says: "Contemporary authors are worth collecting now. Put them away in a cupboard." The Christie's November sale will include Ian Fleming and Katherine Mansfield first editions.
Bestsellers are as worth collecting for investment as are potential classics - early Dick Francis books sell well, an example of his first book, Dead Cert, recently selling for pounds 500.
Ms Oliver advises new buyers to visit collections, such as those in some libraries, to examine good-quality first editions before making a purchase. It can otherwise be difficult to rate condition. Some dealers worry that because books with mint-condition dust-jackets can fetch up to eight times as much as those without them, unscrupulous sellers may produce fake covers using high-quality colour copiers.
Peter Ellis, part-owner of the Ulysses bookshops, has one shop devoted to first editions. He says experienced collectors will not be fooled by photocopied jackets. "I have not heard of anybody sold a fake as a real one."
The enthusiastic collector who wants to take a long-shot punt may do well collecting from new, but another option is to trawl second-hand bookshops, armed with a copy of the secondhand bookseller's bible, Modern First Editions by Joseph Connolly (Little, Brown & Co.).
Malcolm Hornsby runs a bookshop in Loughborough, where first editions often pass through his hands. He advises caution: "First editions go down as well as up, and they have waves. The rising stars of 20 years ago are in some cases diminishing in value, and you can't get the same money for them. It's an inflated market, and some books are going for huge prices, and books which once cost a fortune you can't give away now.
"I am laying by signed copies of Margaret Atwood novels, which will be looked at in 20 years the same way as Angela Carter is now. You can buy your first editions through collectors or specialist dealers and pay the top price, and you can get what you want. But every secondhand bookseller has books which are not on display, because of the risk of being fingered, so ask."
First editions under the hammer
Sotheby's of New Bond Street, London W1 (0171-493 8080), has frequent sales of first editions; the next is on 9 November. Christie's of Old Brompton Road, London SW7 (0171-581 7611), holds two sales of first editions a year, with the next on 17 November. At Phillips of New Bond Street (0171- 629 6602), monthly general sales usually contain first editions; the next is on 9 December. Bonhams of Montpelier Street, London SW7 (0171-584 9161), holds five sales a year of first editions; the next is on 31 January. Ulysses booksellers of Museum Street, London WC1 (0171-831 1600), and Bertram Rota of Langley Court, Covent Garden WC2 (0171-836 0723), specialise in first editions.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
iJobs Money & Business
$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer Office...
$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...
Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...
Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...
Day In a Page
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens