Value Versus Rarity

Added February 20, 2012
  • Value Versus Rarity

People’s perception of what is valuable often has more impact on price than actual rarity. The dictionary definition of rare, in the case of collecting, is “not found in large numbers and, therefore, of interest and value.” In other words, the less of something, the more rare.

So, it interests me no end that in many cases the truly more rare book is not the most valuable. I know collectors who base their whole collection on books that are more rare, but less costly than the editions that are perceived to be the rarest.

coming-through-slaughter-cover For instance, paperbacks are often issued simultaneously with hardcovers, or shortly thereafter. But due to the somewhat disposable nature of paperbacks over hardcovers, as they get older the paperback versions dwindle in number, whereas hardcovers tend to last.

An example is Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje; one of my earlier posts. In this case the paperback was issued at the same time as the hardcover. Now, thirty-odd years later, there are almost certainly more hardcovers around, especially in good condition. By rights, some collectors say, the paperback should cost more than the hardcover. In fact, hardcovers toady are about four or five times the price of paperbacks, possibly because the perception is that they are harder to find. Not only  that, but the hardcover would still usually be thought of as the true first edition, if only because this most often is the case. world-review-for_-esme_-front_-cover_

I have a British Magazine that I posted a while back, The World Review of August 1950, which includes J.D. Salinger’s For Esme — With Love and Squalor. Granted, this magazine came out a few months after the story first appeared in the New Yorker.

world-review-glue_-damage However, if you went looking for these magazines, you’d have a much better chance of finding the New Yorker than the World Review. That being said, the New Yorker would still be about five times more expensive.

The World Review of the 1950′s compares in quality with a dollar store colouring book. The paper they used is like the cheapest, most fibrous construction paper. The glue they used eventually eats though the paper, so that there probably are none without a yellowed and almost crispy looking spine. Browning of the pages is ubiquitous, as is cover fading. If you find one without these problems you are probably looking at a reproduction.

Sixty-plus years later, all of these condition issues, combined with a much smaller print run, makes the World Review magazine much more rare than the New Yorker. Some collectors delight in this, and hope that someday true rarity will be better appreciated, and thus the value of their collections will be sure to rise!