Do not go unarmed into the dark.
Calculating book value is complex
By Bruce McKinney
In the AED there is an option to test your expectation of a book's present value against the computer generated estimate provided in the AED. This is possible because a link is provided in the preliminary results screen to "Get Current Estimate." Okay, it's not perfect but it's useful and thought provoking. To try it you need to be a paid member at any level. If you are simply curious you can sign-up as a visitor for a week for $7.95. It won't break the bank but it might break your heart because this is a record of what people paid rather than what sellers ask. Like Joe Friday used to say, "The facts Mam, just the facts." It works this way.
Sign in and select KEYWORD search under subscription services. This opens a sequential keyword search of the more than 1.46 million full text records in the AED. Next compose a database query, any query. Each term on the keyword line will be searched as an independent keyword search. Here is an example: "We, the daring flyer's remarkable life story and his account of the transatlantic flight that shook the world" by Charles Lindbergh, 1927, the signed edition. One thousand copies were issued in this version.
But before we go further you need to write down YOUR estimate of current value please: _____. No cheating please!
The terms I use to search the AED are:
Lindbergh by itself finds 246 matches [Lindbergh]
Adding the date range 1927 to 1927 reduces the matches to 46 [Lindbergh] [1927 in date field]
Adding We leaves the total unchanged at 46 [Lindbergh We] [1927 in date field]
Adding the term Signed reduces the total to 27 [Lindbergh We signed] [1927 in the date field]
Now I sort them out. After eliminating manuscripts and other material that is similar but not identical we have 10 records. The average current value is $1,366.16, the highest adjusted price a copy sold in 1984 for $800 that today is valued at $2,805 and a copy comes up at auction on average every 18 months. AE Footnote
How close were you?
Now let's run the same search on Abe to see if they have copies from this 1,000 copy run. They do. There are four listed, all identified by their "No. -- of 1000." They range in price from $2,500 to $4,500 with an average asking price of $3,487. On Abe all prices are asking prices.
Do not go unarmed into the dark.
Gone with the Wind
Now let's consider something quite different. This is a book that is not available online today but will be. Howes has it as an AA so it's bound to come up. It's Theodore Roosevelt's first book, The Naval War of 1812; or, The History of the United States Navy during the last war with Great Britain. This book was of no significant value until recently when, in 2006, it twice sold at auction for more than $1,000. It is now going higher. It seems to rarely reappear in catalogues once offered. It simply sells. If you are pricing this book it feels like it might be $1,500 and if an exceptional copy perhaps more. In the AED the average current estimate is $365.79 but a very good copy for that price is going to be a lucky find. In this case higher recent prices trump older [and] lower realizations. Markets change and Teddy is once again charging up the hill. AE Footnote
Typically when values noticeably increase higher prices bring out other copies. On the listings sites today there are no copies of the 1882 first edition to be found. This will of course change but the upward tilt in valuation looks encouraging to sellers and interesting to buyers.
Finally let's look for copies of Gone with the Wind. When it was published perhaps 15% of all American households obtained a copy. Copies are not rare. On Abe a search with the title in quotes finds 5,090 examples so we'll focus on the first year published  and signed copies and still find 39 examples. This is a relatively common book that still brings big money but how much is it really worth?
Based on records in the AED from 1961 to the present this book has been steadily increasing in value. Auction valuations recently reached $10,000 while the average adjusted current valuation in the AED is about $4,500. On AE the search is Gone with the Wind signed first [AE Footnote]. On Abe there are a dozen copies that fit the "first and signed" criterion. Four of them are priced under $10,000 and eight above. There is also an association copy offered by James Pepper that is signed by the author and has, laid in, a letter from Clark Gable about his role in the film. This copy is $85,000.
While the AE valuations are low relative to today's asking prices they suggest that looking past the asking prices to the transaction history and the frequency of appearance at auction immediately enhances a buyer's perspective and brings some realism into the purchase discussions. It is easy to look on listing sites for guidance about pricing but the real story is always going to be in the transaction history. That's what collectors paid and its good evidence of what they will pay.