Top Values of Signed Books on eBay
Thomas Jefferson's signature is highly collectible today.
By Carl Burnham
When it comes to book collectors, we have seen interests run the gamut from fiction to nonfiction. Whatever the genre, a signature only adds to the value. When we are out book scouting, there is nothing like the experience of finding one. Over the years with book selling, we have acquired several, from astronauts such as Alan Shepard and Jim Irwin, to celebrity biographies, including Henry Fonda, Charlton Heston, Larry Hagman and Katherine Hepburn. Writers and other famous persons have included Arthur C. Clarke, Willie Morris, Lowell Thomas, Jr., Tom Landry and Lillian Bassman. Although most are biographies, a few have been works of fiction, such as "Wasted Travail" by Sadie Mae Rosebrough, her only written book. Others are lesser known, which someday may become famous. The next William Faulkner is out there. The strategy of some collectors is to acquire signatures of an author's first books written. My personal preference is in acquiring signed biographies, as it makes it more personal when reading about their life.
In analyzing some of the top signed books sold recently on eBay, one can see trends and a snapshot of values for a given period of time. Of course prices and available offerings fluctuate constantly, and rarity, popularity, and perceptions will play a factor as well. That is one of the attractions of the online auction. My primary focus was on items which recently sold in the books category which received winning bids of $1,500 or higher.
At the top of the list in the books category were rare signed documents by Doyle Auctioneers of New York. A signed document by Abraham Lincoln received 7 bids and sold for $4,250. A signed Thomas Jefferson document received 3 bids and went for $3,750. A signed, limited edition of "Big Game Hunting" by Theodore Roosevelt was posted by another seller, receiving 9 bids and selling for $3,550.
The highest book sold was a signed first edition of "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, which received 2 bids and sold for $4,000. A second edition in exceptional condition of "The Hobbit," signed by J. R. R. Tolkien sold for $3,150 after receiving 39 bids. An autographed letter signed by the German composer Richard Wagner in 1874, offered by Doyle Auctioneers of New York, fetched $3,000. A signed "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl brought $2,647.
Astronaut signatures are highly collectible. There were several Easton Press Astronauts Library sets sold from $2,000 to $2,495, which included signatures of James Lovell, Wally Schirra, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Frank Borman and Buzz Aldrin.
Ronald Reagan, viewed by many (including myself) as one of our greatest Presidents, had five books in the sold listings that ranged in price from $1,300 to $2,383. Several of these were leather bound Easton Press books. One of the most sought after Easton Press books is "Long Walk to Freedom" by Nelson Mandela. Two signed ones sold recently at $1,600 and $2,125. In time, I see more Franklin Library leather bound books rising in value as they are no longer published (the last books were published in 2000), and the availability becomes more limited.
Top Values of Signed Books on eBay
Another president appearing in the listings was a rare signature by President Rutherford B. Hayes in the book "Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress" dated 1880 which went for $1,636.
Harry Potter books continue to appear in the top listings of sold books and are the most common keywords searched on eBay in the books category. Three Harry Potter first edition books signed by J. K. Rowling sold in price from $1,609 to $1,913.
Stephen King had several high bids for his signed, limited edition books, ranging in price from $999 to $1,175. Four typed letters signed by Hunter Thompson and offered by PBA Galleries of San Francisco brought $1,600. A signed first edition of "All The King's Men" by Robert Warren was bid to $1,636. A signed first edition of Paul McCartney's book, "Blackbird Singing" sold for $1,555. Rounding out the list was none other than Albert Einstein, where a rare typed letter signed by Einstein was offered by Doyle Auctioneers of New York, and was bid to $1,500.
In considering purchasing a signed book to add to one's collection, a potential buyer needs to do their research carefully. Try to make sure that the signature is authentic, that it has a certificate of authority (COA) or that it can be compared against other signatures online for accuracy. Does the offering include a photograph of the book being signed? Some author signatures will vary over the years, with their signature tending to become less pronounced after so many years of book signings. If a sizable amount of money is involved, consult with a signature expert. Besides researching on eBay, also reference Americana Exchange and other book sites so that you can get a sense of what true values are and what you will likely pay to add that sought after signed book or ephemera to your collection.
This article has generated comments concerning the potential for being victimized by fraudulent descriptions, signatures, and COAs on eBay. Please see the Letters to the Editor dated 12/3 and 12/2/06 for these concerns, which should be considered before buying on eBay. Click here