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Are Old Books Valuable? Buying and Selling Books at Auction

Debbie Porter

At Potteries Auctions, we are specialist sellers of antiques, ephemera and books at auction. Read on to find out more on the types of books to look out for auction, examples of some exciting lots we’ve seen pass through our salerooms, and how to sell and buy old books at auction.

Books! We’ve all got piles of them at home. We’ve seen them stacked up in charity shops and displayed carefully in specialist bookshops. But have you ever wondered what they’re worth? Those dusty covers could be hiding a first edition, or a rare antique. It’s time to pick your books up off the shelf, dust off the cover and see what treasures could hide inside… 

What Types of Old Books Should I Look Out For When Buying and Selling at Auction?

There are different types of ‘old books’ to look out for at auction. Value is affected by age, condition and the rarity of the book. But it’s also worth noting that the value of the book can depend on your personal interest, too.

  • Children’s books – Always a popular choice, children’s books can cause a stir in the auction house. Acting as a nostalgic reminder of childhood, or a missing piece to a collection, it’s worthwhile checking your book collection at home for valuable or rare children’s books.  A lovely example is this huge collection of children’s books, with themes include cycling, vintage road maps/guides and children’s annuals, selling for £18.
  • Themed books – We see lots of themed book collections. These capture a specific audience, but they can sell well. An example from a recent auction is a fantasticcollection of military themed hardback books. This collection in particular sold for £38, doubling the estimated sale price.
  • Comic books – Comic books can be overlooked, as we often associate them with one time purchases. However, there can be value in vintage comic books in particular, and they are increasingly becoming more collectable.
  • Local interest books – Large collections of local interest books can gain interest at auction. Often, it’s hard to price these as it can depend on the condition, age, and demand for these collections. However, a recent collection of local interest Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire reference books sold for £40 at our Silverdale salesroom auction in January 2022. Wonderful!
  • Rare, antique, and collectable books – Whilst it can be hard to determine what a ‘rare’ book is, there are some easy ways to identify collectable vintage books. An example is this collection of Thunderbirds vintage hardback and paperback books, sold at a recent auction. Initial estimates started at £10, but as the hammer came down, we saw a lovely sale price of £50. What you may see as a pile of books taking up space in your attic, another person may see as collectable treasure.
A collection of Thunderbirds vintage hardback and paperback books

How Well Do Old Books Sell at Auction?

We see some fantastic lots in our auctions, and book sales are no exception. Below, we’ve shared some excellent examples of the sales we’ve seen.

This Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories by Brothers Grimm was a limited edition, numbered 133/600. It was also signed and illustrated by Kay Nielsen c1925. It was in good overall condition, especially considering its age. It has twelve mounted colour, and ten black and white plates with tissue guards. Published by Hodder and Stoughton with 276 pages. It was estimated to sell for £100 £200, but we saw an astonishing sale price of £1700! Do you have a similar book hiding at home? It could be time to bring it to the auction house.

A limited edition copy of Hansel and Gretel and Other Stories by Brothers Grimm

Another example of the variety of books we see, and how there is a place for all of these books at our auction, is this interesting lot. A unique collection of hardback and paperback reference books all about Wedgwood! Perfect for us here at Potteries Auctions. Titles included: Wedgwood Ware (W. B Honey), Wedgwood ABC (Harry Buten), Wedgwood (Geoffrey Wills), The Genius of Wedgwood (V&A Museum) and Wedgwood (Wolf Mankowitz), together with related sales pamphlets and documents. It was a delightful lot and sold for £65!

A collection of hardback and paperback Wedgwood reference books

A unique lot for us here at Potteries Auctions was this The Art of Curing Venereal Diseases (1707) by Nicholas de Blegny. It has a dedication to the original owner inside the cover. It was a rare early book more commonly found in French. We were delighted to see it reach highs of £66 at our auction. An unusual but interesting lot!

The Art of Curing Venereal Diseases (1707) by Nicholas de Blegny

How to Buy Books At Auction

Buying books at auction can be great fun. You can also secure a unique and rare purchase that you may not have found elsewhere. Here at Potteries Auctions, there are a number of ways you can bid on any upcoming book lots, including in person, online and over the phone. Please contact us to arrange beforehand if you’d like to come and bid in person or via telephone, or bid online from the comfort of your home with The Saleroom and Easylive Auctions. Commission bids can also be made through Potteries Auctions. Find out more on how to submit a commissioned bid at auction.

How to Sell Books at Auction

At Potteries Auction we want your sale to be hassle-free and easy. We care about getting the best price for you for your book. It’s why our experts can help you with a valuation if you’d like to sell, rather than buy.

Talk to our team of experts who will be able to give you an accurate auction estimate on your rare book or collection and recommend the best auction for your piece. You can join us at one of our valuation days every Tuesday. Email us for an appointment or call us on +44 (0)1782 638100 Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm.  We’d to see you there!

If you can’t come in and see us in person but would like to submit items for auction or valuation, send us an email to with details and a photograph (e.g. edition, style, measurements, condition) and one of our experts will provide information and auction estimates. Alternatively, give us a call on 01782 638100 to arrange an appointment.