How To Sell Books:

The process of consigning your books to auction  begins with either a phone call to Tom Gullotta (1-86O-9O8-8O67) or by  sending him an e-mail. Tom will discuss your books with you and  assist you in determining whether it is a wise decision for your books to  go to auction. We know that you have many questions about the value of your  books and have prepared the following primer on bookselling to assist you  in your decision making process. 

A Primer on Bookselling

Swamped with Books?

For several years CFA Book Auctions have been helping  collectors wishing to downsize their collection and estate trustees  wishing to properly dispense a book collection. For purposes of  convenience (admittedly ours) we haveve limited this service to the New  England states with a rare foray into New York State and New Jersey.

CFA Book Auctions is prepared to do the following to  assist the bibliophile in downsizing or the trustee in selling a client's  library. We will examine your collection and provide you with a realistic  estimate of the value of your collection at auction. (Note: This is not an  appraisal for IRS purposes.) If your collection is determined to meet  certain sale criteria, we will auction it for you, or we can arrange for  the charitable donation of the library. Among these options there are a  multitude of variations that can also be discussed. This experience has  taught us several lessons that we intend to share with you as you decide  what to do with your collection. If after reading this material you would  like to discuss this matter further, then please call Tom Gullotta at 1-86O-9O8-8O67 or send him an e-mail.

Q: When do people call CFA Book Auctions for help?

A: People call when:

    Their collection has outgrown the library, the living room, the  attic, and finding a pathway to the bedroom now entails climbing  through an outside window into bed they share with -- you guessed it -- books.
    They are not current with book values and are in  the midst of settling an estate for a loved one.
    They are downsizing and moving to a new location.
    The offer they have received for their book collection just does not sound right.

Q: How do I absolutely positively maximize my profit  from the sale of a book collection?

A: Sell them yourself. The only way to assure yourself that you are getting exactly what you want for your books is by setting your own prices  and dealing directly with potential buyers. There are large data bases to  advertise used books for sale on the Internet, including and They will offer your books  worldwide, in return for a 15 - 25% commission on each sale plus (in some  cases) monthly advertising costs. Gathering packing supplies, shipping the  books, and handling any returns will be up to you. With this approach, some  volumes will sell immediately, and others may never sell.  Between these two extremes, once you have written ads for and competitively priced approximately 3,000 volumes, if the material is interesting and in good condition, you can expect to  sell 1 to 2 books a day on the various used book sites. 

Q: I don not have the time or the patience for that  approach. What are my other options?

A: First, recognize that if someone else now becomes  involved, your profit may decline. On the other hand, if the sale of your  books is handled well, the overall dollars realized may be much higher.  Certainly, you will realize a return on your collection much sooner. Your  options are: 1) garage sale, 2) book dealer sale, 3) uncatalogued auction  sale, 4) catalogued auction sale and 5) charitable donation.

Option 1 - Garage or tag sale.
The garage or tag sale entails you or  someone else pricing the volumes in the collection, then putting them out  on tables, advertising the sale, and having the public purchase them. We have seen this approach  work to the owner’s benefit when the books are newer (from 1960 to the  present date), and seller's expectations are modest. You can reasonably expect to sell some books between $1 and $5 each with this approach. It is likely  that 50% or more of the collection will go unsold. You must then develop a plan to donate or dispose of the remainder.
Incidentally, some books will likely  never sell. These include school textbooks, book club volumes, encyclopedias, worn  paperbacks (unless from the 1950s or earlier and in decent condition), and  National Geographic Magazines, and any books which are moldy, badly  stained, marked up or in generally poor condition. So, do yourself a favor and get rid of these before the sale.
Option 2 - The bookshop.
The bookshop owner is becoming an  increasingly endangered species. Certainly, if your community is fortunate  enough to still have an open used bookshop, then invite the owner to view  the collection. Do not be shocked if the book dealer expresses an interest  in only a few of the higher end or more unusual volumes. The dealer hopes these few higher end volumes will sell quickly thus enabling her or him to  recoup their investment.
Every used bookshop has their own method of arriving at an offer for a  collection of books, but in general you can expect their overall offer to  be 10 - 30% of what they expect to realize when selling the books. The  higher end of that range tends to apply if the dealer is "cherry-picking"  (taking only the books he is most interested in and leaving you to dispose  of the rest), the lower end is more common if he's making a simple offer  to clear everything out. Unfair, you say! Consider this. Our experience is that  even in the best of collections one third of the collection is not  sellable. On several occasions, we have dealt with collections  in which more than 95% of the books were unsellable. The dealer in her  or his offer tries to estimate how quickly they can recover their  investment, while keeping the store's rent paid and the lights and heat  on. In today’s economy very few bookstore owners can wait more  than a year before recouping their initial outlay. Another  factor to consider when a book dealer wishes to purchase or an auction  house agrees to accept for consignment small number of books from a large  collection is what will happen to the remainder.  The removal of 5%  of a collection by a skilled professional  may well drop  the overall value of the other 95% to next to nothing.  
Option 3 - Uncatalogued auction.
The uncatalogued auction is also known as the a “pick” auction. This is the  model we use at CFA Book Auction. The way this works is that a collection of books determined to be resellable is removed to the  auction location and unpacked onto tables. The auction house advertises  the book auction as a “pick” or uncatalogued auction using their mailing  list, an antiques and auction-oriented newsprint vehicle like the “Newtown Bee” and other appropriate advertising venues in print and on the Internet. On the day of the  auction and prior to admitting the public, the auctioneer, who should be a  bibliophile at heart, reviews the stock and selects some higher priced volumes to  be bid on separately or in small lots.
At least two hours before the sale, the sale room is opened and the  books are available for inspection by the public. Potential purchasers can assemble a  group of similar books (typically up to ten) to form a lot. The potential  bidder understands that (s)he must bid on this lot. The usual starting bid is $10. Uncatalogued auctions attract collectors, flea market dealers,  bookstore owners, and Internet book dealers. Books purchased at an uncatalogued auction are bought as is, and all sales are final. At the end  of the sale, any unsold books which have not been selected and sold in  lots are auctioned to the highest bidder by the table.
Uncatalogued  auctions are labor intensive for relatively small returns to the auction  house, and for that reason few book auctioneers hold  this type of sale any longer. This is regrettable, because in our opinion, the overwhelming  number of books in most collections are most effectively sold in this type of sale. The  auctioneer's commission for an uncatalogued auction is generally 25% to 50% of the gross  receipts. The precentage depends on the quality of the books in the consignment.
Option 4 - Catalogued Auction.
The next option is the catalogued auction.  Catalogued books auctions include volumes of higher assumed value due to factors such as the  title, author, edition, condition, scarcity, and established demand. These  titles are researched with past performance at auction taken into account.  The auction house assigns an estimated selling range (low to high) and the  books are described in a catalogue that is distributed to potential  bidders. The successful bidder may return the book after purchase to the  auction house if it is not as represented in the auction catalogue.  While the auction house takes a gamble on the books at an uncatalogued  auction (since most books in these sales are of modest value), in a catalogue  auction the auction house has a much clearer idea  of the expected income to be realized. From the standpoint of labor, it is  also much easier to transport and display at auction 200 to 300 volumes  than it is to transport and display 3,000 to 5,000 volumes.
The auctioneer's commission for a catalogued book sale usually starts  at 10%- 25%, it may decrease for items of unusually high value or through  seller/auctioneer negotiation on particularly valuable items or  collections.
Option 5 - Charitable Donation.
The final option for the seller is the charitable  donation. Since the proceeds from CFA Book Auctions all go towards a  non-profit organization, we are familiar with the mechanics of charitable  donations and can advise you of some.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: About book values, I've spent thousands of dollars  at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other bookshops since 1960 on new books  that I am told are worth only a fraction of what I paid for them.
A: Unfortunately, this may be true. In some cases, the first printing  of the  first edition of a modern novel or art book with its dust jacket in fine (nearly new)  condition will sell for more than a later printing without these  characteristics. But every book has a first edition, and a far more  important question is does this book have a buyer? A book is worth only as  much as a someone is willing to pay for it, and many excellent books for a  variety of reasons have little to no resale value. Further, you need to  recognize that you purchased your books at retail and not wholesale prices.  Just as with cars and furniture, on the secondary market the best you can  expect in most cases is a fraction of that original retail price.
Q: But wait, I have been told that the Longfellow and  Whittier poetry I bought in a used bookstore in the 1950s is worth less  than I paid for it, too!
A: With the advent of the Internet many businesses  and especially the secondhand book business changed dramatically. With a few  exceptions, most books published since 1960 are readily available at  prices far below their initial listed price. Other books, including those by the  authors listed above have in many cases declined in value as  interest in the author has  declined and the number of available used copies has risen to outstrip the  demand. That said, there are exceptions to this general observation. For example, a book like To Kill a Mockingbird which had relatively  small first printing can sell for thousands of dollars if in its original  dust jacket and pristine condition, as might the first edition of the  British publication of Rowling's first Harry Potter adventure.
Q: Ok, I might concede your last point, but in  checking prices on the Internet at used book sites I find that the book I own is listed for sale at $1,000, at $10, and at several other prices in  between. What gives?
A: A variety of factors might be involved including  condition (bumped corners, cover wear, interior highlighting, book club  edition, etc.), whether the less expensive book has its dust jacket (in  some cases, mostly 20th Century fiction, a clean dust jacket can increase a "collectable" book's value by a factor of 10). Also, is the higher priced volume signed by the author or  illustrator, and is that person Ernest Hemingway or Maurice Sendak? The  list goes on and in these times must include the possibility that an  inexperienced book dealer simply pulled his asking  price for this volume out of a hat. In fact, more often than not this is  the case. Especially when selling over the Internet, over time other book dealers with the same item choose  to offer the same volume in the same or better condition at a lower  price. 
Q: How do I then determine the "true" value of a book?
A: If you have some items you feel are truly valuable and are willing to invest the money, you  can purchase prior sales records from the auction houses that specialize in  books on CD for about $750. These records are the best indication of what a group of people in  a competitive environment (the auction) were willing to pay for truly valuable books.  A word of caution, as you research your book remember that condition, dust jacket for modern books, and some signatures can be very important. The  state of the economy is important as well. Collectibles like valuable books, art work, stamps, antique furniture and the like tend to increase in value during good times and decline in value  in difficult economic times. If you are passionately interested in the  subject areas represented in your collection, you probably have a pretty  good idea of the actual desirability and likely practical selling price  for your books. But if you are settling an estate or just want to sell  "those books from the barn," you will probably best be served with some  professional advice, which CFA Book Auctions stands ready to provide.  
Q: You used the word “resellable” in the description of uncatalogued auctions. What does that term mean?
A: In terms of monetary value and marketability, books fall into general categories  and it often takes experience and practical knowledge gathered over a  lifetime to spot the differences. Surprisingly, age in and of itself is  not often a major factor -- literally millions of books were produced  worldwide in the 1700s, and probably hundreds of millions just in America  in the 1800s, and for most the survival rate compared to the demand for  them is actually quite high . The most desirable, “collectable” books are rather scarce. First editions of Tom Sawyer, To  Kill a Mockingbird, and Origin of the Species, some finely  illustrated books, important works in history and science and the like  make up this category.  There is a known, well-documented market of buyers and a good history of  prior sales records for books of this type. The number of books in the "collectable" category is quite small.  The next category is what we will call “resellable.” These are books that  while not necessarily rare or particularly expensive, are attractive in  appearance, may have unique qualities (limited edition, beautifully  illustrated, etc.), or may be the works of respected, but more obscure authors  in subject areas where there is continuing interest.  In general, one  rule of thumb is "more specific, the better." A book called "The History  of Italian Art," although large and beautifully illustrated, may be   dud in commercial terms, while a much smaller book on "Religious Imagery  in Italian Textile Work between 1780 - 1830" is likely to be far more “resellable.”  "Resellable" books do not always command top dollar but a bookseller  buying for resale knows that  there is a good probability that appropriately priced they will sell, and  thus will be eager to buy them. The  last category is “disposable” books. These include book club editions,  encyclopedias, most 19th century and virtually all 20th century textbooks  at any grade level, most  paperbacks, and most bibles. These are the books that often find their way into boxes labeled “free for the taking."
Q: You listed several options and then suggested that  variations on those options existed. Can you give me an idea of what that  might mean?
A: As an example, we recently worked with a family with a very large collection.  We  identified several potentially quite valuable volumes that we arranged to send to New England Book Auctions to be properly  researched and sold in one of their cataloged auctions as described above.  Next, we identified that part of the library that should be sold at one of  our own uncatalogued auction sales, and lastly helped to remove those books that could be donated or sold  at a garage sale. Yes, you read that correctly. CFA Book Auctions works  with other auction houses to help our clients maximize the sale potential  for their collections at all levels.  For more information on how we partner with New England Book Auctions and others, please contact us.
Q: I am an Internet book dealer who started my business several years  ago and am no longer interested in continuing with the business. The  retail value of my inventory is $5,000 and I would like to sell them at  auction and realize at least $3,000. Is that possible?

A: The answer simply is - Who knows? If you purchased your books at garage  sales, flea markets, and estate sales and paid a few dollars per book, we  would guess (and it is a guess) that you would be LUCKY to gross $300 at  an auction. Why so little? Here are some of the reasons:
    If they were highly desirable books, you would have sold them  by now. Left over stock is just that left over stock.
    There may be many copies of your books on the internet meaning the  value of your inventory is declining with each passing day.
    The individuals who attend book auctions are mostly buying for  resale and are very knowledgeable of current book values. These dealers  are interested in books that are fresh to the market and are less  interested in recycled inventory.
    Auctions are outlets where wholesale prices prevail. Rarely does one  ever realize a retail price on a lot. Think of it this way -- when was  the last time you went to an auction thinking: I can’t wait to spend every cent I have. Rather your thought was: I can’t wait to see what bargains I can find tonight!
    Lastly and this addresses the remark that opened this response, it  requires two individuals both wanting the same item to have an auction.  If only one person or no one is interested in your consignment then it  will sell for little or nothing. On the other hand, if two or more  people MUST have your books then you may realize more than the retail  value of those books.
Q: I have had my books appraised for several thousand dollars. Should I  expect that at auction?

A: Our experience and that of colleagues in this business are that  appraisal values are generally not realized at auction. The reason for  this is that the appraiser is using the retail price of the item to  determine insurance replacement value rather than the wholesale market  price. That said, anything can happen at an auction when two or more  people want an item.

Q: I have been told that with the slow improvement in the national economy auction book prices are improving. Is that true?

A: For the very best in art, books, and furniture the great recession had  little or no impact on sale prices. For the low to mid end of the market,  prices literally fell off the table and have made a excruciatingly slow  recovery. For most dealers business remains 40% to 60% off their peak years from 2005 to 2008. This not only is due to the slow economic recovery  but to the growth of the E book. Correspondingly, what dealers are willing to pay for less then perfect books that they believe can be resold has  decreased.
Q: What is the most expensive book you have handled to date?
A: The most expensive book CFA Book Auction has handled for a consignor was an 18th century travel guide. It sold for over $50,000.


Phone (86O) 9O8-8O67           New London, Connecticut