I’m not a book collector in the sense of trying to acquire books for their monetary value. I buy books for what is written in them. So what I write here is simply the result of some research on the question in the title of this post, and should not be substituted for expert opinion. What got me curious is that one of the books I’m currently reading, Wolf Pack, by crime fiction writer C. J. Box, has a sticker on the cover that reads “Signed Copy” and does bear a signature that reads “C. J. Box.” I did not pay extra for this book, but in fact bought it during Barnes & Noble’s Book Haul a couple months back at a significant discount. I’ve discovered that Barnes & Noble regularly sells signed editions of books, the current ones of which may be found on their website. I suspect this is simply a strategy to sell more books.
So the answer to my question is “it depends.” The critical factor seems to be how popular the author is, and how many books the author has signed. A book signed by a popular author who prolifically signs books is probably not worth anything more than an unsigned copy of the same book, or only very little. That’s probably the case with my C.J. Box. On the other hand, according to Empty Mirror, Jack Kerouac did not sign many copies of his works. If you have an authentic signed copy of a Kerouac work, it might be worth quite a bit (especially this year, the fiftieth since his death in 1969).
The type of signature also affects the worth. There are several, according to The Books Tell You Why blog, which offers one of the best explanations of the different types.
- The autopen signed book. Presidents often used autopens, and these have no value.
- The signed copy. It has only the signature, usually on a blank page. Many people prefer these to books with inscriptions.
- An inscribed copy has the signature and a general notation, such as “with warmest regards.” Often, books signed at book-signings have such inscriptions. Some think inscriptions increase the value, particularly if not to a person. If you are Joe, who wants a book inscribed to Jane (unless Jane is a very important person)? Those who think inscriptions have greater value argue this on the basis of having more material in the author’s hand, which may aid in authentication.
- A presentation copy is sent by the author signed and inscribed as a gift from the author. If it is dated close to publication and represents a first edition, this adds to the value of the signature. I have several such books, mostly of value because they were signed by good and cherished friends, but alas, not famous ones.
- An association copy is one signed and inscribed by the author to either to a notable close person or a culturally significant person.
- The most valuable signed copy is a dedication copy. Usually, a book is dedicated to a single person, so when the author signs the dedication page with an inscription to the person to whom the book is dedicated, this is a one-of-a kind, hence the value.
If you are purchasing signed books with the aim of collecting, the most important thing is to authenticate the signature. There are websites that provide reference signatures, for example, this one, at The Books Tell You Why. This particular site also links to listings of collectible books by each author. About the only sure thing, when it comes to avoiding forgeries is to have seen the author sign the book with your own two eyes.
Who you buy from is important. Reputable antiquarian booksellers are members of either the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) or the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), or both. Each organization has rigorous membership requirements. In the ABAA for example, “Before being considered for membership, booksellers must prove that they are established, knowledgeable, and of excellent reputation. Prospective members must be sponsored by current members, and undergo a rigorous screening process. The average ABAA member has been in the antiquarian book business more than twenty years.” The association’s code of ethics includes provisions for the authenticity of materials and full refunds if authenticity is questioned or disproven. Of course people sometimes make great finds from other sources, but equally, they may be greatly duped.
So, it all depends. If your object is investment, caveat emptor. But if you like to read an author and are a fan, it can be a fun extra, the icing on the cake of a good book. I love signed books from author friends as a reminder of our friendship. An inscribed book from an author event where you met and talked to an author you’ve admired can be a cherished possession. And if you are a collector who knows what he or she is doing, and has thought about the focus of what one collects, signed copies of book can be both interesting, and financially profitable. But probably not my C. J. Box. But that’s OK. He’s a good read.