People buy books that look beautiful on the shelf. Publishers produced clothbacked books and the buyer had the books rebound to fit in with their library. Volumes bound in leather, either in calfskin or Morocco – goat’s leather that has an attractive grain – fetch thousands more than those bound in cloth.
Books can be full or half-bound, where just the spine and corners have been covered in leather. Quarterbound – where the front and back are board and just the spine has been strengthened in leather – are more rare. The quantity and quality of the leather binding affects the value of the book, with fullbound sets having higher estimates.
Wealthy book-lovers decorated their volumes with gold leaf. Though it is a matter of taste, the more elaborately decorated the book, the higher the hammer price.
Like any leather, books can be polished and restored, but repairing leatherbound books is expensive and even if it is done well, repairs are often obvious. With the exception of a few really rare volumes, damaged books are best avoided.
A clothbound Pride and Prejudice first edition sold for £11,000 a couple of years ago which is a very special book.
The most vulnerable part of a book is the spine, which people pull on to remove the book from a shelf, and it should always be checked.
The complete set
Classic authors such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Shakespeare are often sold as sets. Sets, valued at £1,000 to £1,500 and £2,500 to £3,500 respectively, would lose half their value should even one of the books be missing.
Even if it’s the least popular or known of the set, if you lend out a single book and it never comes back, the worth of the set is slashed. If investing in a set, be sure to ensure all the books are present and correct.
The big ones
Samuel Beckett’s Murphy (1938) or More Pricks than Kicks (1934). There were not a huge amount of these printed.
First edition of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (1938), especially in its dustjacket which was a hideous bright pink to look like a stick of rock. Most people just threw the jacket away but it would be worth about £20,000 with it on now.
First edition of Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) by George Orwell. Or one of his first novels [such as] Inside the Whale (1940): A copy without a dustjacket was sold for £600. With the jacket it would be worth between £3,000 and £4,000.