Investing in modern first edition books

A collector recently asked Paul Fraser Collectibles if his modern first editions fit into the collectibles category, and whether they will perform well as an investment for the future.

Investing in Modern First Editions
George Orwell's 1984 is a classic read, and a classic investment

Some of the finest literary works were created in the 20th century and this has not gone unnoticed in the collectibles market. London's Bloomsbury Auctions states that modern first editions have "been the biggest growth area of collecting and dealing in the last decade".

The auction house cites top authors such as Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell as some of the most collectible, describing them as "supreme 20th century literary figures".

As with many forms of collecting, the trick to making potential profits is to stick to the classics, at least at first. A signed first edition of CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - a truly classic children's adventure - sold for $47,100 in July 2012, beating the world record for a first edition copy of the book by 74.4%.

Obviously, this is an example from the top end of the market, but there are profits to be made from more modestly priced options.

Take, for example, Ian Fleming's James Bond books. First editions of this legendary series in good condition traditionally hold their price well at auction, with a strong copy of On Her Majesty's Secret Service recently selling at Sotheby's for £7,500 ($12,042), making a 25% increase on estimate.

"It is typically an author's first works that will fetch the most cash. Investors on a shoestring should therefore look at a writer's middle-period of novels as a cheaper good bet," explains the UK's Telegraph newspaper.

In an interview with the publication, Bonhams' book expert Simon Roberts added: "Take Graham Greene's middle period. You can still pick up a first edition of the 1955 classic The Quiet American or the 1958 Our Man in Havana for as little as £100 a piece."

As ever, condition is imperative, with the state of the dust jacket of the utmost importance. For example, a first edition of On the Road by Jack Kerouac with a dust jacket can sell for $1,750, or just $400 without.

Once comfortable with the market, you may be inclined to look towards the allure of contemporary first-editions. Here, tremendous skill and knowledge, and no little luck, are needed to identify which books will make the biggest impact in the future.

A classic example of this is the Harry Potter books. If you were one of the lucky few who purchased a first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for £10.99 ($17) in 1997, you may well see bids in the region of £5,000 ($8,000) or more at auction today. However, investing in contemporary works is a major gamble and not one that I would like to place major stakes on.

Better still to identify undervalued copies of classic first editions using your knowledge and make decent returns that way. And if you can find inscribed copies, all the better, as these have particular power at auction.

We are currently offering a signed, limited edition of Virginia Woolf's Orlando - a fantastic opportunity to own a work by an author that Bloomsbury Auctions cite among the most collectible.

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