Rare first edition books: making a profit

How do I make a profit from first edition books? B Burnett, Maryland

You're already on the right track by focusing your efforts on first editions when it comes to rare books. These are the holy grail among collectors, and while second or even third editions can sometimes achieve major sums, you are on much safer ground with first editions.

It's human nature to try and discover the next big author for yourself, as their first editions will be worth considerable sums in years to come. And while yes, if you'd bought one of the 500 first editions of JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone for £10.99 in 1997 you could now be sitting on a goldmine in excess of £5,000, I do not recommend a speculative approach to book buying.

Far better to concentrate on the classics, as these offer the most security in terms of historical returns.

·         A signed first edition of CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe made £30,000 ($46,710) in July 2012, 74.4% up on the previous record for a first edition of the book of £17,000 ($26,470), achieved in October 2010 by another signed copy.

·         A first edition of Charles Darwin's first work, The Voyage of the Beagle, sold for $33,000 at Christie's in November 2009. Bonhams then sold another copy for $36,600 in February 2010 - a 10.9% increase in value in just three months.

As with all areas of collectibles, the more valuable items tend to offer the greatest returns, so buy the best condition editions that you can afford.

Dust jackets play a hugely important role. A first edition of On the Road by Jack Kerouac with a dust jacket can sell for $1,750, or just $400 without. Dust jackets are particularly scarce among classic children's books, which are most liable to damage and loss.

Early works from authors before they were famous are a prime area for investment. These were generally produced in small numbers due to the then-obscure nature of their authors.

For those on a tight budget, consider original Penguins. Their simple, classic look is known throughout the world, and values are beginning to rise, with values often exceeding £50 for one of the famous first 10 from 1935.

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