The recession may have hit publishers, bookshops, authors' advances and general sales, but the specialist trade in rare editions seems to be holding up pretty well. Or so I surmise from a list furnished by Abebooks -- the world's biggest online marketplace for second-hand books -- of its top 10 sellers for December.
James Joyce (below) features twice in the list -- a 1935 Odyssey Press edition of Ulysses, signed by the author, sold for $5,200 and an early edition of Dubliners for $5,500 -- though a Swiss bookshop on the Abebooks site is asking $27,000 for an original 1914 Grant Richards printing of the latter, while a UK retailer is seeking $60,000 for a 1917 edition. The top prices for Ulysses are even more astronomic, with a UK retailer requesting $377,000 for a 1922 Shakespeare & Company first edition.
So there's still money in rare books, and those of you who are thinking of throwing out those musty old tomes that you inherited from your parents or grandparents should cast a careful eye over them before you do so.
Indeed, they don't even have to be that old to be worth a considerable amount -- a signed copy of John Grisham's run-of-the-mill 1989 thriller, A Time to Kill, makes the Abebooks Top 10 by selling for $4,000, while a first-run 1995 copy of Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father fetched $4,500 -- and this despite the US president's plummeting popularity.
Anniversaries help second-hand sales, too -- a 1960 first British printing of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, signed by the author, sold for $8,500 on the book's 50th anniversary, while an edition of the King James Bible, published 500 years ago, was the Abebooks top seller at $12,000. However, if you want the actual 1611 edition, a London bookseller is demanding $80,000 for the privilege.
Anyway, the message is clear -- amid all the second-hand books that are worth next to nothing, there's a rare jewel lurking behind its dusty cover.