25 Most Valuable Books to Look for at Thrift Stores

Being able to dig out valuable books at thrift stores is a sixth sense to experts. The search is fun and engaging, and there’s lots of money to be made from selling them. However, not all valuable books are worth millions, but they’re highly collectible either for research or recreation.

Thrift store books range from under $1 to over $10. But they have massive resale value and can rake in profits between $100 and $500 on a good day, depending on the buyer. A first edition of Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species went off for $150,000 in 2011.

Join us as we take you on a journey into the world of some of the greatest books ever written in history and how much they’re worth now should you come across them on the shelf at a thrift store.

Here’s a list of the 25 most valuable to look for at thrift stores near you. We’ve compiled this data from verified sources, and any similar list is purely coincidental. Prices are subject to change due to market factors and preferences.

25 Most Valuable Books

S/N
Name
Release Date
Sold Price
1
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
2005
$88.50
2
The Davinci Code
2003
$120
3
The Hunger Games
2008
$360
4
Bridget Jones’s Diary
1996
$500
5
Wind, Sand and Stars
1939
$650
6
Cup Of Gold
1929
$1,000
7
A Cat in the Hat
1957
$3,000
8
Lord of The Flies
1954
$4,203
9
A Christmas Carol
1843
$8,422
10
To Kill a Mockingbird
1960
$8,500
11
The Tailor of Gloucester
1902
$10,000
12
Charlie and The Chocolate
1964
$11, 250
13
Old Man and The Sea
1952
$37,500
14
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
1901
$37,500
15
Casino Royale
1953
$38,283
16
Alice in Wonderland
1865
$43,750
17
Jane Eyre
1843
$47,461
18
On the Origin of Species
1859
$52,526
19
The Great Gatsby
1925
$93,750
20
The Hobbit
1937
$128,509
21
Melville Herman’s The Whale
1851
$137,500
22
Ulysses
1922
$460,500
23
Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone
1997
$471,000
24
Tamerlane and Other Poems
1827
$662,500
25
William Shakespeare First Folio
1623
$9.97 Million

 25. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

 25. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Release Date: 2005

Sold Price: $88.50

Stephanie Meyer’s vampire story; Twilight took the teens’ fiction world by storm and won over many fans. This is the first book in the Twilight series (additional novels include New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn).

In addition to this, it was adapted into a movie in 2008, made over $392 million worldwide, and won several awards like the Publisher’s Weekly Best Children’s Book of 2005.

A first edition signed copy of this book can rake up to $1000 at auctions.

 

24. The Davinci Code

24. The Davinci Code

Release Date: 2003

Sold Price: $120

Published in 2003, the Da Vinci Code is a detective thriller novel authored by Dan Brown. One striking feature of the book is the recurrence of Robert Langdon, a character in his previous publication, Angels & Demons.

 

23. The Hunger Games

23. The Hunger Games

Release Date: 2008

Sold Price: $360

The 2008 Hunger Games book is the first publication in Suzanne Collins Hunger Games Trilogy, which eventually sets the precedent for two more publications and a blockbuster motion picture of the same sequence.

This book has the first edition signed by Collins on the half-title page, accompanied by a small sketch of a tree branch with small leaves.

 

22. Bridget Jones’s Diary

22. Bridget Jones's Diary

Release Date: 1996

Sold Price: $500

Written by Helen Fielding in 1996, the Bridget Jones diary mimics a personal diary. It covers a year in the life of Bridget Jones, a thirty-year-old single working-class woman who lived in London.

Helen writes on Jones’s life and career, her family, love life, self-image, friends, and vices.

Bridget Jones’s diary sold more than 12 million copies worldwide and was adapted into a movie in 2001.

 

21. Wind, Sand and Stars

21. Wind, Sand and Stars

Release Date: 1939

Sold Price: $650

The book Wind, Sand and Stars was a memoir written by French Aviator, Writer and Author Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who has also won an impressive number of literary awards and recognition.

The first edition was published in French in 1939, then later published in English and the American edition.

 

20. Cup of Gold

20. Cup of Gold

Release Date: 1929

Sold Price: $1000

This book was John Steinbeck’s first attempt into the literary world.

It’s a historical fiction based on the life, times, and eventual death of Henry Morgan, a 17th-century pirate and his move of sacking Panama City (regarded as the cup of Gold) and a woman known as the Red Saint who he’s searching for.

Steinbeck printed only 1,537 first edition copies of this historical novel, and one recently sold for $1000.

 

19. A Cat in the Hat

19. A Cat in the Hat

Release Date: 1957

Sold Price: $3,000

The Cat in the Hat was a children’s book written and illustrated by Theodor Geisel 1957, an American author who was popularly addressed by his pen name Dr Seuss. The story is largely about a tall anthropomorphic cat wearing a red-white striped hat and a bow tie.

 

18. Lord of The Flies

18. Lord of The Flies

Release Date: 1954

Sold Price: $4, 203

The Plot of this story builds around a British boy group who find themselves stranded on a deserted island and their multiple futile attempts to calmly govern themselves.

It was written by William Golding, a Nobel Prize winner, in 1954. It was adapted into a movie with the same title in 1963.

 

17. A Christmas Carol

17. A Christmas Carol

Release Date: 1843

Sold Price: $8,422

 A short story by Charles Dickens was first published in London in 1843. It narrates the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an old miser. He is haunted by the soul of his former business associate Jacob Marley and the spirits of past, present and future Christmas.

The encounter left him a better man, and the book itself was a success, having sold out its first edition on Christmas eve and amassing 13 editions by 1844.

 

16. To Kill A Mockingbird

16. To Kill A Mockingbird

Release Date: 1960

Sold Price: $8,500

Before her death, Harper Lee signed a handful of her first edition Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winning book, To Kill A Mockingbird which is now one of the rarest novels to be written.

These signed copies sell for impressive record-breaking prices at auctions today and are translated into 40 languages.

 

15. The Tailor of Gloucester

15. The Tailor of Gloucester

Release Date: 1902

Sold Price: $10,000

This copy is a signed first edition and one of the 500 copies published for Beatrix Potter before the first commercial edition by Frederick Warne & Co. The book is confirmed to be Potter’s personal top choice of all her written books.

 

14. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory

14. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory

Release Date: 1964

Sold Price: $11,250

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a children’s book by Roald Dahl and shows the escapades of a youthful Charlie Bucket in the chocolate factory of renowned chocolate manufacturer Willy Wonka.

The story was inspired by the experiences of Roald Dahl and chocolate companies during his time as a student at Repton School in Derbyshire.

 

13. The Tale of Peter Rabbit

13. The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Release Date: 1901

Sold Price: $37,500

Another children’s book from the stables of Beatrix Potter covers the mischievous and stubborn young peter rabbit as he’s chased around Mr McGregor’s Garden. Rabbit eventually escapes and returns to his mother, who puts him to rest after giving him chamomile tea.

Potter wrote the tale for Annie Carter Moore in 1893 and privately printed it in 1901. A commercial edition finally surfaced in 1902 by Frederick Warne & Co printing company. The first edition of this book went up for $37,500 at a Christie’s auction.

 

12. Old Man and the Sea

12. Old Man and the Sea

Release Date: 1952

Sold Price: $37,500

This book is unarguably one of Ernest Hemingway’s famous works and the last work of fiction published before his death.

Hemingway wrote it in 1951 in Cuba, and the first edition was published in 1952. It won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953, Bestseller and Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.

It gives an account of Santiago, an old Cuban fisherman who wrestled with a giant marlin at the far end of the Gulf Stream just off the coast of Cuba. This was a defining moment for the fisherman as his reputation and pride hung directly on the success of his hunt on the sea.

 

11. Casino Royale

11. Casino Royale

Release Date: 1953

Sold Price: $38,283

Casino Royale is Ian Fleming’s first major literary work and the first James Bond novel that precedes eleven further novels and two short stories followed by other projects on Bond by other authors. Ian Fleming is a British Novelist.

 

10. Alice in Wonderland

10. Alice in Wonderland

Release Date: 1865

Sold Price: $43,750

Alice in wonderland was a beloved children’s book by author Lewis Carroll published in 1865 and filled with tales and riddles. It was one of the most popular books from the desk of English language fiction, and John Tenniel, a British artist, created the illustration.

The first edition published is the most valuable and popular of all editions, and only a few copies are left in the world today, which you’ll mostly find with a private collector or family of the author.

 

9. Jane Eyre

9. Jane Eyre

Release Date:1847

Sold Price: $47,461

Initially published as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography). This novel was written by Charlotte Bronte, an English writer; who bore the pen name “Currer Bell” in October 1847.

The story captures the life of Jane Eyre, her journey through adulthood, and her affair with Mr Rochester, the incoming master of Thornfield Hall.

 

8. On the Origin of Species

8. On the Origin of Species

Release Date: 1859

Sold Price: $52,526

The scientific literature book is popularly tagged as the foundation of evolutionary biology.

Author Charles Darwin wrote the book in 1859 as proof of the diversity of life that arose through common descent with the influence of the branching pattern of evolution. A first edition copy of this book sold at Sotheby’s for a very special price.

 

7. The Great Gatsby

7. The Great Gatsby

Release Date: 1925

Sold Price: $93,750

The Great Gatsby was written by Scott Fitzgerald, a prolific American writer. The author set it in the Jazz Age on an island near New York. The novel captures Nick Carraway’s Interaction with millionaire Jay Gatsby including his zeal to rekindle his love with former lover Daisy Buchanan.

The book recorded very low sales following its release and had only sold 25,000 copies before Scott Fitzgerald’s passing. However, a turnaround happened after WWII, and people grew interested in the story.

The first edition of this book is very rare. It has been auctioned on different platforms, all going up for impressive prices. This copy sold for $93,750 at a Christie’s auction in September 2021.

 

6. The Hobbit

6. The Hobbit

Release Date:1937

Sold Price: $128,509

The first edition publication of this novel debuted on 21st September 1937 and was written by J.R.R. Tolkien. The signed presentation copy Tolkien himself went up for $128,509 at a Sotheby’s auction.

The Hobbit is a fantasy novel made for children and is still acclaimed as a classic in children’s literature. It won the New York Herald Tribune Prize for best juvenile fiction.

 

5. Melville Herman’s The Whale (Published by Richard Bentley, London.)

5. Melville Herman’s The Whale (Published by Richard Bentley, London.)

Release Date: 1851

Sold Price: $137,500

This book is Ishmael’s narration of the ambitious quest of Ahab, captain of the sailing ship, Pequod, against the giant white sperm whale “Moby Dick”. He bit off Ahab’s leg by the knee on a previous voyage.

Herman Melville produced the books in three volumes under different titles (Moby-Dick or The Whale in a single-volume version in New York).

 

4. Ulysses by James Joyce

4. Ulysses by James Joyce

Release Date: 1922

Sold Price: $460,500

James Joyce sure sparked some controversy with this book due to its racy themes in 1922. It initially came as a series in The Little Review between March 1918 to December 1920, then eventually published in Paris on 2nd February 1922.

It is widely regarded as one of the most important books of modernist literature. It even went further by referring to it as “a demonstration and summary of the modernist movement”.

One of the author’s two signed first edition copies sold for this price at christies. The second belonged to Margaret Anderson.

 

3. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

3. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Release Date: 1997

Sold Price: $471,000

This fantasy novel was written and released from the stable of  J.K. Rowling, a British novelist. It’s the first book in what would be a long harry potter series that explains the life of a young wizard who discovers his magical powers at age 11.

It sold for $471,000 at a Dallas auction, making it the highest price ever for a Harry Potter book (this stands until the record is broken). The Harry Potter series is one of the most commercially successful books. It sold about 120 million copies worldwide.

If you have a first edition copy of the philosopher’s stone from 1997, you can be the next big seller in American auctions.

 

2. Tamerlane and Other Poems

2. Tamerlane and Other Poems

Release Date: 1827

Sold Price: $662,500

Edgar Allan Poe allegedly wrote this poem before he clocked 14, and it was eventually published when he turned 18.

No copy existed until 1876, when a copy emerged from the library of the British Museum and another one in New York in 1920, making it one of the rare books in the literary world.

The first edition copies of Edgar Allan Poe’s book went up for $662,500 at a Christie’s auction house, setting a new record for any work of American edition poetry and literature.

 

1. William Shakespeare First Folio

1. William Shakespeare First Folio

Release Date: 1623

Sold Price: $9.97 Million

Williams Shakespeare stands at the top of that list when referring to the movers and shakers of the literary world.

He’s arguably the most popular and most quoted writer to ever exist. Even after his death, two friends put together 36 of his greatest works, known as the first folio, which has helped keep Shakespeare’s plays intact.

 

Types of Books to Look Out for in Thrift Stores

Books in thrift stores can be divided into three categories. They’re namely Classic books, Modern books and niche books.

Classic Books

Classic Books
(Source: Businessinsider)

Classic books that expand across all major genres are a great catch on thrift store shelves. Most people aim to have at least one or more of these classics in their collection, and the ones that already have may want to dispose of a few at the nearest thrift store.

 

Modern Books

Modern Books
(Source: Teachingexpertise)

You’ll also find modern books at thrift stores; some limited editions hold high value, just like antique books. Children and toddler books fall into this category and books published between the late 20th century and early 21st century.

 

Niche Books

Niche Books
(Source: Greatist)

Books like cookbooks, med books, art books and books tailored to address a particular field or area of interest are very common at thrift stores due to their high collectability value and demand.

 

Tips for Identifying Old Books

No one is an island of knowledge; sometimes, you need help identifying your old cheap and expensive books to make the right choices.

Tip #1: Dig Deeper

To identify if your thrift store book is really old and valuable as claimed, compare the prior knowledge you have about your copies to what you now know about the certified history of the book.

Websites such as World Cat and a handful of other online catalogs usually have records of authors, book titles and other important details. All you need to do is search by their keyword. This will help you discover the real age of your book.

Tip #2: Check the Title Page and Copyright Page

Check out the author’s full name and the published book’s title. Other important information includes city and date of publication, and copyright registration date. Don’t just stop your search for the dust jacket, as they may possess incomplete information.

Tip #3: Find a Book Club

Joining a book club is one of the favors you can do for yourself as a book collector. These clubs organize different reading sessions where you can sample a couple of books, learn about their history and get a general knowledge about the author.

Watch this youtube video for more tips.

 11 Ways to Determine the Value of Old Books

So many factors determine the value of your thrift store books. Since they’re mostly pre-owned or have been around for the longest time, it’s important to consider their condition, rarity, provenance, age and genre before paying a hefty price.

1. Appraise Away

Appraising your book allows you to get tax inducement and insurance coverage. This process can be organized by a known book appraiser or a dealer with experience in selling rare and pre-owned books.

Outfits like the

Note that appraising your item isn’t free. Suppose you can’t find an appraiser near your immediate environment. In that case, you can take pictures of your book’s front and back cover, spine and title pages to send over the phone to your appraiser.

Librarians are not appraisers and may or may not provide appraisal services. If you have a book containing signatures or proof of previous ownership, an appraiser can help you authenticate them.

2. Determine the Books Age

Books come in different categories, and the author may decide to make them in different editions and volumes depending on whether they add more information or modify the book’s setup.

A first edition book, usually the oldest, sells for more money than the subsequent editions. This is due to the production technique adopted in producing first edition books; they preserve the ‘antiqueness’ of the piece.

However, in some cases, the modern edition sells for higher prices due to upgrades to these books (like the cover, glossy pages and high-definition graphics).

3. Examine the Books Condition

The condition of your old book is a major prerequisite for determining its value. No one will pay or even glance twice at a book with shredded covers, faded pages or missing pages. Books are very delicate entities and must be constantly taken care of.

If your book is from the 20th century, check to confirm if the original dust jacket is still intact. Look for creases or discoloration that may have affected it over the years. The absence of the dust jacket will significantly cause a decline in the value.

You can summarize the book’s overall condition using the antiquarian guide.

Common terminologies include “as new” and “fine’ which means that your book is in a near perfect condition with few defects. Terms like “very good”, “fair”, “poor”, and “good” show a high level of defect.

If you see a book with the “ex-library copy” tag, it contains library signs or comes from a library. The “binding copy” phrase refers to a book with decent pages still in a fair shape but requires a new binding (Book repairers can easily sort that).

Old books can still hold very high value (they’re worth millions) even with mild damages. So don’t discard that book with seemingly bad covers or crumpled pages.

4. Find Out if the Book is Rare

Rare books with incredible artistry and a great length of storytelling are valuable and highly collectible. Getting a hold of a rare copy is one hell of a task, they are rare for a reason, and if you ever come across them somewhere, best believe you’re raking in some serious cash.

Books produced from 1910 to 1920 or earlier in the 17th-century fall under this category. There’re a few pieces left for purchase or display, meaning they’re a hot cake, especially if they come in their original dust jackets too.

5. Research on the Demand of the Book

Some books are very valuable because of the high rate of demand for them. There’re lots of good books that are highly unpopular because they’re not sought after by people. This may cause them to stay on shelves for years and ultimately lose market value.

A famous work of a popular author or a book on any popular theme may be valuable due to growing demand. In the same vein, it can also be less valuable because it’s now a common commodity in the market.

6. Determine the Edition of Your Book

Check the title of your book and the copyright section to determine which edition it is, as many collectors hold rare and first edition publications in high regard. Some first edition books have the word “First Edition” written boldly on the title page, while others don’t.

To identify a reprint, as in the second edition or further, you’ll find multiple publication dates and words like “Second Printing” or “Edition”, or if it’s published by an author different from the original publisher, you may find the phrase “First (publisher name) Edition” to show that the book is not the publisher’s work.

First Edition Books

The first edition refers to the first batch of the commercially distributed form of a book. It can be used interchangeably as the first printing of the first series of works. First editions are the most talked about and pull the greatest attention because it’s the closest thing to the source/author from the reader.

First edition works are considered the most original as you’ll still find signs of crude writing, some typos and pure carriage of emotions. It’s a bonus for your pocket if it’s a signed first edition.

Second Edition Books

Second edition books are subsequent publications either after the first edition has sold out, or the author decides to add more information or modify the cover. There can also be the second and third volumes of both the first and second editions.

7. Research on the Books Provenance

Pre-owned thrift books and copies signed by some famous figures, celebrities or have been to a couple of popular exhibitions are highly valuable. If you walk into a thrift store, you may find some books in the VIP section, and one of the things that have set them apart is their provenance.

Look for signatures, stamps or proof showing prior ownership of these pieces to further prove their authenticity or the seller’s claim.

Some books are true life stories, and you can track down a few documents or publications to confirm the legitimacy of their source or the family they previously belonged to.

8. Dig for Information on the Books Publisher

Check the inside cover of your thrift store book to identify the publisher. So many books are held in high regard because of their author’s reputation, not even necessarily the story they contain (this doesn’t mean we’re discrediting the quality of the stories). Still, sentiments play a huge role in the book world.

For example, a book produced by J.K Rowling, Shakespeare and other authors of revered status is a hot commodity on the market. This will most likely go on for a while.

9. Compare Prices

You can consult book sales websites to help you check previous prices that these books have sold or are being purchased. This will help you mentally prepare your purse if you ever want to get a copy.

10. Find Out the Books Purpose

As stated above, niche books curated for specific purposes are also very valuable. This is because most of these books are actual works of individuals gathered to form a big body of work.

Museums and history books are at the top of the list as they usually tell stories of people and places we may not even know. They’re also very rare as the old ones probably exist in a few copies that are being jealously guarded.

11. Consider the Aesthetics of the Book

One of the most attractive features of old books to book collectors is the fore-edge painting that you’ll mostly find opposite the page’s spine. Fore-edge paintings are done by hand and are not seen until you open a page.

Handmade paintings, original dust jackets and bindings are also superior aesthetics in an old book, making them attractive to buyers and collectors.

To sum this section up, we recommend that if you suspect a book is rare or has been claimed to fit into that spectrum, respect that fact until proven untrue or otherwise.

Here’s a video for further assistance.

 Parting Words

Not all thrift store purchases are mediocre; the biggest and most expensive books are buried deep in their shelves. The earlier you know this, the better. While you’re at it, here are some things we’ll like to remind you.

  • Take appraisals seriously; books are important and must be treated with the utmost attention. Appraisers will help you set facts straight and choose right.
  • Getting a previously signed copy of any of the true first edition is a plus to your collection and your pocket should you decide to resell
  • Ensure your book stays in good shape to increase collectability and intrinsic value.

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