Sunday 20 January 2019

John Lowe: The money doctor

If the idea of making money from a hobby appeals to you, then you could start collecting first-edition books.

A few weeks ago, a South African tourist at a flea market in Limerick spotted a first-edition of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte and snapped it up for just €3. He sold it for more than €8,000.

And it's not a fluke either. If you had bought Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney's first collection of poetry Death of a Naturalist in 1999, you would have paid less than €500. Today, the same book would sell for at least €2,000 -- a 400pc profit.

Experienced collectors will tell you that with careful planning, it is possible to regularly earn above average returns from this fascinating hobby. But as with any alternative investment, caution is advisable. You shouldn't invest money you may need back in a hurry or that you can't afford to lose.

Books become valuable for a variety of reasons. The author must be in demand. Collectibility is influenced by fashion and circumstances. Immediately after John Banville's The Sea won the Man Booker Prize, first editions of the book -- previously available for under €50 -- started changing hands for €200.

When Francis Ford Coppola made a film of Bram Stoker's Dracula, first editions increased tenfold in value, from around €1,000 to €10,000. Not that a film version guarantees success. First editions of Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres regularly sold for €1,000 before the film, starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz (above) bombed at the box office in 2001, now they barely make ¤500.

The book itself must be what collectors call a first edition. A best-selling book will be printed many times in different formats. With few exceptions, the only version that will be of value is the first printing of a book that is offered for sale. Over the years millions of copies of Ulysses have been printed, but it is the initial 1,000 run -- published on James Joyce's 40th birthday, February 2 1922, in Paris -- that are worth the most money.

Condition is another important factor. If a book has been damaged or no longer has its dust jacket, the price will drop.

A signed first edition will push the value up. This is especially true if there is a connection between the author and the recipient.

Interestingly, rarity may have little or no effect on price.

What sort of books should you buy? Most dealers advise you to specialise in a particular area. For instance, literature related to medical discoveries or 19th-century travel books.


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