How to Make Pocket Money by Selling Your Old Books

Updated on December 8, 2017
Glenis Rix profile image

Holds a Degree in Business and Finance and a Post Grad. Cert. in Management Studies. Worked for 12 years in UK urban regeneration programmes

If books have been stored properly they will be in good condition and require little or no work. Sadly, many people simply box them up and pop them out of sight and out of mind. Which is exactly what happened to my family's children's books from the 1950s and 1960s. Result? When finally they emerged from the loft more than fifty years later many were a little the worse for the experience — a bit grubby, and foxed around the edges.

Foxing is a term describing the age-related spots and browning seen on vintage paper documents such as books. It is usually caused by too much moisture in the air. Excess humidity (usually relative humidity above 75%) can encourage the growth of fungi and mildew, which can lead to foxing.

A Example of Foxed Pages

A much read book from childhood, now damaged due to poor storage conditions
A much read book from childhood, now damaged due to poor storage conditions | Source

Choose Suitable Packaging For Books

Another advantage of this type of box is than if the book is sold it's simply a question of attaching an address label and postage to the box
Another advantage of this type of box is than if the book is sold it's simply a question of attaching an address label and postage to the box

The Best Way to Store Books

  • Avoid excessive humidity when storing books as this is a primary cause of mold and mildew.
  • A book should ideally be stored in an individual book box, which can be adjusted to exactly fit around the book. Boxes are available from specialist packaging suppliers or your favourite online store. If you plan to store your books to pass on to future generations or are saving them in the hope that they will increase in value it's well worth investing a little money and effort to store them this way.
  • Stack the boxes upright.
  • If you don't want to go to these lengths then carefully wrapping the books in archive paper, available online, will help to prevent discolouration. Then stack the books upright in large archive boxes that have lids.

Absorene is a Great Product for Cleaning Soiled Books

How to Decide if It's Worthwhile to Renovate and Market a Book

Most of my books are children's volumes from the 1950s and 1960s. The method I describe should not be applied to antique books, which are potentially valuable and therefore best assessed and conserved by an expert.

  • I tapped the title and author of my books into an internet search engine to find out if similar books were on the market and, if so, how they were priced. A list of sites which sell used books emerged and I spent time interrogating them. If you are hoping to sell, rather than keep your books, the time and cost of the work involved in restoration should be assessed in relation to the achievable income from the sale.

I discovered that:

  • Many children's books have become collector's items. In particular, amongst those that I have in my collection the Biggles series by Captain W.E.Johns and books by Richmal Crompton and Enid Blyton were being offered at prices that made the work involved in marketing them worthwhile.
  • Books with an intact dust jacket have a higher value. Better still if it is unclipped (the price on the lower inside front cover is still there).
  • Good clean copies with a tight binding are a prerequisite in the marketplace. A book with loose bindings is beyond hope. Re-binding is an expensive process best reserved for antique books with a potentially high value.
  • Photographs of the book that you want to sell help with marketing.

Example of a Book Worth Cleaning and Marketing

A book in good condition for it's age
A book in good condition for it's age | Source

How I Spruced Up Biggles

  • The only things I needed to do with this book were to gently shake the pages out and wipe the covers with a piece of paper kitchen towel or a soft cloth. The edges of the pages were slightly foxed, so I gently rubbed them with gum eraser. This method is not 100% successful, though the appearance of the book did improve. Some people recommend gently sanding with fine sandpaper. If you intend to use this method I suggest that you try it out first on a book that is destined for the rubbish bin.
  • In July 2015 I auctioned this book online and received £14.50 for it. Not a significant sum but I have quite a few books by the same author and the time involved in advertising and dispatching them is minimal once an online account has been established.

How to Clean Book Edges

Wear Gloves When Handling Valuable Books

  • If handling a valuable book always wash your hands and preferably wear gloves. Otherwise the natural acids in you skin will transfer to the paper and eventually cause yellowing.

A Book Not Worth Rescuing

Dust Jacket Torn beyond repair
Dust Jacket Torn beyond repair

A Book Destined for the Charity Shop

  • An internet search revealed that copies of this book are still collected in the United States. The pages of this copy are in reasonably good condition. But there is an owner's nameplate glued into the front cover and the dust jacket is unrepairable. I will simply remove the dust jacket, clean the book up a little, and donate it to a charity shop. Oxfam shops in the UK now specialize is selling used books and will be happy to receive this one.

When Advertising Books for Sale Honesty Is the Best Online Policy

  • Be truthful describing your product.
  • If a buyer is disappointed your book will either be returned or you will receive feedback that will act as a deterrent to new buyers. Therefore, it's good policy to provide an assessment that it not going to lead to disappointment when the buyer rips open the package.
  • It's hard to be accurately objective, in your opinion a book may be in 'very good condition for its age', but in a buyer's opinion it might be simply 'acceptable'. Err on the side of caution.
  • If you are marketing a repaired book it's best to provide details of the repair, preferably with a photograph, to the potential buyer.

Meeting Buyer Expectations

  • Not everyone is looking for a pre-loved book in 'Fine' condition, so don't be deterred from marketing yours if it doesn't quite come up to the mark. I have purchased a couple of rare old books that were frankly the worse for wear and arrived in a smelly condition. But I wanted them for research purposes so was prepared to accept the condition that they were in. That said, I must admit to slight disappointment, as I had paid quite a high price for the books. It's the best policy to be honest about the condition of a book if you want to maintain a good online reputation — if a book is a 'readers' copy rather than a collectible, be upfront about it.

Visit a Used Book Fair

  • Used book fairs are ubiquitous nowadays and for a book lover a lovely way to wile away an hour or so at the weekend. The range from huge events to small fund-raisers in village halls. If the search for that elusive first edition that escaped the radar is unsuccessful then there may be less valuable books that can be renovated and sold on for a profit.
  • If you have a large collection of books to sell then consider renting space. If you have just a few then take them along and offer them to a trader.

Browsing for books at a used book fair
Browsing for books at a used book fair | Source

Final Words: Book Renovation Is a Satisfying Hobby

  • I don't know of anyone who made their fortune by renovating and selling old books but, for a lover of books, it's very satisfying to give them a new lease of life. The income that I derive from selling books is modest — I spend it buying new books for my own collection.
  • But if you happen to have a first edition copy of Harry Potter make sure to store it properly because one day your grandchildren might find that it is worth a lot of money!

What format do you prefer for your books?

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  • Blond Logic profile image

    Mary Wickison 14 months ago from Brazil

    Fascinating topic. We live in Brazil and humidity is a problem as are insects. Our books seem to age so quickly here. I wasn't aware there was much to be done.

    I love the fact there is still a market for old books.

    My husband is still coveting a Parrots of the World book, he bought ages ago.

  • jo miller profile image

    Jo Miller 15 months ago from Tennessee

    This was a delightful article, full of useful advice. Our house is full of books that we've collected over the years. I've learned to just hang on to the 'keepers', those I can't bear to part with, but the collection keeps growing.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 18 months ago from UK

    Marisa, I suspect that many families have the same situation. A lot of children nowadays don't know the pleasure of reading and so don't read nearly enough. I suspect that many of the children's books like those that I have sold are bought by adults who are fans of the author. But I have also sold copies of 1950s novels written for adults - I think these may be purchased by writers who are looking for ideas!

  • Marisa Wright profile image

    Kate Swanson 18 months ago from Sydney

    This article makes me want to go back to my sister's house and start work on her bookcase full of old books! They're all children's books and the only reason she still has them is because they're "too good to throw away". However, her own children were never interested as they were "old-fashioned". It never occurred to me they might be collectors' items.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 18 months ago from UK

    Jodah, I too have a copy of Anderson's Fairy a Tales - though it's slightly younger than yours. I'm hanging on to it because, I confess, I haven't read were some of the stories. Your book is almost 100 years old so it will soon be an antique.

    The Tales were first published in the English language in the 1870's but perhaps, nevertheless, your copy has a monetary value. You might want to check the rare and collectable listings on Amazon to find out if anything similar is on the market. Restoration/conservation professionally carried out is likely to have a starting price of around 50 US dollars (you do the conversion!)

    I had a a souvenir picture book of the pre-War Olympic Games in Berlin. It was in such poor condition that I could only throw it away. Such is life!

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 18 months ago from Queensland Australia

    Glenis, I do have an old copy of "Anderson's Fairy Tales" in fair condition, some flocking and the first couple of pages (blank and title) loose. The actual book has no date, but their is a note in the front written with fountain pen saying "To Dear Willy Oct 12, ..18". So it was given as a gift in 1918. I will have to investigate on the Internet if it has value.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 2 years ago from UK

    Pleased to be able to help Taopi

  • Taopi profile image

    Taopi 2 years ago

    I found this hub exactly when needed! I cannot thank you enough for putting it together. I have been terribly concerned about the books I need to store.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 2 years ago from UK

    I intended to type 'worth' - not 'work'!

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 2 years ago from East Coast, United States

    Recently, I was helping someone clean out her basement. There was a whole shelf of books, including some of my favorite children's books. Sadly, dampness ruined the whole collection. Some were so damp, they were almost squishy. It was sad to see such wonderful books wind up in the trash. But there was nothing else we could do.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 2 years ago from UK

    chef-de-jour. Impressive appetite for poetry!

  • chef-de-jour profile image

    Andrew Spacey 2 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

    Some great advice here Glenis. There's nothing to beat the thrill of opening a new or an old book. The feel of physically turning a page is something we used to take for granted but since the rise of the machine isn't such an everyday action these days.

    Cherish those older books! I've grown my collection of poetry books over decades, hardly wanting to become a collector but buying volumes as my appetite for poetry grew and grew. Hundreds sit side by side and I know them all intimately. Most don't need repair but should I find one with damage I'll know where to come!

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 2 years ago from UK

    Thank you for your comments Marlene B :)

  • MarleneB profile image

    Marlene Bertrand 2 years ago from Northern California, USA

    There is such skill involved in restoring books. Your tips are most helpful. Thank you for sharing them with us.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 2 years ago from UK

    I pleased that you found the tips useful lawrence01. Yes, it's hard to part with books, which is why so many ended up in my Dad's attic - I wish they had been stored properly.

  • lawrence01 profile image

    Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

    My wife and I are both 'bookworms' so I'm going to take note of this stuff as we have some old books.

    As for selling. Not a chance!

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 2 years ago from UK

    Hi RonElFran. It's not only children's books that are marketable. Check out the prices of the adult ones too. Tip - heavy books are often not work and the cost of postage unless they have a high value. It's possible to market internationally on some websites but I sell only domestically, due to the cost of sending overseas.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 2 years ago from UK

    Hi Jodah. Thanks for your endorsement. Hope you have a few treasures in your collection that you are able to part with.

  • RonElFran profile image

    Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

    I have hundreds of books I must somehow get rid of. There are some children's books among them, and you've alerted me to not be too quick to throw such volumes away. I will check them out online. Thanks!

  • Jodah profile image

    John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

    Hi Glenis, as a 'real' book lover and someone who has trouble parting with old books this is a helpful hub. I need to do an Internet search and check,out the going price for some of my old children's books. Your advice on cleaning and repairing is good too. I used to work in a library and we had to clean mould from books regularly due to the humidity. Voted up.

  • Glenis Rix profile image

    GlenR 2 years ago from UK

    Thank you, Lee. I love a 'real' book - so tactile.

  • profile image

    Lee Cloak 2 years ago

    An important and interesting hub, with all these electronic reading gadgets taking over the world we should make every effort to look after print, i do love the feel of a book especially an old one, well done, best wishes, Lee