Worthy Reads

The owners of B and B Rare Books hold a copy of a rare book and sit on couches in their gallery.

By Kris Dreessen | Photo by Keith Walters ’11

Judge a book by its cover? Yup, you can.

Shortly after graduation, psychology majors Sunday Steinkirchner ’03 and Joshua Mann ’03 found an old copy of “Alice in Wonderland” at a street sale for $1.

“We thought, ‘We don’t know what this is worth, but it’s more than this,’” Steinkirchner remembered. Living in New York City, they were looking for a way to earn extra money.

That copy wasn’t valuable, but their investigation resulted in a process for researching book values using librarians, reference materials, booksellers and market trends. 

“It also sprung the idea for B & B Rare Books,” Steinkirchner said.

They started out selling on eBay, and pretty soon, their book business demanded as much time as their full-time jobs. Steinkirchner was working as a clinical case manager for clients with AIDS and mental illness, and Mann conducted clinical trials at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. In 2007, they quit their day jobs.

Steinkirchner and Mann specialize in appraising, buying and selling 19th- and 20th- century literature, which they share a love for, science and manuscripts.

Their Manhattan gallery houses rare pieces, including a handwritten page of
Henry David Thoreau’s journal, and a copy of George Orwell’s first book, “Burmese Days,” which is worth $25,000 thanks to its pristine dust jacket. Sadly, though, the potential buyer for their “Alice in Wonderland” book was left empty-handed. Steinkirchner and Mann decided not to sell it.

“We canceled the order, and kept the book,” Mann said. “It was what inspired us and gave us our start.”

Every day as a rare book expert is different, said Steinkirchner. It’s one of the most rewarding aspects of their venture. “It’s really fun and exciting. It’s like a treasure hunt, every day.”

Is this book valuable? 

• If it’s a first edition, that’s a good start in determining whether a book is valuable, say Sunday Steinkirchner ’03 and Joshua Mann ’03, though that’s not an indication of a book’s actual worth. “That’s why people come to us. We have a very specific set of knowledge,” said Steinkirchner.

• Look for an indication that it’s a first printing. A “first edition” or “first printing” statement printed on copyright pages became common practice with most U.S. publishers after 1930.

• Former owner inscriptions generally do not add to a book’s value. But the signature of the author or illustrator may.

• Books inscribed rather than merely signed are uncommon and more valuable.

• Books with special illustrations can increase value.

• The pages and binding should be in very good condition. “Very good” typically means the spine is intact, and the pages are clean and untorn, and the binding is tight and undamaged. 

• Intact, original dust jackets can account for up to 90 percent of a book’s value.

• Use online resources to see what a book in similar condition has sold for or what its current selling price is. Abebooks.com is a free online resource, and Rarebookhub.com is accessible via subscription. 

Watch Sunday and Joshua explain features that make a book valuable. 

Author: geneseoscene

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