An author’s signature adds value to a book and can even turn it into a rare collectible. However, this generally only applies to bestsellers, classics by famous authors, and artist collections published by renowned masters. Rare bookshops, rare book fairs, and websites like eBay all have a diverse selection of signed books and collectibles.
Before you start collecting signed books, try to first familiarize yourself with the different variations and how each one’s market price varies. You also need to know the basics of how to check whether a signature is real, assess the value of a collectible, and resourcefully add books to your collection. As for which books to collect, it is up to you. You can collect your favorite authors, certain genres, or rare books of tremendous value.
Signed Books, Bookplates, and Facsimiles
Kinds of Signed Books
When an author, artist, or editor actually held and autographed a book, collectors consider it a signed book. Depending on the degree of personalization, it may be an inscribed or association copy.
Books that have the author’s signature without any dedication or message are called signed books. Some collectors may refer to these copies as "flat signed" to distinguish them from more personalized books.
A dated signature on a signed book can increase the value, especially if the date is close to the year of publication. Thus, some publishers indicate so with a label: “Signed in the year of publication.”
When an author signs a book with a dedication or message, you have an inscribed book or "presentation copy". Some collectors dislike these; others place more value on them because of the personal touch and sense of story behind the dedication, even if the author addressed the book to an unknown recipient.
If an inscribed copy has a dedication to a famous person or the author’s relative or friend, it is an association copy. Books owned by historic figures or important personalities also fall into this category. Association copies can be quite valuable.
Signed Bookplates and Facsimile Signatures
Author-signed bookplates affixed to books also add to their worth. Some books come mass-produced with the author’s signature stamped or printed on them. These are facsimile signatures and should not be confused with signed books. Always check if the signature on a book was printed or made by a stamp instead of a pen.
Recognizing a Real Signature
Do not confuse a real signature with a facsimile, which are sometimes so realistic that they can fool even experienced collectors. Scrutinize the signature with a magnifying lens or a jeweler’s loupe; actual handwriting has subtle variations in ink color and thickness. A subtly embossed feel on the ink and a submerged mark due to pen pressure on the page also indicate the presence of a real signature. On the contrary, visible pixels suggest that it is fake. You can also compare multiple signatures by the same author; if the copies look exactly the same, they are most likely mass prints. For classics, make sure the author was still alive at the time of that particular edition’s printing. Consult a used books or first editions expert when in doubt.
Assessing the Value of a Signed Book
Like any collectible, the cost of a signed book varies depending on supply and demand. A signature on a novel whose author is alive can add 20% to 25% to its original cost. Signed books tend to be more expensive if the author rarely signs copies or is deceased. Prices increase further depending on how popular the author is among collectors, which is why some sellers hold auctions. Unless you are confident about the value to you of a particular book, do not spend all your savings on it. Do some research, canvass from other sources, and ask experts who know the trends.
Hunting for Signed Books
Do you want to collect all kinds of signed books or focus only on collecting inscribed copies? Should you specialize in collecting fiction or go for signed photography books? Take your pick.
Before you buy a signed copy of a current release, consider purchasing a new copy yourself and having it signed in person if the author does book-signing sessions. Check the author or publisher’s website for book signing schedules in book launches, literary festivals, or book fairs. Also, watch out for up-and-coming authors if you have a knack for detecting talent.
How to Buy Signed Books on eBay
If you are looking for popular books that are in demand, you can browse through eBay’s selection of popular signed books or signed first editions. If you have specific titles in mind, you can search for them by typing the title or author into the search bar on every page of eBay. Sometimes, you can easily detect a real signature just by looking at the photos provided. If not, check whether the seller offers free returns at no added cost. Make sure you read the fine print all the way.
Whether you are collecting antique books, contemporary novels, or nonfiction, remember that a book’s value differs from one person to another. What a non-collector considers junk can be a treasure to a collector. Be adventurous in your book hunt, but do not forget to double check whether what you are buying contains a real signature.