I've bought a half dozen new books in the last couple weeks, subjects ranged from web stuff to buying and selling books as a vocation. Apparently I've got the first half down pat. Two books that I enjoyed were "Antique Trader Book Collector's Price Guide" and "Book Finds, 3rd Edition: How to Find, Buy, and Sell Used and Rare Books." Both were very enthusiastic about a business I have no desire to get involved in, that of buying and selling first editions. It's a different world for me, but one that was interesting to visit.
Here's what I took away from it. If you can find a first edition from an author who wasn't famous when the book was published so the run was limited, but got famous later so people care, you might have something valuable. That *might* caveat is a mighty might. Despite the fact that the first editions of published books are often indistinguishable in any way from many later editions except for the magical identifier showing it's first, the later editions aren't valued at a tenth (or a hundredth) of the first. Also, a first edition in otherwise perfect condition with a library mark is considered worthless, and a mediocre dust jacket will knock 80% of the value.
It all strikes me as pretty obsessive, though not it a good way, like my own obsessions:-) I'm a book lover who reads books, but in the first edition collection community, it's not unusual to buy reading copies of books you own, just to keep that first edition fresh. It reminds me of an earlier post about collectible European books, except they sell those by the pound. One telling anecdote by the author of one book (I forgot which) was that he felt guilty about paying high prices for a series of books he'd read as a child because they had no inherent value. That strikes me as pretty backwards. Sure, they don't show up in the first edition catalogs and they don't have a set "everybody knows that" value, but if an expert book buyer is stuck paying a high price for them, doesn't that say something about supply and demand?
The type of books I'm interested in working with are classic literature in nice editions (they had some great illustrators in the 19th century) and old how-to books that are long forgotten. My feeling is that the really dated how-to books, like old cookbooks, offer a more natural approach to their subjects. Not because they were trying to turn back the clock to simpler times, but because they were working with what they had. Like my favorite food additive - salt.