How to Buy Antiquarian Books at Live Online Auctions

Bidding on antiquarian books at live online auctions is sometimes a bit difficult. That’s because unlike many other objects that you might want to bid on, you are relying on the seller’s description rather than actually seeing the books for yourself. So how can you tell for certain that what you are getting is the real thing and not a clever (or not so clever) fake? Well, just as with a traditional auction, there are a number of techniques that you can use and they all involve being a careful observer. Here’s what you need to know in order to make an informed decision about purchasing such books online.

Look at the Auctioneer’s Reputation

While it’s always important to check on any auction you are working with to make sure that they are reliable and that they don’t have reports of complaints against them with the Better Business Bureau, here we are talking about something else. Antiquarian books are a fairly unique thing to be involved in the selling of. While you will often find 19th and early 20th century books for sale from generalized auction houses, older antiquarian books can be quite rare and are not likely to be offered by your friendly auctioneer who was last week offering up wax figurines of angels from some sweet old lady’s house.

Now, we’re not saying it can’t happen. Maybe the sweet old lady happened to have a family Bible that was handed down for the past 300 years. However, typically when something like this is offered for sale, it’s sold by a specialized auction house that knows the market and knows what these things are worth. This is to the benefit of both the seller and the purchaser since you don’t want to get ripped off by a fake and the seller doesn’t want to get stuck selling for much less than an object is worth. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to check the reputation of the auction house holding live online auctions to make sure that they deal in such objects regularly.

Look for Telltale Details

While it’s always harder to find details when looking at photos as opposed to the actual object, most people selling antiquarian books understand that condition is everything and they will take lots and lots of pictures. If the book is a 19th century volume, look for the inevitable yellowing and damage to the spine that will have occurred. It was during the 19th century that acid paper, which is cheaper to make, started to take off, and is known to not last long. That’s why books from the 17th century can appear almost brand new (acid free paper) while books from a little over 100 years ago look like they’re falling apart.

Learn About Markings

In addition to these, it pays to educate yourself about marks that should appear in various books. For example, if you were looking at Jewish books from Eastern Europe from the 19th century, they would likely have a mark from the Czar’s censor saying that the book was approved. Without the mark, the book may have been published underground. However, more than likely you should look for other live online auctions selling similar objects since it’s probably a fake.