Chronicles of Narnia Set Second-Most Expensive Sale in December 2009 for AbeBooks

AbeBooks is a great resource for new, used, and rare books. Some real treasures apparently change hands through its website, which recently posted the list of its ten most expensive sales for December 2009.  Some of the listmakers are a little surprising, including several non-English titles (and somebody really is that interested in Dutch medals? Who would have guessed?). Much to my delight, second on the list, pulling in a whopping 8,132 dollars, was a complete original set of the Chronicles of Narnia. Aside from the obvious value (to me) of being in the original order, there is something very appealing about having the same set Lewis would have had from the publishers. But even if I had eight grand to toss around, is this how I would spend it? I’d probably still read my well-worn editions (the last set published in original order), both to my childen and on my own frequent returns to Narnia.

 I suppose many of the books in the vast piles around my home and office are valuable. Perhaps the only person who will really care is the executor of my estate. As far as I am concerned, books are valuable for what they mean to me, rather than for what their monetary exchange rate might be. The ratty paperbacks with my comments scrawled in the margins of them are priceless to me, though a collector, like Madam Pince, would shriek in horror at the sight of them. Of course, I do take care of my books, banning certain volumes from the “reading room” (that one with the tub and sink in it) and making sure that the more elderly meembers of the collection get treated with extra respect and care.

For some folks, though, the value of books lies primarily in their financial exchange rate. I noted with amusement on a recent episode of NCIS that a former Soviet spy, who had been hiding out for decades as a mild-mannered book store owner, “converted” the dirty money he had on hand at the fall of the USSR: into books (including a First Folio of Shakespeare and a Guttenberg Bible).  Such attitudes about books beg the questions: What makes a book valuable to you? What are your most treasured volumes? What contributes to their value? Are books a form of currency? If so, does this elevate or degrade their value as transmitters of wisdom, story, and history?



  1. My most treasured books are a battered (very battered) copy of Anne of the Island which I got at Ithica, NY on our family holiday to the USA and Canada (I have other copies, but still can’t get rid of the battered one) and a book which belonged to my great grandmother when she was a child – both remind me of my history

  2. Arabella Figg says

    I have the boxed paperback Narnia set in published order from the ’70s and they’re in better condition than current ones–the publisher used awfully good paper; no odor or yellowing.

    I tend to treat books like treasures; most, unless I bought them used (and even then I’m picky on condition unless I can’t get them any other way), look new even after I’ve read them many times. Why I’m this way, I don’t know.

    As far as collecting and monetary value, I have very few treasures, but do have a signed/fine/ hc 1st edition of Real Murders by Charlaine Harris, which I expect will increase in value. But I didn’t buy it for the value alone; I love her Teagarden series. I also have John’s and Travis’ books, 1st ed., signed, and a signed (to me) Madeleine L’Engle; I expect these to markedly increase in value; but, there again, I have them because I wanted and them anyway. So I only collect what I love, but I love getting special copies of them when I can. I don’t expect to “cash out” in my lifetime (and wouldn’t want to), but whoever receives my collection may end up funding their retirement! 😉

  3. Elizabeth says

    A signed L’Engle! I am jealous! I do have doubles of some books, like Sharyn McCrumb’s ballads: a signed hardback first edition and a well-worn paperback I use in class. Sharyn actually had a great discussion going online recently about double editions.
    I had that 1970s edition set, too, and made the mistake of loaning out some of them. I don’t loan books anymore! Inkheart, which came up on the eight grader quiz, has some very interesting insights on the “real” value of books and how collectors view them. I wonder if young readers will have different views of books 20 years from now!

  4. A First Edition Philosopher’s Stone recently sold at auction for more than $32,000.

    If you’re investing in books for cash return, I’d stick with Harry Potter.

  5. Elizabeth says

    Well, maybe that spy wasn’t so smart after all, as he could have bought Harry legally, instead of the blackmarket Guttenberg! Such a handsome preice tag set me to thinking what our trio’s response would be: Harry would hang on to the book for his kids, but wouldn’t care much about its monetary value; Hermione would, of course, never give up her first ed. at any price; much to the disappointment of Ron, who’d be sending an owl to Gringotts at his first opportunity asking what the dollar (or pound) to Galleon exchange rate is.

    The smart man with the return on his investment was, of course, just selling his extra copy, as he had the paperback to read with the kids. Another argument for duplicate copies! Or, as they say, one for show and one for blow (referring to hankies, of course, but applicable with books, too, it seems, if reading them until they look like Bella Swan’s copy of Wuthering Heights counts as “blowing” them!)

  6. Arabella Figg says

    Well, I guess I’m a Hermione. You’ll pry my treasures for filthy lucre from my cold dead hands. Although, if I were the owner of that HP book, unless I was desperate for cash, would hang onto it as long as possible. Can you imagine what it will be worth in ten years?

    I was privileged to meet L’Engle when she came here in ’94 for a book signing (when Troubling a Star came out). I had her sign my old book club edition of her poetry book, The Weather of the Heart. If I’d been more financially savvy, I’d have had her sign my pristine 1st. ed. of A Ring of Endless Light, but I knew nothing of book value then; besides, I love her poetry and I’m not sorry. L’Engle was very charming. I asked if we’d ever learn what kind of adult Charles Wallace became. She visibly started and said, “If I ever learn, I’ll let you know.” We chatted for a minute about her poetry (I told her I’d read several as readings in church), and then the person behind me was up. It was probably her last book tour.

    I like the “one for show, one for blow” idea, and I’ve had some of those. Of course, an e-book reader would come in handy for this!

  7. revgeorge says

    I would heartily recommend getting an e-book reader. I’ve had a Sony PRS 505 for two years & love it.

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