Defining a Rare Book

Age by itself is not enough to make a book valuable.

Several characteristics can qualify a book as rare. The valuation is determined by:

  • The importance of the text
  • The condition of the book
  • Demand for the book

A book known to exist in only a few copies may have significant monetary value if collectors and libraries prize it. First editions of important literary or historical works and initial reports of scientific discoveries or inventions are prime examples of books that are important because of their contents, but there are other characteristics that may cause a book to be considered rare. A book may also achieve rare status if it bears the signature, inscription or marginal annotations of the author or a significant owner.

The scope of the Thomas E. and Jennie W. Welmers Rare Book collection at Van Wylen Library is large, housing everything from theological to scientific and mathematical texts. Dates range back to the late 15th century, and appraisals reach well into the thousands.