Did the recent discovery of a copy of a Shakespeare First Folio at Mount Stuart, the Isle of Bute home of the Marquess of Bute, send you rushing to your shelves? If not, why not?

Even if you strongly suspected you didn’t own the First Folio, did you not for a moment entertain a pulse-racing, lingering doubt that you might at least have a copy of the Second, which has the additional value of containing the first appearance in print of another giant of English Literature, John Milton?
Even if the discovery didn’t prompt any such ambitious reaction, did it, though, at least suggest a return visit to those well stocked, double banked shelves, in the hope of finding something of value even it was unlikely to bear much comparison with that of a Shakespeare First Folio? (Good copies have fetched over £2m and up to £3.5m at auction). But might there, at least, be a good Dickens First Edition, or a James Bond, or even, a Harry Potter?

The first print run of Harry Potter and The Philosophers Stone consisted of 500 copies which retailed at £10.99 in 1997. A pristine copy can now fetch £15,000 to £20,000 at auction.

Recent years have seen substantial price rises for a number of categories of books such as travel, economics and science. Stanley Gibbons Investments recently published an index of valuable books based on past auction data. The most expensive title on the list was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby valued at £246,636 in 2015 with an increase in value of over 13 times since 1996 when it was priced at £18,056. The next most valuable on their list was The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien at £65,420, it having doubled its price of two years ago.

Author – Title

George Orwell – Animal Farm

Ayn Rand – The Fountainhead

Ian Fleming – Live and Let Die

George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty-Four

Ian Fleming – Casino Royale

Robert Graves – Good-Bye to All That

J.M.Keynes – The General Theory of Employment

T.S.Eliot – The Waste Land

Evelyn Waugh – Decline and Fall

John Steinbeck – The Grapes of Wrath

Value in 2015

£5,124

£8,540

£8,060

£8,060

£24,180

£3,750

£6,820

£5,624

£9,364

£6,133

Increase Since 1996

2597%

1729%

1579%

1450%

874%

859%

847%

687%

555%

527%

* Top ten first edition books that have seen the most growth. Source: Stanley Gibbons

These prices will have been achieved for copies in near mint condition. It is important to remember that condition is king and will hugely affect the price, along with other factors such as provenance, association, the presence or not of dust wrappers, etc. By and large, investment is best considered over the longer term. Pall Mall Art Advisors can source items or offer guidance on putting a collection together.

When did you last have your collection valued for insurance or other purposes? If books and manuscripts form part of trust assets, are they listed at current values? Books and manuscripts may provide a useful means of transferring wealth to succeeding generations or, if they meet the correct criteria, an opportunity for tax planning taking advantage of Acceptance in lieu or the Cultural Gifts Scheme.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues further, please get in touch. Our book and manuscript specialists John Sibbald and Dr Murray Simpson combine a wealth of knowledge and experience.

John Sibbald
Book & Manuscript Specialist UK
John Sibbald combines over forty years of library, antiquarian bookselling and auction experience.

Dr Murray Simpson
Book & Manuscript Specialist UK
Dr Murray Simpson was, until his retiral in 2008, Head of the Manuscript Division at the National Library of Scotland. His particular expertise equips Pall Mall Art Advisors to be leading specialists in archive valuations.

Researchers believe that 750 or fewer copies of the First Folio were printed, 234 survive today, of which 82 are in the Folger Library in Washington, DC.  If your collection lacks this treasure, you may, at least, console yourself by viewing a digital version here.  Alternatively, if the Shakespeare 400th anniversary celebrations are really enthusing you, there is at least one copy of the Second Folio currently on the market (around £275,000) –  although the dedicated collector might also want to think about the specialist Christie’s auction (25 May) comprising just four lots – a copy of each of the first four Folios.