Feb 11

Treasure Hunting

by Carrie Kolar

Peering through the dimly lit habitat, you scan for your quarry. You’re hunting a living treasure, a diamond in the rough, and you don’t know if the next turn can take you to the biggest prize of your life. You’re a combination of Indiana Jones, Lara Croft and the Crocodile Hunter. Finally, you spot your target and move in for the kill. Be careful – first editions can be vicious when they’re cornered.

Dramatic? Only a little. Collecting antique books can be like that – a fabulous treasure hunt, with a prize more valuable than a pirate’s cache. Whether you’re hunting for treasure at a thrift shop, a library, an antique book store, or a book fair, there’s always the chance that you may stumble upon a lost masterpiece, a forgotten tome by your favorite author, or the last book you need to complete your collection that you’ve been seeking for years. Here, we take a look at some of the best hunting grounds for antique books, where treasure hunters have struck it rich and walked away with the biggest prize of all.

Goodwill, Thrift Stores, and Flea Markets
Sometimes when treasure hunting, a person may not know exactly how valuable a prize he or she has found. Goodwill, thrift shops, and flea markets are all common locations for treasure hunters of many types, proving the old saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It’s possible that this old saw wasn’t meant quite as literally as it proved to be when a man walked away from a flea market with a picture that turned out to house an original Declaration of Independence. The New York Times reported that a Pennsylvania man spent four dollars on a picture because he liked the frame, and when he discarded the picture he found the Declaration folded up behind it. The copy was one of the original 200 printed on July 4, 1776, and ended up selling for almost $2.5 million.

Garage and Estate Sales 
Treasure can mean different things to different people, particularly when it comes to garage or estate sales. What may complete your long-built collection may be, to the seller, a random book that they purchased twenty years ago. At garage and estate sales you can seek your prize among the collections of someone’s lifetime, and you never know what they may have found. A grandson in Britain learned that lesson when he was going through his recently deceased grandfather’s books and papers and found a copy of Frankenstein with an inscription from Mary Shelley to Lord Byron. With an inscription from one literary giant to another, one who is credited with inspiring the creation of Frankenstein, the book was a literary gold mine. According to Fine Books Magazine, the asking price for the volume at auction was over $550,000, but the final sale price was kept confidential.

Your Own Home
If you want to start even closer to home than a garage sale, you may find that your quest doesn’t need to leave your house. Your attic, basement, or forgotten piles of literature at your family residence can hold treasure that you don’t know you have. This was the case when a couple was going through their attic in 2010 and found an original copy of Action Comic No. 1 from 1938. What’s so special about this particular comic, you ask? Well, it just so happens that this is the comic where Superman made his first-ever appearance. The comic sold at auction through ComicConnect.com for several hundred thousand dollars, which is far from the highest price ever paid for that particular comic book. In 2014 a copy of Action Comic No. 1 in nearly immaculate condition sold on eBay for $3.2 million.

This list is far from exhaustive. People have found First Folios in libraries and maps of Middle Earth annotated by Tolkien in rare book stores. Treasure is everywhere. But one fantastic hunting ground we haven’t mentioned is antique and rare book fairs. If antique book collecting is like treasure hunting, then antique book fairs are a collector’s version of Treasure Island, where the odds are far more likely of finding a literary pirate’s hoard. At antique book fairs, every foot you walk brings books and manuscripts that call out to you to explore, beckoning with the promise of a personal treasure entirely for you. Imagine the thrill of hunting through exhibit after exhibit, book after book only to find the one volume that you wanted most in the world. Antique book fairs give you the chance to create your own treasure hunting story. Come to the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair on March 4-6 and find a treasure of your very own.




I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once. - C.S. Lewis