I noted a few weeks ago that the "Joy of Cooking" celebrated its 75th anniversary with the publication of its ninth edition.

Irma Rombauer self-published the first edition by selling copies out of her St. Louis apartment. She finally found a publisher and the book found a rather modest audience. But it didn’t stay that way too long.  Today, it has 15.5 million copies in print, clearly one of the best-selling books of all time.

For readers of this column, the first question probably, is “So, what does this have to do with any financial planning?” Actually, it has to do with what things are worth, something we haven’t addressed all that often within this space. Many people, when they are putting together their own financial plan, and trying to ascertain their own net worth, usually miss certain specific areas such as stamp collecting, collectibles in various forms, and the worth of first edition books. This came to mind the other day when I saw that some unsigned James Bond novels had fetched the best prices in a recent auction held in Sheffield, England. Actually, Casino Royale nailed down a record $25,000 and again this is for an unsigned first edition.

Many people are unsure what they have in their own home libraries. I, for one, have authored 16 books, one of which has been published in 11 languages. So, when I look at my own first editions, I have to put a tick mark next to what they may or may not be worth. Notice I use the word “may.” No illusions of grandeur here.

Book collectors long for first edition books, and they can bring in lots of money. Some are considered so valuable that they become the stuff of auctions to the highest bidder. A first edition book that is signed by the author is worth even more. First edition books are generally bought like antiques, and collectors usually purchase them.

Keep in mind that first edition books, along with antiquarian books, are the most valuable in the literary world. The prices do change, according to the title, but in any multiple printing, it is usually the first edition that is deemed the most expensive. There are certain exceptions here and that applies to first editions that have been flawed in some way or those that had tons of changes.

Why such a high price tag? In the publishing world, a first edition book is considered the original, with only a limited number ever produced. Accordingly, all subsequent editions are then considered as reproductions and are worth less. It has been said by many collectors that first editions represent a piece of literary history that cannot be duplicated.

Of course, keep something else in mind. A truly rare first edition will almost never be read; the possibility of damaging the volume is simply too great. Naturally, I have plenty of first edition books at home, those that I wrote myself. And maybe they just are that valuable; after all, I don’t know who has even read them.

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