Antiquarian books are older – generally at least 100 years old but sometimes much older – covering subjects as diverse as history, literature, art, or science from centuries and millennia. Dealers tend to specialize in one area, such as history or science, among many other fields of interest.
Antiquarian is a term derived from Latin; this translates as ancient times or antiquity; therefore, an “antique book” refers to any old book published before 1780.
Identifying antiquarian books can be challenging; generally, most antiquarian booksellers consider any title published before 1800 to qualify as antique titles. Some bookstores take more stringent views.
Notable books in their genre often stand out due to several key characteristics that set them apart: Most importantly, these volumes tend to be well preserved because their publication predated mass production during the 19th century; books made before then were typically handcrafted individually, so less susceptible to wear and tear compared with mass-produced copies today.
Second, these books are very scarce as their publication numbers were limited, and most have since been lost over time.
Books can also provide invaluable knowledge due to their rarity and need for additional data sources. For instance, history books about your town may offer only reliable information about its past.
Here are a few examples of antiquarian books:
- The Gutenberg Bible was released for purchase in 15th-century Europe and sold as the world’s first printed book.
- The First Folio contains all of William Shakespeare’s plays published in 17th-century Europe and can be bought today.
- The Bay Psalm Book: Published during the 17th century, this was the very first book ever printed and printed in what is now America.