Every so often I’m asked about the most rare and valuable item or collection I’ve evaluated. Was it Saddam Hussein’s uniform? The archive of Joseph Conrad letters? The Civil War library? Pre-Columbian stone artifacts?
Well, that’s a rather difficult question to answer.
There are different approaches to the concept of value, which makes the question unanswerable without more detail. An item might hold immense intellectual interest and value but also have little monetary value. While this might seem paradoxical, it’s really quite easy to illustrate.
Take the subject of rare books. Librarians may view all books as rare, and we should not blame them for the habit. Each book reflects an aspect of the intellectual history of its time. And over time, naturally, there are fewer and fewer copies of any book that is no longer in print.
Ultimately, a rare book that holds no interest really and truly has little monetary value.
Just because something is old or considered uncommon does not mean it automatically has monetary value.
However, while a single volume may not hold much monetary value, a collection of books on a common subject can have significant intellectual and monetary value. Why? Because while the individual volumes may have been considered ephemeral, a collection on the subject finds its highest and best use by historians, and value is increased by a condition known in appraisal circles as the “collection effect.”
So, collect what you love. Collect what interests and inspires you. Don’t be distracted by the discovery of individual rarities.
Remember that the more imaginative your topic, the better the chance your collection of reasonably priced individual items will rise in value over time.