Everyone who has been a bookhound for any amount of time has a story to tell. We all have those stories of insane finds, of huge letdowns, of that book that would have been a thousand dollar find if it didn’t have a giant library stamp on the front cover, inside page, and back cover (so disappointed, Wellsboro PA).
In other words, this is one of those hobbies or side hustles that easily can become an obsession. While the chances of finding a life changer like a first edition first printing of To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t very likely, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of treasures out there to be found.
Even in this day and age.
So before diving into how I managed to make $720 off the sale of one book, with one hour of total work. Ah, those great days for a book hound.
Sinclair Lewis’s Mistaken Identity
The reason I started as a book hound, and my obsession with finding amazing undervalued antique books started because I misidentified who Sinclair Lewis was.
The name came up from family summer trips to northern Minnesota, around Bemidji. Along the way we’d pass the town of Sauk Centre, whose town sign brags “Birthplace of Sinclair Lewis.”
I saw Sinclair and in my head made the connection with Upton Sinclair.
I mean both famous writers who changed America with their work, but still, that’s a faux pas for an English major but in fairness I was 13 at the time.
Wait Old Books Are Worth Serious Money?
But this made me obsessed with learning about Sinclair Lewis, his work, and his life. This was around the same time as the Internet came into full power (mid-nineties to late nineties to early 2000s).
My parents opened an antique shop and between a love of history, family interest in antiques, and my love of reading/literature, it make sense that I would find out all about, and fall in love with, antique books.
Then I found some books all about the value of antique and collectible books. $100 of purchases later (in 2003 money) and I was hooked. Especially since eBay was the new huge thing at the time.
Soon a new book hound was born.
Sinclair Lewis Antique Books
Studying Sinclair Lewis was a perfect introduction for me. This was a huge American author who accomplished what fellow writers of those decades like Hemingway, Faulkner, and Steinbeck never did. Yet they are widely known and remembered.
Very few people know who Sinclair Lewis is.
Which when you look at Sinclair Lewis and how his books affected American culture, really is amazing. He’s sort of the “forgotten great” of literary giants. To some extent I get it. While I enjoyed reading many of Lewis’s books…you know he was a writer in the early to mid 20th century.
There isn’t that giant timeless work that helped define Hemingway or Steinbeck as the giants that they are.
Learning that Lewis was the first author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer prize in the same year was amazing. That he is, to this day, the only one to decline the Pulitzer was even more amazing.
Having a less than happy childhood growing up in the Midwest, seeing Lewis’s reason was the final hook. Main Street was his masterpiece and denied the Pulitzer because it wasn’t “wholesome” enough. After all, how dare any literature not paint American life as wholesome and a shining perfect standard.
Since they refused to nominate Main Street or Babbitt despite those being clearly superior books those years, he refused it for Arrowsmith, pointing out “The Main Street burglary.”
This was a novel that showed the underbelly of small town America and not the total wholesome picture that on the surface. His home town reacted so badly to Main Street that the story goes Sinclair Lewis could never return due to the massive number of death threats.
So when Sinclair Lewis had so many antique novels worth money, because it took him a decade to make it big, I was hooked.
Sinclair Lewis “The Innocents”
Many of Sinclair Lewis’s early books were in the guide I had as being in the $150-$250 range. Having an account on Abebooks.com (which was really the place for rare books online at the time and still has a section dedicated to those), I could confirm that many of these early books were selling, or at least listed, for the prices in the book.
Titles like Our Mr. Wrenn, The Trail of the Hawk, or The Job. There was the less valuable but still sold at $75 Free Air. These are sold within relative range of what the guide said they were worth.
These were books I looked for online at places like eBay, and at occasional estate sales in the area. I looked for the first editions, the first printings, and really
Then I bought The Innocents on eBay for $55 and won it. It was actually slightly less, but after shipping and insurance the cost came out to around $55 which at the time was the most I ever spent on an antique book.
That moment the research became oh so interesting
Unlike the other antique books I had sold, this time there was a MASSIVE difference. The book said that The Innocents was also in the $150 range. But there were three listings that all came in at the $675 to $700 range.
Now that caught my attention!
I had an online store for my first editions on Abebooks and now had to make a decision. What should I price it at?
After looking at the other listings in detail, the pictures told a story: my copy was in much, much better shape than the others. The binding was much tighter, there was no sign of mold or water damage, and the book just straight up looked really, really good for a book from 1917.
So I priced higher at $775 and straight up showed the book was in better condition than the other listings on the site. It took two months, but eventually there was email contact an a book collector out of Hartford Connecticut bought it, including shipping and insurance.
So $720 in profit.
The rush from that sale was something that I’ve rarely had matched since. Even though this isn’t a full-time thing for me, it’s a hobby and a passion I’ve never gone away from.
And to date, this is still my greatest first edition, first printing find.
Unfortunately I haven’t found nearly as many treasures of that scale in recent years, but having worked on many different projects I also haven’t done deep dives for a while. This is something that will definitely need to change.
That’s my greatest story as a book hound to this point and what a payout! Hopefully there will be many more in the future but that was my first experience with making a big score on a book find when $40 to $50 had previously been a good day.
Here’s to many more great book hounding days in the future!