Cataloging and Selling Old Science Fiction

April 13th, 2008

Both of my grandfathers were compulsive readers. They left behind large libraries. My Grandpa however was a life long fan of science fiction, and his library includes boxes, and boxes, and boxes of paper back science fiction novels purchased starting in the 1930s and running up until a few years ago.

Going through the collection some had been damaged by rodents, and weather, and had to be tossed, but even keep only those in good condition they filled 21 file boxes.

My brother and I spent a little while trying to identify software to help with the cataloging. We didn’t find anything useful. In particular most assumed that the bulk of your catalog had ISBNs (introduced in the 1970s), or even barcodes.

We ended up setting up a shared Google spreadsheet, and, along with our Dad, hand entered the first box. (thankfully the data is repetitive. One of the delights of the experience was going to type in an author or publisher, and auto-completing as someone else had already added a book by that author).

Now the question is, how do you go about enriching that data, and identifying which of the books are interesting. We found a first edition 1954 “I Am Legend” which a quick web search suggests sells for $50-$100USD. But we have no idea how many other interesting titles we were simply unfamiliar with.

And we have even reach the esoteric stuff, like the “double feature” printings, which can be read front to back as one story, or flipped around and read back to front for an entirely different pulp novel.

Are there books? Newsletters? Websites? God forbid APIs for doing this stuff? Alibris, and Abebooks seem to be the most prominent, but not terribly useful. Ideally there would be a database out there with confirmed first edition information, estimated value, cover art, etc.

Any ideas?

Anyway, the first box of 107 books is up and indexed, including a Matheson, Merrit, Moorcok, and Laumer.

12 responses to “Cataloging and Selling Old Science Fiction”

  1. shanan says:

    Sounds like an interesting process! I bet that most of this info, particularly for used books, is locked up in the heads of buyers at Moe’s, Powells and other such places.

  2. Kellan says:

    Good point Shanan. I’ve sicced my brother on his old bookstore colleagues to find out what he can about used book appraising.

  3. brick says:

    i suspect you’ll find that selling them piecemeal is challenging; the burden of documentation and grading will increase with price. collection appraisers exist, as well as auction houses and ebay expediters, but any of these will be less interested in pre-cherrypicked libraries. what is your goal?

    sorry to hear about your grandfather’s passing. mine (the one from santa cruz anyway) took his leave last summer. aaron.

  4. I use delicious library and the connection to amazon for selling most of my used books. Works well for some things, and it’s easy.


  5. Kellan says:

    Carl I found that dellib and amazon both are really setup for “modern” books, books w/ ISBNs. (speaking of books, definitely going to check out the one you recommended for post “In defense of eating”)

  6. Doris Braunstein says:

    I am looking for the Adam Link stories written by Eando Binder. I have Adam Link-Robot. I can be contacted at WOO213 Thank you

  7. Neena says:

    I too have come into boxes and boxes of very old Science Fiction books from my late father. I am going to put all the authors together in a group, do up a small “story” and photo and then, maybe, sell somehow. They are all in pretty good condition. Many of them a so old that the original price was $0.10. I am also a science fiction over and have read a majority of these books to. Such a shame to have to sell them but I am running out of room !

  8. Ann Shaw says:

    If you are interested in selling your Sci-Fi, Mystery or History collection please contact us. We collect and are always interested in buying. We have a serious collection and take good care of our books. (

  9. Annabeth French says:

    Hi! I’m looking for a 2-book set entitled “The Kingdom of Ys”, which I bought from the Sci-Fi Book Club sometime in the 80’s to early 90’s; I’m sorry I gave it away and would like to read it again. If you have a copy, please contact me: will purchase and pay the shipping. Thanks!

  10. Rachel says:

    Hi! I just read this, and I know it is froma long while ago, but if you are still possibly selling some of the less valuable ones, I wouldn’t mind buy a few maybe or something. I love these things. :) spatulapan at gmail dot com

  11. Alan says:

    Hi, I have most of the Jack Vance collection, including several HC special editions. Also from Philip Jose Farmer,Clifford Simak, Robert Silverberg etc.

    if anybody interested, pls contact me


  12. Jonathan says:

    Hi all, I too am in a similar situation. My father has left behind hundreds upon hundreds of sci-fi books with and without ISBN numbers. I am interested in selling them. Came upon this site while researching the best place to sell. Most of these books are in pretty great shape considering they’ve been moved around alot.