How do you find vintage books to buy? This is a question I get asked frequently. I started collecting old books many years ago before the internet came along. To find books, I had to poke around old shops and library and garage sales. These days there are many more resources for you to find books you’re looking for.
While these tips are written with the vintage book collector in mind, you can obviously find newer books for good prices in the same ways, whether that’s a current bestseller or a version of a favorite book with a particular pretty cover. Your online hunt may be a little easier because of the magic of the ISBN (an identifying number in nearly all books published after 1970).
Finding books online
The internet has made vintage book collecting much easier. If you are looking for a specific copy of a book, you can usually find it without too much digging unless it’s a rare edition. There are some giant booksellers out there that source books from all over and have impressive collections.
Online used book retailers
Thriftbooks is one of these. They run their own website, but also sell in various marketplaces online. If you aren’t looking for anything in particular, but want to browse their rarer finds, they have a page just for that.
Better World Books is another one, and they have a business model that benefits other people and organizations.
Marketplaces for used booksellers
In addition to individual bookseller websites, there are also various marketplaces that allow companies and individuals to sell books using their platform. A familiar one is eBay, although you can sell almost anything there. Marketplaces dedicated to books include Abebooks, Alibris, and Biblio.
Places to find vintage books as decoration
Both Etsy and eBay also have sellers that offer stacks of books for decor purposes. Sometimes they do not tell you the titles of books, so it might be worth it to browse through some of these listings if you’re looking for a particular title that seems hard to find. This is more helpful if you know the color of the binding/spine.
If you are looking for vintage books for decoration and don’t really care about specific titles, there are sellers online such as Books By the Foot that will sell you stacks based on color and style preferences. There are distressed vintage and pastel selections and even edge-stained vintage paperbacks.
Try social media, particularly Instagram
If you are on Instagram, there are many booksellers there. Try searching for the hashtags #booksforsale, #bookseller, #vintagebooks, or #oldbooks. My favorite booksellers to follow are @sorrythankyou79, @prettyoldbooks, @bookishpursuit, and @thebritishbookfinder.
There are groups on Facebook just for buying/selling/swapping books. And there is also Facebook Marketplace, where you can find stuff far away or locally. Just type vintage books into the search bar on Facebook, and you’ll get a list that includes Marketplace results.
Some drawbacks to internet book shopping
The internet is a fabulous resource for books, but keep in mind that you may be spending more due to shipping. And if there’s a particular book you’re looking for, the price online might be higher than you would pay if you happened to stumble on it at a garage or library sale.
Many people are happy to pay a little more for the convenience and time-saving that online booksellers offer, but there are a few more possible pitfalls.
Some of the larger booksellers and marketplaces don’t show photos of the actual book being sold and just use a stock photo. This can lead to you receiving a different copy of the book than the one you assuming you would receive.
A problem particular to vintage books is that before the late 1960s, a numerical identifier such as the ISBN number wasn’t necessarily printed in the front pages like nearly every book has now. The ISBN helps to single out which copy of the book you’re getting, although that is no guarantee, as sometimes the covers will change but inside will remain formatted the same so the publisher keeps the ISBN identical.
Other issues with buying books you haven’t physically held in your hands could be damage that isn’t noted, mold or mildew that isn’t readily visible, missing pages, or odd smells.
Buying books in person
Although I’m not a huge fan of shopping in general, buying books in person is definitely my favorite way to acquire them. Touching an old book feels very tactile and nostalgic to me. I’ve confessed before that I like to imagine the people who enjoyed the book before me, particularly for ex-library books. I love seeing old due date cards.
Having mentioned libraries, I’ll start with library sales. These can look different. Most libraries I’ve been in have had a cart or shelf or even a room with discarded or donated books that you can purchase. They are generally pretty inexpensive. I’ve rarely seen books for more than a dollar. Then there are library book sales, which are events usually sponsored by a Friends of the Library group and feature books they’ve been collecting for a number of months. At the end, you can sometimes take a whole bag of books for a couple of bucks, so be on the lookout for these!
When I lived in New York, our local library actually had a bookstore next door that was stuffed to overflowing with used books that people donated. So many of my favorite vintage books came from there. (It’s still there.)
While the price from store to store can vary, I’ve found some great books at thrift shops. Goodwill plucks some of the better books out for their online auctions, but I’ve found ones I like in the stores as well.
Sometimes the better deals are from smaller charity stores that are run by volunteers. You may not always know about these, so try asking on Facebook (if you are part of a local group for your city or county, you might ask there). Google or Google Maps might help you locate a few as well. And there’s always the yellow pages if you still have those!
Garage and yard sales
Garage and yard sales are other local places to find books. These are hit and miss and require a little more time and dedication, but offer some great bargains. And you never know when you will stumble on an unusual edition for just pennies.
Estate sales and auctions
Estate sales and auctions are also places that offer vintage books. Many times they will be sold in lots, so you will get a whole stack of books, but not always. The benefit of these is that someone may have a whole collection of books that you’re looking for since these are personal libraries.
Rummage and charity benefit sales
Rummage sales put on by churches, societies, or other local organizations can be a great source for vintage books. Many times I’ve found stacks of children’s books for a quarter apiece from someone’s mother’s childhood.
There are also some organizations that host annual book sales for charities, and those can be really great sources. At one in the Dayton area last year I went on the last day and brought home over 300 vintage books for a grand total of $1 (that’s for ALL, not each).
Antique stores and flea markets
Antique stores and flea markets are also places to find books, although the price tag will generally be higher. But since you’re not paying a shipping fee, it might end up being worth it even if you could find it online for cheaper.
Used book stores
Don’t forget used book stores! You may have some unknown little hole in the wall bookshop lurking in your town. Investigate! One local to me has a little cafe inside so you can browse books and eat some really delicious food.
I’ve mentioned Facebook Marketplace, but there is also Craigslist. People put all kinds of things on there, and books are no exception. If you’re really on the hunt for a particular book, try putting a post up that you’re searching for it. It’s free and maybe someone will see it and have a copy to sell.
Have fun looking!
I don’t particularly like shopping, but I can get lost in a bookstore for hours, no problem. Book browsing has an immense appeal for me, and I particularly like dusty little used book places tucked in unusual spots that are absolutely crammed with books.
What books do you collect? Are you looking for any in particular? And am I missing any good sources? Let me know!