One of the most frequently asked question of any Bible collector is “What is your collection worth?” While this is a simple question, it is very difficult to answer because it depends on a number of factors some of which are difficult to determine. However, value is related to the following factors: rarity, age, condition, association, collector tastes, collector demands, and personal interest.
One factor that affects the value of a Bible is rarity, or how many are available. Some famous Bibles, like the Gutenberg Bible, are very rare with only 47 or 48 copies known; and they can have values in the millions of dollars. However, rarity alone does not translate into value because anyone can create a “one-of-a-kind” book for their own use that has relatively little value. Rarity is also driven by how many copies of a Bible are available to collectors. For example, all three known copies of William Tyndale’s 1526 New Testament are held by libraries and are unlikely to ever come on the market.
The next factor that can affect the value of a Bible is its age. However, age alone does not make a book valuable, rather it can be used as a quick gauge of the rarity and condition of a book - older books tend to have fewer surviving copies and be in poorer condition.
More important than age is the condition of a book. A copy with the boards missing and pages loose is worth considerably less than a copy in perfect, “as new” condition. However, some Bibles are so desirable that even incomplete copies or even single pages are very valuable. Single pages or leaves from a Gutenberg Bible can sell for many thousands of dollars.
One factor that can boost the value of an otherwise uninteresting Bible is its association with a famous person. Some collectors seek our copies of different translations that are inscribed by the translator and put extra value on these copies. A Bible owned by famous people (especially if it contains a signature) may be worth many times what a similar un-autographed would be worth. Bibles carried by soldiers in combat can command higher prices than the same edition that never saw combat.
Collector taste can also have a great influence on value. Certain translations (the King James Version for example) are very well known and collectors are always looking to acquire early editions. At the same time, other translations (the Catholic Rheims New Testament of 1582) are less well known to the general public and therefore worth considerably less than a King James Version of similar age.
At some level, the value of a Bible is determined the same way as any commodity - supply and demand. If the supply is small and the demand is high then the value will naturally increase. Since the number of old Bibles is fixed (or decreasing) then the price must increase as demand increases. Some translations (the Gutenberg Bible or King James Bible) are well known outside the narrow field of Bible collecting and are in demand by the general book collecting public. Other, less well known, translations can be comparatively inexpensive because the demand is relatively small. The value can also be affected by individual circumstances. For example, two collectors competing for the same Bible on eBay can inflate the price beyond what it might otherwise sell for.
Finally, personal interest also plays an important role in establishing value for an individual collector. For example, someone trying to complete a broken set may pay much more for an individual volume than another collector. Some collectors have relatively obscure specialties and will pay a premium for Bibles related to their special interest.
The value of a particular collection can also depend on how the question is phrased. For example, when insuring a collection against loss, collectors are likely to inflate the value because they know they will need to pay a premium if they ever need to replace a lost Bible. A collector looking to sell a Bible will naturally start with a high asking price because they are trying to maximize their return. At the same time, a collector seeking to buy a given Bible wants to lower the price as much as possible. Also, personal association can greatly effect the value of a Bible. A collector may be unwilling to part with their mother's Bible for any amount of money.
For a collector looking for a particular Bible, patience can be the key. Sometimes very rare Bible normally costing many thousands of dollars can be found for a few hundred in an out of the way book store. This does not happen often, but enough to keep the dedicated collector hunting for elusive Bibles.
Unfortunately there is no recognized authority when trying to assign a value to a particular Bible. Some experts (greatsite.com and others) are willing to give an appraisal, but remember that they do this as a business and expect to be compensated for their work. Online booksellers and eBay can be a good way to get an approximate value for a specific Bible. From time to time, interested collectors will include sale prices from eBay in the catalog pages of this site.
The intrinsic value of any Bible is determined when a willing seller and a willing buyer agree on a fair price. The true value of a Bible is found in the message inside.