Thanks to the internet, you can find an outlandish price for an old book faster than your grandma can find “Antiques Roadshow” on the cable tv guide. Absurdly high prices mislead buyers into thinking those asking prices are actual values, when in fact, no one ever paid that price for that book, despite the seller’s stubborn optimism. Peculiarly low prices are found for copies in poor condition sold by unprofessional sellers who don’t describe them accurately. (Amazon! More on that later.) These unfortunately drag down the value of good copies sold by reputable dealers.
The nineteenth and twentieth centuries produced an extravagant over-abundance of books. Only a minority of these have both enduring literary value and bindings that remain attractive and usable today.
Gulliver’s Travels is in print for its fourth century (first published 1726). That kind of record, more than for instance a recent film (Jack Black notwithstanding), is a true indicator of value. We have an 1853 16mo (sextodecimo, about 4×6 inches), which sadly is quite wrecked and ruined– cloth torn and some missing, signatures separating, title page torn and scribbled on, last page half missing. Is it worth a thousand dollars because it’s 158 years old? No. Even if it was very good, it might only fetch $50; a nicer 1850 London edition was recently unsold on ebay for $35. I won’t be the one to throw it in the trash, but I also won’t include it in my online listings. The condition is too poor. The market is cluttered with junk. This one will sit on a shelf here until someone is charmed enough to pay a small price for it.
This kind of copy can serve to hold a place until you find a better one someday.