Valuable Encyclopedias

by Admin on November 7, 2014 · Book Care and Conservation

Yongle Encyclopedia

Yongle Encyclopedia, 16th-century China

Stopping at a yard sale a few years back, I picked up a set of The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition, produced during the year 1910.  Fascinated by the idea of owning a cross section of the trunk of the tree of knowledge just prior to the First World War, when the publication was at a crossroads with its transition from being British to becoming American,  I bought the 29 volumes for $20.  As an extra bonus, it came with the Britannica Year-Book from 1913, published the year after the sinking of the Titanic. Soon after,  I realized that there was an additional cost beyond the $20, in the form of storage real estate. The four feet of book shelf space that it occupied until the day it got sold for a small profit, was a luxury I could not afford. Libraries and collectors of books of the genre of “Education/Reference” are probably the only owners of bulky sets of encyclopedias these days. Encyclopedic knowledge has moved to more accessible electronic media on the internet with older important editions such as the Britannica 11th edition  now in the public domain being accessible to modern scholars and other interested parties of cultural artifacts.

Interest in old encyclopedias re-surfaced last month when a long-lost volume of the Yongle Encyclopedia of 16th-century China, representing part of the world’s largest known general encyclopedia at its time, was found in California. The complete Ming dynasty-era book containing 10,095 volumes and totaling some 370 million hand-transcribed characters is believed to be scattered across various locations throughout the world. The volume owner, the California-based Huntington Library, received the gift in 1968 from the American daughter of Joseph Whiting, a Presbyterian missionary who once lived in Beijing. Falling victim to the limited shelf space availability at the library’s storage facility, the volume remained un-accounted for in the basement for 46 years.

Old encyclopedias are attracting collectors primarily for two reasons:  scarcity and information. As is the case with all rare books and other collectibles, the more scarce an edition is,  the more likely it is to have a bigger spread between supply and demand, and thus the higher the monetary value. Soon after it was announced by the 244-year-old publisher of Encyclopedia Britannica, that the 2010 edition consisting of 32 volumes and a total production of 12,000 was going to be the last, any remaining copies quickly sold out. It is, after all,  an historically important publication reaching its end-of-life landmark. Collectors are also attracted by the insight into the social values and views of the society during the time of publication. Often times they describe ways of life and life forms that no longer exist, such as the now-extinct, blood-thirsty, largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times, the thylacine.  Politically incorrect, older content is viewed today as racist or sexist. Britannica’s eleventh edition, for example, characterizes the Ku Klux Klan as protectors of the white race with mission to “control the negro” and restore order to the American South after the impact of the American Civil War.

The majority of encyclopedias fall into the category of “mass-produced,” taking up more shelf space than most collectors have to spare. Many multi-volume collections present storage and preservation challenges. An incomplete set or a set containing a damaged volume is a cause for a significant reduction in value.  The more modern the set,  the bigger  the penalty incurred. For example, Luigi Serafini’s original 2-volume set of Codex Seraphinianus that sells for more than $5,000,  currently has broken sets of either volume 1 or volume 2 offered for sale for less than$1,000 with no buyer interest. Old encyclopedias are less impacted by such fallbacks due to the atomic nature of the information they contain, but are nevertheless more vulnerable due to the size and the number of volumes. It is not difficult then to see how the Yongle volume could have been misplaced back in 1968 when it was still considered the world’s largest encyclopedia.  It only took Wikipedia six centuries to break that record and perfect the art of collective knowledge scattered across the world.


About the author

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda Bletsoe June 4, 2024 at 2:33 pm

I have an almost complete set of The International Cyclopedia, entered according to Act of Congress in Year 1885 by Dodd, Mead & Company in the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington. Copyright 1880-81 by the American Book Exchange. Vol 1, A; Vol 2, Audiphone-Brayera; 3, Brazen-Circulating; Vol 5, Disraeli-Firozpur; Vol 6, First-born-Grand Days;Vol 7, Grandees -Infamous; Vol 8, Infant-Life; Vol 9, Life Boat-Minnesingers; Vol 11, Opera-Glass-Pomare; Vol 12, Pombal-Safety-Fuse; Vol 13, Safety-lamp-Strangers, Vol 14, Strangulation-Vegetable.


Resha Andrews April 19, 2024 at 3:39 am

I have a complete set. Of 1922 encyclopedias bound in a blue cover. Beautiful set. Great shape.What would you give for these?


Danny April 4, 2024 at 7:05 pm

I have a set and a few single Ency from mid to late 1800s. Chambers, colliers.


Vera Hawkins March 28, 2024 at 8:50 pm

I have Collier encyclopedia sets included Auto and home repair, Medical and Health, Science library, Family legal Advisor. They are in good condition. Any suggestions? I need to get rid of them.


Brenda valenzuela March 19, 2024 at 6:07 am

I’m selling the full set . The world book encyclopedias copyrite 1917 year.
W.f quarrie and company printed in the USA. I want 5000.00 dollars for the whole set. Call me 3252253857.


Debra J Hatcher January 28, 2024 at 3:44 pm

I have a complete set of Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia’s copyright 1931, 1934,1935,1937,1942,1943,1944,1945 and 1946 in very good condition, can anyone tell me what they are worth.


Ellen Z January 6, 2024 at 7:51 am

Book of Knowledge. Green 1941 full set


Jody Savage December 30, 2023 at 7:56 pm

I have a full set of the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica, expertly rebound by Pettigrew in Berkeley with gold lettering and embossed seals on the covers. It is in the original bookcase with slots for each volume. Also the three volume 13th edition in its own smaller original bookcase, also rebound by Pettigrew. The rebinding cost was $4000 for all. If interested please inquire.


Quinton October 26, 2023 at 8:46 am

Have the Little & Ives Family Health Encyclopaedia edited by Randolph Lee Clark Jr in twelve volumes 1956 ,what is value – 0621427809


Quinton October 26, 2023 at 8:39 am

Have The new world encyclopaedia in twelve volumes edited by E.F Bozman 1963 ,what the value?


Pamela Gott October 14, 2023 at 8:37 pm

I have a full set of Colliers Encyclopedias from 1966 in good condition along with yearbooks from 1967 and 1969. Trying to figure out what to do with them. Any suggestions?


Liz Lunceford July 23, 2023 at 2:35 am

Excellent condition 1964 full set of Universal World Encyclopedia with wood shelf with sliding glass fronts on each shelf. Would like to sell.


Cece Bieg July 23, 2023 at 1:50 am

I have an 100+yr Standard encyclopedia… Covers topics not in later encyclopedias. My mom taped up the bindings when I was a kid, any interest?


Ce Bieg July 22, 2023 at 9:58 pm

I have a stardard encyclopedia fr early 1900’s… Not sure date, I am currently in hosp.
All sorts of topics long past – rather quaint, you would never find in later ones… My mother taped the bindings when I was a kid, so not in perfect shape… Any idea who would buy?


Brian Priddy March 20, 2023 at 2:31 pm

I have Encyclopedia Americana Copyright 1957 Volume set of 30. 1957 edition Library of Congress Catalog No. 57-5580 in Good Condition. Also, have 1957 edition of The Book of Knowledge 20 Volumes in 10 Books set. Good Condition. Also, have a East Wind to West Wind Book author Pearl S. Buck copyright 1930 Good Condition. Was my Grandparents books want to sell them give me an offer


ROBERT LARSON February 27, 2023 at 4:31 pm

I have a full edition 8 volumes the world book 1918
hanson-roach-fowler company
any value?


sarah marie byrne February 21, 2023 at 7:34 am

I have 35 books of the Britannica Encyclopedia nineth Edition
They are in a spinning bookcase all numbered
The bookcase in in oakwood would like to sell as a combined set.

I live in Perth WA


Alicia June 24, 2023 at 2:49 am

How much?


Derek Williams December 27, 2022 at 5:21 pm

I have a set of Nelsons Encyclopedias but am missing vol 34[dictionary) from the set of 25.Bongrd to my father rough date circa 1930 s.sorry vol 24


Cory Willis November 20, 2022 at 3:11 pm

I have a 1889 Brittanica If you’re interested leave me an Offer 133 years old. Pages are in tact some where of course because of age but overall I hood condition.


Charly January 24, 2023 at 4:41 am

Hi, is this still available? If so, how much are you looking for, plus postage- I’m in the UK 👍


Melinda January 20, 2024 at 9:24 am

I have a full set of civil war encyclopedias and other civil war books that I would like to sell is anyone interested in this collection? I live in New Hampshire. Thank you


michael March 30, 2022 at 11:44 pm

I have a set of 30 Nelson’s encyclopedia’s
1943 great shape. Anyone interested make me a offer.


S Albritton December 31, 2021 at 9:14 pm

1911 Eleventh Edition Set of Encyclopedia Britannica Black leather with gold lettering in good / very good condition.


Jean P Tierney September 18, 2021 at 8:44 pm

I have a complete set (12 volumes) of Everyman Encyclopedias from 1913 in excellent condition. Is anybody interested in these and if so, what is their value?


George March 8, 2021 at 3:53 am

I have the complete set and bookcase (suede covers) of the 11th edition Encyclopedia Britannica. If interested I would like to sell the set. I live in Canada. I inherited this from my grandfather.


G Dawson.


Tim December 21, 2021 at 9:31 pm

I’ll buy it, how much?


Kathi LoCascio December 2, 2020 at 10:03 pm

Anyone have info on a set of Funk & Wagnalls Co. Encyclopedia Copywright 1931?


Mona August 25, 2019 at 7:56 pm

Hi All, I have a 1910 Eleventh Edition set of “The Encyclopedia Britannica” . If anyone is interested let me know.


Kim Nelles March 9, 2020 at 5:50 pm

Mona, is it in it’s original bookshelf? My grandmother had the 11th edition Brittannica in a tall, slender mahogany case. I’ve been searching for one like it for 40 years.


George March 8, 2021 at 3:46 am

Hi Kim

I have the complete set in suede with book case. If interested let me know.


Tim December 21, 2021 at 9:32 pm

I am interested in the Seteco


Jody June 29, 2023 at 6:43 pm

I have the full set, fully restored and rebound, of the Eleventh, plus the supplemental volumes of the Thirteenth, also fully restored and rebound, in its own smaller case. Ten years ago it cost me $4000 to have all volumes rebound professionally with the original seal on the front covers.


Catherine T Luttinger October 27, 2023 at 2:58 pm

Hi there! I don’t know if you found this set yet or not– but I have the edition in the tall slender original bookshelf. If you are interested, send e an email!! Thank you! Catherine


AUDREY MILLER June 4, 2019 at 7:26 pm

I currently have a complete 30-volume 1903 Encyclopedia Britannica set, New Werner Edition with New American Supplement. All books are in good condition with the exception of one: the index. Do you have any idea what it’s worth? Thank you.


Doug Durston March 11, 2019 at 3:23 pm

I have a set of 1974 encyclopedias with atlas in its own bookshelf. What would the set be worth?


Susan Olson February 23, 2019 at 5:16 pm

I have a set of encyclopedias from 1943. Are they of any value?


Missy massingale September 25, 2018 at 9:52 pm

I have an encyclopedia Britannica world atlas from 1910 is it worth anything


craig sturman August 13, 2018 at 7:25 pm

Encyclopedia Britannia (published 1953) inc atlas,25 books
Britannia book of the year 1953-1962(published 1955) 10 books
Duninger’s complete encyclopedia of magic (published 1970)
The story of Queen Elizabeth told in pictures printed and published by Thomas Hope and Sankey Hudson ltd Manchester
What are they worth?
Thank you


Augusta Kaiser June 22, 2018 at 1:19 pm

Have a complete set in nearly perfect condition of The New International Encyclopedia, 24 volumes, 2nd Edition, 1923. It was found in a beach house in Eastern Long Island, NY. Could this be worth anything?
Thank you,
Augusta Kaiser


Brad Creber May 5, 2018 at 5:19 am

Price for 1961 excellent condition set
Encyclopedia Britannica?


Brad Creber May 5, 2018 at 5:18 am

I would like to sell to someone or collector living in the city. Pickup at my address, Thanks so much for your help. Brad


Brad Creber May 5, 2018 at 5:15 am

I live in Markham Ontario Canada.
I have a complete volume of Encyclopedia Britannica 1961 Edition in excellent condition. Hardly ever used. Kept wrapped individually in air tight containers. Please let me know value.


Dave King November 14, 2014 at 10:02 am

You should probably mention that the 11th edition is known for all the famous people, in every field, who contributed to it. If you find a copy of the 12th it is the same set with some additional volumes.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: