The Hemingway Rare Book Buyer Test

Where to buy rare books ?

Ever wonder how the search engine sites for rare books compare? While you might have one experience with a certain class of rare books, that same site might not deliver as well when it comes to locating others. And when you are first aware of that fact, the fear then grows that maybe by using the service, you aren’t even getting the best price…

Or worse…as a seller you’ve been loyal, but you suspect your site’s service failing to reciprocate…

Or even the bone chilling possibility occurs to you that you’ve been using a used book search engine that looks good, but once the surface is scratched you find you’ve thrown yourself in with the most notorious frauds in antiquarian book sales and everybody knows it…but you.

That’s more terrifying than a six-foot trick or treater on Halloween in an American inner city neighborhood. And it seems as hopeless as the population crisis, which drives more and more of those candy-crazed kiddies door to door each year. I know. But in an uncertain era where prices have been fluctuating in directions you don’t want them to go, and the apocalypse is wiping its shoes on your doormat, selling rare books demands confidence, which is why we used “The Hemingway Rare Book Buyer Test” developed for new rare book enthusiasts.

Why? Because probably the best method to evaluate a rare book search engine is from the book buyer’s perspective with a standardized test. Our side-by-side comparison conducts the inquiry objective:

To price a first edition of “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway*

image is from Pulitzer Prize First Edition Guide

On each site we’ve entered the search criteria “First Edition” + “The Old Man and the Sea” and then attempted to narrow the available titles, eliminate erroneous results, evaluate copy condition verses price, and define the range within a twenty minute time frame.

*note purchasing, delivery, customer service, and reputation are not considered.

Time spent narrowing search: 20 minutes (maximum alloted out)

Number of responses: 230 (a subsequent searches with “1952” narrowed field to 170) At least 50% of the search produced actual first editions of “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Actual price range: Starting at 36,000 USD for a signed title bearing “the letter ‘A’ and the Scribner’s colophon and dust jackets with original $3.00 on front flap and author’s photo on the back with a bluish tint.” At least seventy different copies range in condition placing them into the low hundreds.

Comments: Many options, many copies, many pictures, and many many many details.

Hemingway Buyer Grade: BOOK CLUB

Time spent narrowing search: 10 minutes

Number of responses: 37 titles (zero were first edition)

Actual price range: not applicable.

Comments: did not have a search option to allow for more than one element at a time. While I could search for the TITLE “Old Man and the Sea,” I was unable to specify that I was also interested in only the KEYWORD “First Edition.” The end result was that while the “compare book prices” feature was potentially useful, I spent time using that option in an attempt to find an actual “First Edition.” All results were Cliff Notes, Spanish Editions, and educational publications. No rare books.

Hemingway Buyer Grade: EX-LIBRARY

Time spent narrowing search: 1 minute

Number of responses: 5 (only 2 were the actual first edition copies, but the search feature did organize this information and grouped the results into the Spanish Editions, newer publications, and the rare books, effectively.

Actual price range: 2250 USD for a signed copy actually available through and another at 2500 USD available through

Comments: While has a search option with the same limitations as and does not allow more than one element in a search, the information is presented in groups that significantly reduce the time a user spends narrowing the search.

Hemingway Buyer Grade: BINDING COPY

Time spent narrowing search: 2 minutes

Number of copies: 5 (but only 3 were the original 1952 edition)

Actual price range: 1000 USD and 200 USD for a book club edition.

Comments: This site is very quick and simple to use with excellent collector specific descriptions. The search features were conducted within one field, but allowed for multiple elements making it easy to use though this might be problematic if the inventory were larger.

Hemingway Buyer Grade: FAIR

Time spent narrowing the search: 10 minutes

Number of copies: 78 (less than half of these were the title sought)

Actual price range: 1975 USD for the “First edition, First Printing, with the Scribner’s “A” and colophon on the copyright page. First issue jacket with the photograph of Hemingway on the rear panel printed in blue ink and3.00 original price on flyleaf.” Other copies ranged largely within the 300-400 USD range for variations of the item sought.

Comments: Great information about the sellers and their locations, which makes the transactions feel more personalized. Search options are simpler than but allow multiple elements unlike.

Hemingway Buyer Grade: VERY GOOD

ILAB-LILA (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers):

Time spent narrowing the search: 20 minutes (timed out)

Number of copies: 150 (half were the title sought)

Actual price range: 8000 USD for a first edition copy signed to Hemingway’s boxing coach. Most other copies range from 100 to 200 USD.

Comments: The organization’s code of ethics inspires buyer confidence.

Hemingway Buyer Grade: FINE

Indie Store

Though not a search engine for rare books, Indie Store may be of interest to book collectors, because those uncommonly few small book stores not yet online can be located and browsed by collectors on this site.

[Editor’s Note:  Look for Part 2 of this series later this week. It will share a little background info on used book search engines]

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  • Thanks for your research Carrie and I, for one, look forward to the second installment.

    • Why thank you prying1

      I do enjoy writing these… it’s always nice to know they get appreciated.

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  • This was a very meaningful and enlightening comparison of different search engines in the book trade, and the names for the different ratings made me smile. Helpful and entertaining post. Thanks much!

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  • A great article. Personally, I think it’s good that none of these sites make it easy to find what you want. Each user has a different experience and finds different books. If it were easy, there would be no fun in finding rare books.

    Oh, and you should check


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  • AddAll seems to have gotten a bum rap here since you CAN search for first editions! Or just signed ones! it’s even a checkbox on the search form! and the option to search with extra keywords!

    From the link here being to addall itself, NOT to the used/rare search form, you were just on the wrong page of addall. It separates in print books (which a first ed of Old Man and the Sea isn’t) and used/rare books. From the description of there being no way to add keywords and that you got no first editions but lots of cliffs notes, it seems you searched the In Print section.

    Repeating your experiment with used section (, it took me about 7-8 minutes total to knock out all the extraneous onces marked as first editions when they were actually “first thus” or reproductions, collectors editions, etcsearch on You can scroll down to the bottom of the search to see what I used to knock out the extraneous results. It returned 102 results, but probably at least half are duplicate listings from the same dealer.

    • I’ll give it a another go.

      I knew there had to be a reason for some of the fiercely loyal customers, but generally I’d been inclined to accept what the naysayers said.


  • […] Part 1: The rare book search engine test […]

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