Book Auctions

Specialists in First Edition, Incunabula and Rare Books & Bindings

Bellmans' Department of Printed Books, Manuscripts and Maps cover a diverse array of material from all periods, from incunabula (books printed before 1501; literally, from the ‘cradle’ of printing) to modern first edition books, from Beowulf and Virginia Woolf to Beatrix Potter and Harry Potter. It holds two of these book auctions a year, so keep an eye on our calendar.

Recent highlights include:

  • The 15th-century manuscript of 'Book of Hours', which sold for £8,000
  • A copy of John Marchesinus’s 'Mammotrectus' printed in Venice in 1485 reached £4,800
  • A rare 1960 first edition of Sylvia Plath's 'The Colossus and Other Poems' sold for £2,000
  • The first edition of J. D. Salinger’s 'Catcher in the Rye', printed in Boston in 1951, made £3,000
  • A substantial folio collection of an estimated six hundred 18th and 19th-century autographs, letters, clippings and envelopes made £5,500
  • A first edition of 'Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell', the pseudonyms of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte respectively, fetched £1,100

Our specialists handle everything from individual books to single-owner collections, including books in all the traditional categories: travel and topography, including maps and atlases, natural history, sporting, science, fine bindings, private press, children’s and illustrated books and modern first editions. We also include autographed letters and manuscripts, particularly those of literary interest.

Valuations take place both in our Sussex Saleroom and our London office on Upper Grosvenor Street, Mayfair, and 'pop-up' valuation days across the country. Preliminary estimates can also be provided via email, and we are delighted to arrange home visits. Valuations are complimentary and are also conveniently available online.

Just get in touch with your contact details, and we can assist you further.


  • Books

Department Specialists

Nicholas Worskett

Printed Books & Manuscripts Specialist

Buy, Sell or Start Your Book Collection With Bellmans

A popular and worthwhile endeavour, book collecting is a highly fruitful and accessible way to build public or private collections. As a society, books hold a special place in our hearts, exciting and inspiring generations both past and present and creating some of our most formative experiences of the world. This makes collectors particularly passionate about not just the intellectual content of their books but about the intricate process of tracking them down and acquiring them.

On the most basic level, this enthusiasm is an extension of the hunting and gathering instinct that humankind’s progress is fuelled by. Even seasoned collectors who have been searching for first editions for many years still feel the thrill of discovering one today.

How to start a book collection

If you have a shelf dedicated to books in your home, you could already be defined as a book collector. However, many specialists focus on collecting areas as a more manageable way to gain more detailed knowledge and deepen their collection.

There is a broad range of ways to focus your book collection, including by genre, era or author. Many collectors focus on books of a certain age and quality. Or you might be tempted by your own individual tastes to seek out rare editions or signed copies of your favourite book or author.

First editions

A first edition is the first commercially distributed version of a book. These are particularly desirable because a first edition is the closest that one can get to the original version of the text. Book collectors are generally attracted by authenticity, and besides the original manuscripts, a first edition is the next best thing.

What's the difference between Rare books and Antiquarian books?

Rare and antique books can overlap in many ways; however, some key differences to note.

A rare book is typically defined as a book that is difficult to find but is not necessarily old enough to be considered an antique. An example of a rare book that would not qualify as an antique would be a first or limited edition of a modern classic.

As the name would suggest, the key feature of antique books is their age. Due to their age, they may be scarce, as rare books are; but this is not always the case.

What are incunabula?

Incunabula refer to the earliest printed books, all of which were established before 1501. As they are defined merely by having been printed in the 15th century, you can collect them in myriad ways; by charting the progress, quality, and spread of printing or by focusing on a specific country or city. Although considered both rare and antique, this makes incunabula surprisingly accessible to collect.