Atlaseum

How to sell old atlases

and get the most for it.
Whether you are beginning antique or vintage atlas collector whose collection just got out of hand, or just happened to get hold of an interesting antique or vintage atlas which you don't have an emotional attachment to, you most likely ended up on this page because you decided to sell it. Over the past few years we had sold quite a few rare and unique historic atlases from 19th and 20th century and in this article, we will share some of our hard earned knowledge with you so you cen get the most for your precious items.
In this article we'll cover following 7 most common ways how to monetise your old atlas:
  1. Selling on Ebay
  2. Selling on Catawiki
  3. Selling with renowned auction houses
  4. Selling on Facebook marketplace
  5. Selling to your local antiquarian bookstore
  6. Selling to Atlaseum

In each section we'll cover pros and cons of selling and you'll also find out which platform is most suitable based on the age and rarity of your atlas. In the first, most comprehensive chapter, we'll also cover the basic principles of a successful listing which are applicable on most of the online marketplaces.

Selling on Ebay

Ebay is probably the most popular selling platform on the whole planet. From collectible cards to automobiles, from antiques to most modern Nike sneakers, Ebay is widely known place you can buy and sell anything you can imagine. Although Ebay has dedicated selling sites operating in the US, UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Sweden, India, Malaysia, Russia and a dozen more countries, selling and buying is available even outside of these countries.


Creating a compelling listing for an vintage or antique atlas

Creating an attractive and compelling listing which provides enough detail and clear photos is a key to a successful sale. Potential buyers will always be interested in good photos showing not only the actual condition, but which also present the variety of its contents.

Quality and quantity of the photos can have substantial effect on the final price the atlas is sold for. Make sure you are taking photos of the atlas under good light conditions, even if it means you will have to take it outside on the sunlight. Take at least 6, but preferably around 10-12 photos.

What to take photos of:

  • Cover
    Take the main photo of the cover slightly tilted to the side side so potential buyers can see the condition of the spine and the way it is attached to the front and back covers. A single photo from the perfect angle can be enough.
  • Title page
    Buyers want to make sure what are they buying and many of vintage and antique atlases offer substantial amount of information on their title pages, including date of publishing, author, publisher, who was the atlas dedicated to, full title of the atlas, which is often longer than the title embossed on the front cover and can be the only sign of which edition of the atlas is your copy.
  • Maps
    This may seem obvious but man, have I seen so many listings that had none of the maps from the atlas included in the photos, which makes absolutely no sense. Try to identify the most attractive and unique maps. If the atlas has a World map, include it too. If the atlas contains some special kinds of maps (like foldout maps f.e.), include them too. Don’t forget to include maps with a smaller scale, and maps of distant regions, to show the highest level of detail which the atlas provides.
  • Index of maps
    To see what maps are included and how many of them there are in the atlas.


What not to forget to include in the listing:

  • Author and publisher
    Atlas collectors usually have their “watchdogs” set up for keywords which include names of their favourite authors and publishers of the maps.
  • Year of publication
    If the year is not mentioned in the book, do not try to estimate it if you don’t know what you are doing. Experienced buyers will be able to asses this information more precisely.
  • Number of copies produced
    Not many atlases have this number included in the details (usually those made after WW2), but this may serve as valuable insight for potential buyers. If the number of copies is lower than 10.000, the atlas is pretty scarce and it may affect its value greatly.
  • Total number of maps in the atlas
    If the time permits, check if all the maps are present.
    This may be the dealbreaker for some, if the are not 100% sure the atlas is complete. This is especially valid for atlases made before 1900’s, as in many cases, the most valuable maps were cut out of the atlases and sold separately. If any of the maps are missing, even if it’s one out of a hundred, the buyer deserves to know. No collector wants to buy an item they have been looking for for ages, only to find some maps from the atlas are gone.
  • Condition description
    The condition of the atlas is often crucial when it comes to determining the selling price. The less rare the atlas is and the worse condition it’s in, the less likely is the atlas going to sell. It’s simple as that. Very rare atlas in very good condition can often sell for multiple times higher sums than the same atlas in bad condition. Check if the binding is intact, or mention the condition of the dust jacket (if it’s present). If the atlas comes with additional protective cardboard case, mention it too. Mention all imperfections like loose pages, noticeable staining, odour etc. No one wants to buy a hare in a sack.
  • Specific attributes
    When selling an item in some categories, Ebay will ask you for filling out specific attributes like age, type, material etc. Always try to fill out as much as you can. It will make it easier for others to locate your listing. There are many people interested in very specific category of items like World atlases from 1880-1900.
  • Size and weight
    If your atlas excels in size (either if its quite large or very tiny), make sure to mention it too. For larger and heavier books we recommend to mention the weight too, as heavier items genneraly tend to be perceived as more valuable.
  • Provenance of the item
    Did the item belong to someone important? Did you inherit it or did you buy it on your last your vacation? Check for signatures, stamps or “ex-libris” signs, inscriptions, pencil marks or any signs of previous ownership. Any information about the provenance of your item will be highly appreciated by any collector. I once managed to buy an atlas which belonged to one of the most famous Czech travellers and explorers of the 20th century which makes it very special to me.
  • Everything that’s included
    Has the atlas some extra standalone maps, letters or other ephemera inserted among the pages? Some antique atlases were sold with advertisements pamphlets inserted among the pages. Today, just these pamphlets can be worth a lot of money as they were almost every time taken away and trashed.


All these attributes make the potential buyers better informed so they can spend les time searching for these information online. You never know which little detail you mention will be important tothe buyer and makes the deal. If you are selling more atlases or maps at the time, do not forget to mention that in the listing too. Every potential buyer will be happy to score more than one item of their interest for shipping cost.

Choosing the right category

Every national Ebay site (for US, UK Germany market etc.) comprises of slightly different categories with slightly different names. If your atlas is more than 50-70 years old, I’d go for Collectables & Art > Antiques > Maps, Atlases & Globes (for Ebay in UK). For newer atlases you can also try Media > Books, Comics & Magazines > Antiquarian & Collectable. You may even add more than one category to the listing, but this option is associated with a listing fee. If your item doesn’t sell in one category for long time, you may try to change it after some period.


Choosing the right listing format

Basically, you have two options to go for, Auction or Buy it now. From my personal experience, Auctions usually get more attention as buyers are sometimes more likely to score good deals in them. You don’t have to start from $1, but if you do, you are almost guaranteed your listing will get a lot of attention, given the description and categorisation was done properly. Listings with low starting price (usually $1) are more likely to receive a bid quite soon, which further increases your chances that more people will find it. The more the item is rare and generally sought after (like f.e. German Hand-atlases which belonged to the absolute top in 19th and early 20th century), the better chance of selling fast for a good price in an auction. If you are afraid your item will sell for too little, you can set your reserve price in the listing, however this is associated with some listing fee.


How to sell in Auction

If you go for an Auction, make sure to select the longest period (9 days) so buyers have enough time to find your listing and do their research about the subject. Also make sure the end of the auction end is not scheduled for after midnight or early morning. The best time for an auction to end is between 7-9 PM on weekdays (maybe except Monday), when most of the potential buyers are free of work or other everyday duties and ready to make their last minute bids. In majority of the auctions, the highest bids are submitted just seconds before the auction ends. If your auction ends in 4:15 AM, nobody will be awake to make their last second “surprise” bid, which usually increases the final price quite significantly (trust me, I have scored some great items on auctions ending between 1-4 AM).


How to sell as Buy it now (and set the right price)

If you think you have valuable atlas which you want to sell and you are not “in a hurry” to sell it, go for Buy it now format and set the price optimistically first. You will probably not get much attention or visits, but you never know. If your atlas doesn’t sell for couple of months, lower the price. Visitors of your listing which added your listing to their Favourites will receive a notification that the price has been lowered.

If you have no idea what might be the highest realistic price you can sell the atlas for as Buy it now item, do a search of your item on Ebay find filters (in the left panel if you use desktop browser) and check “Closed items” and “Sold items”. This will show you all matching Ebay items sold in past couple of months including the prices they were sold for! 


For both Auctions and Buy it now selling formats, you may choose an option to “Accept offers”. This feature is not used that often but gives buyers an option to offer you (lower) price for your item than what you are selling it for. Allowing this may mean your listing will get more attention of “bargain hunters”, giving them some room for bargaining. If you receive an offer which you are not 100% sure you want to accept, submit a counter offer, decline it or let the offer expire (it usually expires in 24 or 48 hours). Quite often, buyers are just trying to get the best price for your item but in the end, they are often willing to pay much higher amount close to your Buy it now price. I almost never accept the first offer from a buyer and in 80% of the times, another, higher offer, comes shortly after the first one.


What does it cost to sell on Ebay

Listing items on Ebay is generally free for personal accounts (except for some cases mentioned above), however if your item sells eventually, a selling commission between 8-10% is applied. Be aware that this commission is deducted from the total price of sale including shipping (never understood why), so make sure you add extra 8-10% surcharge on the price of shipping when you set up the shipping options of your listing.


How does the (global) shipping work

Providing option to ship your precious atlas anywhere in the world makes absolute sense. But for most people with no experience shipping worldwide, it may seem like too much of a risk or hassle. Luckily, Ebay offers Global shipping program, which makes shipping worldwide very simple. If a foreign buyer buys an item with Global shipping program, the seller only ships the item to the local Ebay Shipping centre within the country, from which Ebay forwards the item to the buyer anywhere in the world. However some restrictions are applied and we recommend to read more about Global shipping program on the Ebay website.


Conclusion

Selling your antique or vintage atlas on Ebay may get you the best price you can possibly get selling it online due to the enormous amount of buyers from all over the world, however for inexperienced seller it may seem little intimidating at the beginning. Below I summarise some of the pros and cons of selling your antique atlas online on Ebay:


✅ Pros

  • worldwide audience of buyers
  • multiple selling formats available (Auctions or Buy it now with option to Accept offers)
  • allows combined shipping of multiple items and Global Shipping program
  • ideal for selling items of medium value (in the range of $50-300)

⛔️ Cons

  • 8-10% commission on your sales (from total price including the shipping!)
  • complicated set-up of listings, especially for beginner sellers
  • your item may sell for too little in Auction or take too long to sell as Buy it now
  • big competition, fractioned audience


Selling on Catawiki

Besides Ebay there are multiple online auction platforms available throughout the world. One of the most popular platforms in Europe open to general public when it comes to selling is Catawiki. Catawiki is a moderated online marketplace of antiques and collectibles. Compared to Ebay, theres no trash on Catawiki due to the moderated content. 


How to sell on Catawiki

If you want to submit your antique atlas for an auction on Catawiki, create an account, provide photos and description of your atlas and set up the shipping fee. The item will then go through a review by a Catawiki expert in the field and if it will be accepted, it will be valued and after your approval of the valuation, it will be listed in one of the upcoming auctions. You may also be asked to provide additional details or better quality photos. Catawiki states it doesn’t accept items of value below €70. Compared to Ebay, you have little control about the listing itself. Setting the reserve price is possible only for items above the value of €200, and from our experience, the actual valuation done by the Catawiki expert is often rather conservative. Once your item is accepted to an auction you cannot modify the listing.

The auction mechanism itself is very similar to Ebay, with some minor exceptions (for example if someone submits a bid in the last 30 seconds of the auction, the auction time is automatically extended by one minute to provide enough room for more competing bids, often resulting in higher auction prices due to long lasting bidding battles). Selling your items is conditioned by creating an account with Payoneer or Stripe, a platform for managing the pay-outs.


Conclusion

I would recommend selling on Catawiki to someone who knows the value of the item and is able to accept he/she has less control over the listing. The selling commission is 12,5%, so generally higher than on Ebay, however the auction results are generally slightly higher due to the fact that Catawiki is used by more experienced buyers and higher-end collectors due to the presence of moderated content.


✅ Pros

  • more experienced and focused audience
  • sometimes higher auction results than on Ebay
  • ideal for mid to high value items (€150-400)

⛔️ Cons

  • your item has to be approved for auction by an expert
  • less control over valuation, listing or timing of the auction
  • higher requirements for quality of photos provided with the listing
  • higher selling commission (12,5%) compared to Ebay (8-10%)

Selling to renowned auction houses

If you happen to own an antique atlas of higher value (usually above €500-1000), you may try your luck offering it to one of the renowned Auction houses throughout the world like Dorotheum, Bonhams, Christies or Sotheby’s. Selling with these Auction houses begins with submitting your item online for appraisal. 


If you are lucky enough your item gets accepted, you must send the item to one of the auction houses locations (usually in big cities like London, Paris, New York etc.) to be accepted in an upcoming thematic auction which are usually happening only several times per year. The auction results are usually as high they can ever get due to the high-end audience of laser-focused collectors or antiques and art dealers from all around the world, searching for the best of the best. However when selling, you must count with quite significant selling fees reaching 30% and if your item doesn’t sell, you are also responsible for covering the cost of the delivery back to you.

I personally do not have first hand experience other than I’ve had several of my items valued by Christies. Be aware that selling items of such high value abroad may be (and most likely is) subjected to local legislative rules which you have to comply with, meaning you may f.e. need to obtain a permission for exporting your item outside of your country by an independent expert (yes, another expense you must count with).


Conclusion

Selling in renowned auction houses is definitely not for everyone and requires certain level of professionalism and dedication from the sellers side.


✅ Pros

  • the highest auction prizes you can get


⛔️ Cons

  • your item must have very high value (usually above €500 to begin with)
  • thematic auctions are happening in specific locations only couple of times per year
  • higher administrative requirements
  • high selling fees (up to 30 %)

Selling on Facebook marketplace

On the very other side of the spectrum is Facebook Marketplace - an online marketplace of the largest social media network in the world, ideal for mainly local sales of lower value items. It doesn’t provide any advanced features like Ebay, and is mainly used for everyday items rather than valuable antiques or collectibles. Expect that potential buyers are often not reliable and sometimes you have to arm yourself with patience when negotiating a sale or pickup.

When listing on Marketplace, make sure to write proper keywords containing words like antique or vintage, maps, atlas so people who have watchdogs set up will get alerted. Also arm yourself with patience when dealing with


✅ Pros

  • good for selling cheap and heavy/large atlases due to possibility of pickup by buyer

⛔️ Cons

  • limited audience (Facebook sometimes limits contacting sellers from foreign buyers)
  • you might have to deal with unreliable and aggressively bargaining buyers

Selling to local antiquarian bookstore

If you are more of analog person, the best solution for you might be to find a local antiquarian bookstore and try to sell the atlas there. If possible, choose bookstores which are located in bigger cities or cities often visited by tourists. Check if the bookstore has an online catalogue. If yes, it will have a bigger audience of buyers and there's a chance the bookstore will sell the atlas for more, therefore you can ask for a better price when selling. If you believe your atlas is rare, do not accept your first offer. Try to get appraisal from more than one stores and decide based on their offers.

If you contact the bookstores via email, don't forget to mention the most necessary details and attach couple of good photos and describe the atlas and the condition thoroughly. That will make the conversation with the store much more easy.

The downside of this approach is that ou will most likely do not get very good money for your atlas. Larger bookstores in bigger cities can sell the atlas for better prices but they will also have bigger expenses and rarely enough space to store large books for longer periods, therefore they will try to get your atlas for as little as possible and sell it either fast or with a good profit.

We recommend to first reach to the stores specialising in selling old maps, like

✅ Pros

  • no hassle with creating the online listing
  • no hassle with shipping (if you bring it with you)
  • you'll get the money immediately

⛔️ Cons

  • the price which you can sell it for may be anywhere between 30-70 % of what you are able to sell it for online directly to the end customer

Selling to Atlaseum

We are always seeking for interesting, rare and valuable atlases to expand our collection of the worlds best antique and vintage atlases. We are especially looking for thematic, physical or national atlases, large Russian atlases from 2nd half of 20th century, German Hand-Atlases in good condition. Selling to us is easy, just follow these steps:

How to sell old atlas to Atlaseum

  1. Take couple of good photos of your atlas (picturing external and internal condition)
  2. Fill in our selling form, upload the photos and write a short description of the condition
  3. Wait until we get back to you (we usually do so in max couple of days) with our offer
  4. If you agree with our offer, we will pay you the agreed price (including the cost of shipping) and ask you to carefully pack and ship your atlas to us (to Prague, Czech Republic). We can pay by PayPal, bank transfer, Western Union or other payment method of your choice

✅ Pros

  • no hassle with creating the listing
  • you'll get the money immediately
  • if we really like your item, we can pay considerably more than elsewhere due to our highly specialised customer base

⛔️ Cons

  • we really can't think of any, but in case you do, let us know