As she was talking, the phrase "penny-wise, pound-foolish" came to mind. Are not book dealers, by building up inventories of so many signed books, deflating the value of the very books they are trying to sell at inflated prices?
Over the past number of years, virtually every bookshop has brought in authors for book signings. Customers who buy the book can get it signed for free. Sometimes, if they buy a book, they can bring in copies of books they already own to have signed, too. (That's how dealers like the one mentioned above can get so many signed copies.) Popular authors may sign dozens, even hundreds, of their books each day on book tours. Literary festivals and book fairs are also places where many books get signed.
I have never counted how many signed books I own, but there must be scores of them. Are any of them worth more than I paid for them? Probably not. Few are first editions, and those that are are mostly books nobody collects by authors few people have heard of. I have two signed books in front of me, both paperbacks. On the title page of Emily, Alone, novelist Steward O'Nan wrote, "These quiet moments alone, with much hope." Inside Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter wrote to me, "One of my former tribe," a reference to the fact that we were both journalists in our former lives. These inscriptions mean something to me, but they aren't going to make my son rich when he inherits my books someday.
Were I famous, that might be different, however. Sometimes who owned the book can be more significant than who wrote it. A catalog I picked up Saturday includes a listing for a first edition of a book called Recollections of a Baseball Junkie by former sportscaster Art Rust Jr, signed by the author. Why would this book be worth $850? Not because Rust signed it but because he inscribed it to Joe DiMaggio. The book comes with a letter from DiMaggio's granddaughters attesting that it was actually found in the slugger's library. That makes it one of a kind and worth something to baseball collectors and DiMaggio fans. Most of the many signed volumes at the fair last weekend are better books by better authors, but with so many other books out there, the same books signed by the same authors, they are, in most cases, worth much less. And many of them are going to be worth less and less all the time as their authors keep signing more books.