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Press release

Second-hand bookshops generate record breaking income

Hayloft second hand bookshop, Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Hayloft second hand bookshop, Stowe, Buckinghamshire | © National Trust Images, Emily Roe

Latest figures show that visitors donated more than £2.5m to the National Trust through purchasing second-hand books at Trust properties in 2022.

  • The £2.5 million donated pays for over 55,000 hours of expert collection conservation or for a year’s care of the Trust’s 780 miles of coastline.
  • Most common books found in second-hand bookstores reflect the latest ‘must read’ with 50 Shades of Grey, Harry Potter and recently, Spare, proving popular.
  • Re-using and recycling values are reflected in the quantity and quality of books donated.
  • Donations of books for children and young adults have increased, as have vintage and rare finds.
  • Trust has opened 18 more second-hand bookshops since 2020, bringing the total number located at places in the Trust’s care to more than 240.
  • Visit trends show that sites with bookshops are in high demand, with many ‘destinations’ in themselves.

Latest figures show that visitors donated more than £2.5m to the National Trust through purchasing second-hand books at Trust properties in 2022.

This record-breaking income for the Trust in this area could in part be reflective of the growing awareness amongst society of the need to reduce and reuse in a bid to cut consumption. This has been seen particularly strongly amongst those with small children, with books aimed at this audience making up a higher proportion of donations.

Children reading in the second hand bookshop at Allan Bank and Grasmere, Cumbria.
Children reading in the second-hand bookshop at Allan Bank and Grasmere. | © National Trust Images, Annapurna Mellor

The rapid growth in the “pre-loved economy” that was reported by the Centre for Economics and Business Research last October as a result of the cost of living crisis could also be a factor. The Centre reported that Britain’s pre-loved market grew to approximately £6.5 billion in 2022 and that it is expected to double to £12.6 billion over the next five years. The Centre found that second hand books and stationery were the most popular items purchased last year.

The books donated to National Trust second-hand bookshops reflect the hot reading trends of the day, with copies of HRH The Duke of Sussex’s book, Spare, one of the most prevalent donations in 2023. Previous trends have included the Harry Potter series, 50 Shades of Grey and James Bond.

While mass printed books naturally make up a large proportion of the books available in the 240 second-hand bookshops run by the charity, there are some rare treasures hidden in the shelves.

The Trust has seen an increasing number of rare and high value books making an appearance in the donations received. In 2022, staff and volunteers at Dapdune Wharf in Surrey found first editions by Ian Fleming and J.R.R Tolkien.

Similarly, at Dyffryn Gardens in Wales a volunteer made a remarkable discovery while sorting through some donated books - a first edition of Animal Farm, by George Orwell.

Auctioned for £2,800 this book raised a significant sum of money for Dyffryn Gardens – which would take nearly 1,000 cups of coffee to generate. However, for those that escape detection by staff and volunteers, visitors have the chance of taking home a real treasure.

Kate Lyne, Bookshop Volunteer at Cotehele in Cornwall comments on life in a second-hand bookshop 'Growing up in house surrounded by books – my mother was a librarian, I have always loved reading and history, therefore volunteering at Cotehele gives me the chance to enjoy both.

'There are never two days the same. From sorting through donations (always in the hope of finding an exciting first edition!) to chatting to our visitors - some who come in to enjoy a quiet five minutes, through to those that are looking for a specific title, it’s always a joy. Especially if we can find that specific title someone is searching for.

'Our younger visitors love the children’s corner, and our adult visitors are drawn to thrillers, cookery and gardening. However, not all visitors are of the human variety. Rubeus the gardener’s cat used to enjoy an afternoon siesta on a chair and robins pop in regularly for a look around and biscuit crumbs! We really are for everyone and everything.'

To everyone that has donated £2 for a book and thought that’s just spare change in their pocket, to us it means a huge amount. Those £2’s generated enough income in 2022 to allow us to look after 780 miles of coastline for a whole year, or it allows our experts at our two conservation studios to undertake more than 55,000 hours of painstaking and loving care of over 1 million objects.

A quote by Robin Lewis Head of Public Fundraising, National Trust

Such is the popularity of second-hand books, the Trust has opened 18 new shops since 2020, bringing the total number of bookshops at Trust places to more than 240, with more expected in the future. From a wheelbarrow with bookshelves to shops that look more like their high-street counterparts each offering is as unique as the property it is located at.

And that’s exactly what visitors are drawn to, with increasing numbers heading to the bookshops in their own right.

A house nestled in a summer landscape of green hills and trees


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Four bookshelves filled with books of the second-hand bookshop at Paycocke's House, Essex

Second-hand bookshops 

Pick up a book from a second-hand bookshop to keep or share. Every purchase will raise funds for conservation projects at the places in our care.