All the following books are available at huge discounts online and are also available in local libraries
The Book of the Pearl by George Frederick Kunz and Charles Hugh Stevenson
reprint by Dover Books, $17.95 new.
Pearls: A Natural History by Neil H Landman, Paula Mikkelson, Harry N Abrams 2001 $55.00 new.
Pearl Buying Guide: How to Evaluate, Identify and Select Pearls & Pearl Jewelry by Renee Newman, International Jewelry Publications; 2004
Pearls by Elisabeth Strack has dichotomous keys. Maybe get it from the GIA? Sometimes they have it, sometimes they don't.
The natural history book is large with great photos. I forget the text, and the book of the pearl is best for the history of natural pearls, up to 1908 when it was published. It was the best of its kind until Strack came along and also included cultured pearls.
If anyone has a beat up, used version of this book and wants to sell it, please contact me! GIA has it up new for $130-, way out of my price range!
I never heard of anyone letting go their copy....Maybe when the new edition comes out. This book is expensive, but you will never need another one to become an expert on pearls- or at least look up anything you want to.
I don't have spare dollars for much of anything, including pearls, but this book is worth every penny. $130 is about what it has always cost- including shipping.
You might find your dichotomous keys online from a malacological site or even a seashells for sale site. I used to be on an academic list for malacology, but I can't remember its name....
Question - Which of the available books will you flag as "must-have" for a novice like me?