October 1, 2016

The Value of Old Paper – Junk in the Trunk

Since we are large buyers of old paper, ephemera and manuscripts, we always caution sellers not to throw ANYTHING out.   It is incredible the number of times I am called to an estate or library to appraise or evaluate books, and after an hour of finding little of interest or value on the shelves, I discover in a drawer, attic, or overlooked closet,  papers that contain something remarkable or valuable.

Ephemera is loosely defined as “items of collectible memorabilia, typically written or printed ones, that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.”  It includes a large variety of old paper, scrapbooks, trade-cards, broadsides, newspapers, and pretty much anything printed.  Sometimes these fragile – ephemeral- pieces of paper survive in very few if any copies and they are often cultural windows into the period in which they were printed.   In today’s market such ephemera has become very fashionable to collect – largely for its rarity.  Everyone wants something interesting and fresh that does not pop up with regularity in commerce or at auction.

About 15 years ago, as an example, I found a thin tissue paper laid in the pages of an old Irish book.  The paper contained the lyrics of the  “Defence of Fort M’Henry”, the now famous “Star Spangled Banner,”  written in 1814, by the young lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry by British ships.   It turned out to be an unrecorded and contemporary broadside of the poem and of considerable scholarly and monetary value.

As another example, sitting on the pile of old papers in the photo below is an interesting 1807 broadside that was printed in New Hampshire.   Simply signed by the anonymous ‘Americanus’,  it concerns raising taxes to pay for the cost of the Louisiana purchase- a subject which appeals to scholars interested in the history of economics as well (no doubt) to real estate brokers impressed with (if not envious of)  the greatest real estate deal in history.   As a rare broadside, it is worth up to $750 to the right buyer.

So, don’t throw any old paper out!  Sift through those trunks! Empty those drawers and shoeboxes.   There are lots of undiscovered treasures out there- it’s not just junk in a trunk.

[BROADSIDE] [AMERICANA] [DIRECT TAX]  Author: Americanus  [United States] : [publisher not identified], [New Hampshire, c. 1807] Moderately foxed, margins slightly chipped & frayed, several insignificant separations along folds. Uncut. VERY RARE. Top with “In such a country, so happily circumstanced,” [etc.—quotation from Washington’s Farewell Address]. 1 p. 45.2 x 28 cm. “Concerns the cost of the Louisiana purchase, with a table showing the proportionate cost per county of the $15 million bill, and describing how the Embargo Act makes it difficult if not impossible to pay France without a special tax. The writer, ”Americanus,” also warns of the threat of European war.” Ref: Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC04073




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September 4, 2016

Value of a ‘Dust Jacket’ on a Rare First Edition

As a rare book dealer, I get calls on a weekly basis to provide valuations of first editions. These requests usually involves some household names of authors of the 20th century from Faulkner to Hemingway and Steinbeck to Fitzgerald.  One of the first questions that comes up is “does the book have the dust jacket?”  This often leads to great disappointment as it is difficult for someone not familiar with the antiquarian and rare book market to fully appreciate the value of a dust jacket on a literary first edition.   Once can see a copy of a particular first edition online for $20,000 and it can be incomprehensible how merely missing a piece of paper wrapper can reduce its value to a few hundred.

I won’t get involved in this brief post as to why dust jackets are so valuable. Suffice it to say, they can both be extremely rare given their ephemeral nature and beautiful as icons of graphic art.   Here, I would rather focus on an early type of “dust jacket.”   The earliest-known book dust wrapper dates from 1829 and was intended to protect a finely-bound gift book entitled Friendship’s Offering.  You can read about that Bodleian treasure here.    The dust jacket was therefore born as a simple protective wrapper and only later evolved into works of art and tools of marketing.  Oftentimes, the earliest jackets were used to protect expensive volumes bound in fine materials such as leather or silk.

The book below is not one of those finely bound volumes but a rather inexpensively produced and issued American imprint.  Specifically, it is a 1814 Boston edition (a first American edition) of “Some Details concerning General Moreau”, the French general who helped Napoleon to power, but later as a rival was banished to the United States and whose abode near Trenton eventually became the refuge of many political exiles.   Nevertheless, despite this rich history and actually being a scarce imprint in commerce, the book itself is not particularly valuable if one takes values in the auction databases as a gauge. In fact, I bought it in a lot myself at the very modest price of $20 from an antique dealer at the fun DCFlea.

One can notice in the photo a sort of dust jacket on the book that is almost contemporary with the date of publication.  That does not make it the earliest such jacket as I would have to make the reasonable assumption that this was not a wrapper issued by the publisher but rather placed on for protection slightly later by a reference library in Bath Maine of the American Colonization Society.   The book is inscribed by Jonathan Hyde who was one of the society’s earliest members.  Most interestingly,  the American Colonization Society promoted the relocation of free blacks to West Africa and transported 12,000 blacks to Liberia.

So, in keeping with the theme of this blog, I do try to place a monetary value on the work and give some indication of how I arrived at a figure.  Despite it being a relatively early American imprint of French history,  it probably would not have a market value of anything more then $100 or so.  Still, with the added value of the early paper wrappers as well as its provenance and historical connection to free blacks, it has broader appeal both as a bibliographical curiosity and to the African-Americana collectors.  As such, I would place a fair value more likely in the $400 range.

Monetary value aside it, it is a wonderful example of how by unfolding the story of a simple unnoticed paper jacket, history itself unfolds.


posted in: First Edition Appraisal, RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Book Auction Value, Rare book auctions, Rare Books, sell rare books, selling rare books, Uncategorized, Value First Edition, We Buy Manuscripts, We buy old books, We buy Rare Books

June 24, 2016

Value of an Incunable – What’s the Real Biel?

With a specialty in early printed books, we are often sent rare books to evaluate.  One learns in life quickly enough (even as a toddler) to be suspicious of what we are told, and this carries through to the rare book trade – especially with regards to boxes, labels, and especially old bookseller descriptions.

This fine folio was handsomely presented in a protective cloth box with a morocco label proudly announcing “Biel Collectorium 1495.”  That would make the book an “incunable” – a book printed in the earliest days of printing before 1500.  Any book that can rightfully be called an incunable has a certain cachet in the world of rare book collectors and often warrants a high price or premium  just for being that old.  Indeed, one rarely sees an incunable for less than a few thousand dollars except perhaps in a poor or incomplete state.

It is difficult in this case to place blame for the incorrect identification on the previous owner.   Sometimes, attempts are made to deceive or inflate value, but this misidentification might more rightly be based on a reliance old bibliographical records that had recorded this seemingly undated book as being printed in 1495.  Even Worldcat.com still lists a copy still with the date.

In fact, we can with a little research quickly discover that this book is referenced  by the standard works on  early printed books including  Adams B1999; Hain-Copinger 3187; ISTC ib00653000.  All of them state that the book was printed in Tübingen y  Johann Otmar for Friedrich Meynberger, after 23 April 1501.

Well, what is the difference between a book printed in 1501 and one printed in 1499?  –  a lot actually even if it is only  buyer’s psychology. The paper is the same rag paper as they used only two years early and for all intents and purposes little changed in the printing world technologically in those two years to justify any difference in reverence or price. Nevertheless, this is a “post-incunable” and as such it just does not have the added prestige of being officially one of the first printed books that collectors covet.   It is disappointingly not a “fifteener” as some old time booksellers used to say.

Further hurting the value of this book is that it is only volumes three & four of a four volume set.   Thus despite its handsome and mostly original blind-stamped binding, its attractive printing and rubrication, and it being a  work Gabriel Biel, one of the most  distinguished theologians of the late Middle Ages, it nevertheless is worth less than $1000 at auction.


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May 5, 2016

16th century Illustrated Post Incunable Book Appraisal

This is a rather delighted early book we recently purchased directly out of an old estate library in New Jersey where it must have languished in the basement for several decades.  Yes, we do work hard buying libraries and estates nationally – digging with a lot of boots, masks, and gloves, to uncover hidden treasures.

The book is what is known as a post-incunable which usually refers to a book printed between 1500 and before 1530-1540- not quite the infancy of printing but a time of great experimentation and improvement.

What struck me as immediately interesting- and something I have not seen ever before- is an early drawing on the cover which strongly resembles a bookbinding.   I presume it also could be some geometric representation of a ceiling or other doodle, but given its proximity to the clasp it surely gives the impression of a drawing of a bookbinding.

The book itself is a 1520 illustrated edition of Ovid’s Epistulae Heroidum (Letters of Heroines) – a compilation of poems about aggrieved heroines in mythology and the heroic lovers that have mistreated, neglected or abandoned them.   Ovid apparently considered this suitable reading material to his assumed audience of Roman women – the ‘chick lit’ of its day – albeit I wouldn’t go so far to call this elegiac, erotic poetry the ‘1520 Shades of Grey’.

In terms of value, the book has a lot of appeal.  Generally illustrated post incunabula are highly collectible these days – and the illustrations present here are unusual and often depict women (the heroines) composing  letters and writing with some nice anachronistic Renaissance furniture  touches.  The blocks were re-used in earlier editions and probably originated from the workshop associated with the Malermi Bible.

The book suffers from some condition isssues- worming to the wooden boards and some loss, detachment of the text block, and some internal staining.  Nevertheless, it  very rare in commerce; a copy on RareBookHub shows a copy sold in 2006 for 1150 Euros.  Given that that  copy was in a less attractive later vellum binding and accounting for the passage of a decade and the rather curious drawing on the original wooden boards in the present copy, I would place its auction value closer to $2000.



The full description is here:

[POST INCUNABLE] [OVID] Epistolae heroides Ouidij diligẽti castigatione excultae: aptissimisq[ue] figuris ornatae: cõmentãtibus Antonio Uolsco: Ubertino Crescentinate: & A. Jano Parrhasio: necnõ Jodoco Badio Ascẽsio: in Ibin vero Domitio Calderino: Christophoro Zaroto & Ascẽsio …[Venice], [1520]. FOLIO.  12 3/4 x 8 1/4 inches.
COMPLETE. 6 preliminary leaves, cviii lvs.   Colophon: Venetiis per Georgiũ de Rusconibus. Anno dñi. M.D. XX. die. 27. mensis septemb. [printer’s mark].  Title within ornamental border; the 23 woodcut illus. several of the blocks are signed “L.”   Text bordered by commentary remarkably the text itself is relegated to a small frame of only on average 4 x 3 inches and surrounded buy a much larger 10 x 7 inches gloss visually emphasizing the important of the commentary.  Internally, some damp staining and toning or occasional white molding affecting some leaves.  Binding: worming to wooden boards, text block cleanly separated form boards, later vellum spine, evidence of clasp, minor corner loss to one board.  VERY RARE IN COMMERCE.  WORLDCAT NOTES ONLY 1 COPY.     Binding with two contemporary DRAWINGS of apparent bookbindings (one simple sketch to front cover) and a more elaborate design to rear cover.

“A critical text of the Heroides, surrounded by the notes of the outstanding Renaissance commentators. In addition to the letters, this edition has also the text to ‘In Ibin’, and the Vita Ovidii, by Antonius Volscus. The woodcut illustrations have a charm of their own. Most of them appear as panels in three parts, and many of them are genre scenes, unusual in the book illustration of the era, but in character with the contents of the book. Many of them illustrate women writing; almost all the different scenes show imagination and a certain technical skill. The title comes with an ornamental woodcut frame; another frame showing putti and mythological figures, adorns the first page of text. The origin of the woodcuts is Venice, and most of them seem to have been used in the edition of the Heroides which Tacuinus brought out in 1501. Sander 5279. who mentions only one other copy, in the Biblioteca Estense, in Modena. -A few stains, and some wormholes in the back part of the book.”  [Ref: William Salloch]




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February 14, 2016

Value of an Old and Rare Medical Book – More Bark than Bite

As a New York City rare book dealer, I get a constant stream of calls from around Manhattan.  It seems that the apartments here, while not overflowing, still are able to produce a constant flow of interesting and rare material.  I just today purchased this interesting 17th century medical work from a local picker.

The Book:

Richard Morton.  Pyretologia, seu, Exercitationes de morbis universalibus acutis Londoni : Impensis Samuelis Smith …, CIC DC XCII [1692]  8vo, 19.5 cm.,   [80], 430, [18] pages, [2] folded leaves of plates (present but loose)  Binding: 17th century English calf, wear to head and foot of pine and starting of front joint; internal;t some toning, still a pleasing copy of a rare 17th century English medical work.  Ref: Wing M2832; NOT in Garrison-Morton or Waller.

So, how much is this old book worth?

This is the type of work that I really enjoy buying – a scarce and attractive 17th century work that is not fully appreciated by the auction records.  Indeed, while it is uncommon in commerce, in 2000 a copy at Swann Galleries barely made $230- a rather trifling sum for such an interesting work.   It is quite unfortunate, that with the transparency and widespread availability of auction records,  a poor sales record for even a single copy can often set a unfair ceiling on what many collectors will pay- a sort of Scarlet A[uction record] that hangs on the neck of the book.  Nevertheless, a modest profit on this type of work can be made when properly cataloged and offered to the right appreciative collector or Institutional library.

Indeed, this is a fascinating work. The author, Richard Morton (1637–1698), was an English physician “who was the first to state that tubercles were always present in the tuberculosis disease of the lungs.” according to the oft quoted Wikipedia.   Digging deeper, however, into this modest  book on fevers,  Morton presents himself as a firm advocate of Peruvian bark as an antidote, proclaiming its “Herculean” properties to cure fever.  While not understood at the time, the reason was that the compound quinine occurs naturally in the bark of Cinchona trees.

Of even greater historical but related interest are Morton’s remarks on the sudden death of Oliver Cromwell, who died of an intermittent fever as his physicians  (in Morton’s view) were too timid to make use of the bark.  What would have happened had Cromwell not have died, passing his reigns to his ineffective son Richard who failed in his attempt to carry on his father’s role as leader of the Commonwealth.  Only nine months later, the Monarchy was restored.  Just imagine how a little bit of tree bark could have changed the course of human history!


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