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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January 14, 2016

Selling Rare Books- the value of a 17th century Music Book

I was recently offered this handsome and rare specimen of liturgical printing.  Such books are often typographical masterpieces and are important in the history of printing and well as the history of music.   This Gradual contains all of the musical items in the Mass and was printed in 1681 for the Royal Abbey of Montmartre.

The Abbey of Montmartre was a important center of intense religious life and a place of pilgrimage for centuries, and this Gradual in many ways served as  a focal point of services and that devotion.  Interestingly, in the early 17th century an ancient crypt and staircase was discovered  at the Abbey that was said to have been sanctified by Saint Denis and caused a sensation with Marie de Médicis and 60,000 people visiting.  The Abbey was sadly torn from the waiting hands of posterity when it was destroyed in the French Revolution.

The Gradual itself is very rare with Worldcat listing only the copy at the Lyon Public Library (Bibliothèque jésuite des Fontaines).  Additionally, there are few comparables in the auction records and no copy of this Gradual is listed in the rare book auction databases (ABPC or RareBookHub) for over 30 years.

So, what is at the value of a very rare and beautifully printed specimen of 17th century music printing worth?   With no exact comparables in the records, a rare book dealer must rest his opinion solely on experience and connoisseurship.  As such, I would look to  the prices I have obtained for other 17th century Graduals of lesser rarity and interest perhaps, but similar typography and age. I must also evaluate the condition and while the example here is internally in admirable shape, the binding is a bit later (18th century from its general appearance and marbled paste-downs) with the mottled calf a bit dry and the spine and hinges worn from use.

As such, I would place its retail value at approximately $1200.

The Book:

Graduel romain-monastique de l’abbaye de Mont-Martre, ordre de S. Benoist. S.l. : s.n., 1681  4to., 24.5 x 19 cm.   18th century calf with wear, wear to hinges and and spine as depicted, hinges held by binding strings, some creasing to preliminary leaves, some light toning, but generally a very good copy copy of a Very Rare gradual and a superb typographic specimen.  No copies appear in the standard rare book auction databases for more than 30 years,

 

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January 6, 2016

Rare Book Appraisal – a “16th century” Book

This “1550” edition of the works of Machiavelli is one that I have been asked to value many times over the years. Early editions of Machiavelli can be quite valuable and few Renaissance figures evoke such imagination in the modern popular mind as the author of the great Prince.

What is particularly interesting about this edition is that it was issued with a false date. Despite the 1550 prominently printed on its title pages, it was in fact printed in the mid 17th century.  Machiavelli’s works were subject to a papal ban in 1559 and the pre-dated publication (nine years early) was clearly an attempt to evade the famous Index of Prohibited books and the sanctions on publisher’s, booksellers, and even owners.   Geneva became the unofficial capital of the Protestant movement and a hotbed of false imprints often intended to smuggle prohibited books into Catholic areas, so it is no surprise it was printed there.

So, what is a 17th century edition of Machiavelli worth?  Well, a 1640 first  ENGLISH  edition just sold in 2015 for $43,000 at a rare book auction in New York, but that is a different kettle of fish as the English edition is a great rarity.   However, this “1550” Testina edition (as it is popularly called after the head portrait) is considerably more common and affordable.    Auction records (available through the American Book Auction Records Database– or ABPC),  support a price of around $1000 for a copy in contemporary vellum and perhaps a retail copy might not unreasonably fetch $1500 or so.

In the 1640 translation, Edward Dacres, as justification for his labors, stated that  “This book carryes its poyson and malice in it; yet mee thinks the judicious peruser may honestly make use of it in the actions of his life, with advantage.”   $1000 for the Testina edition of this remarkable work with a fascinating publishing history does not seem like a very Princely sum and it might be added that the judicious collector may honestly make use of it.

 

The Book:
Macchiavelli (Niccolo) Tutte le Opere, Geneva, Pietro Alberto, 1550.  Five parts in one vol. 4to.  9 x 7″   TESTINA EDITION with the eponymous woodcut head and shoulders portrait of Machiavelli on each title. Contemporary vellum over paste-boards and app edges, small loss of vellum to spine.  Effaced early ink ownership inscriptions to general title of R.D. Lecky etc.   Internally, some light toning or foxing, but generally a handsome edition.  Stated 1550 on t.p., but ascribed by bibliographers (with various precedent in Gamba) to 17th century a false and earlier imprint of 1550  intended to evade  the Index Librorum Prohibitorum- papal ban of Michiavelli’s works in 1559.

 


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