February 14, 2016
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.
Richard Morton. Pyretologia, seu, Exercitationes de morbis universalibus acutis Londoni : Impensis Samuelis Smith …, CIC DC XCII  8vo, 19.5 cm., , 430,  pages,  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
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.
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
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.
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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September 5, 2015
I was recently selling a NYC coop, feeling overwhelmed at the amount of paperwork and due diligence necessary to transfer ownership of shares, when I was offered a medieval deed. It is a relatively small and simple document, when a man could transfer his earthly possessions- or in this case half his landholdings- on a mere document only 7 x 3″ inches in size. It opens simply in Latin: To all [men] present and future…
So, what is the value of a document like this from the 14th century? Surprisingly, they can be collected for rather modest sums. Here are a couple records for other similar documents pulled from the ABPC manuscript database – a subscriber database that is an essential tool for examining past auction records of comparable books and documents and substantiating a fair market value.
England – _ KENT. – Document. Deed of Gift. [23 Feb 1411]. No size or length given. William George conveys a house in the village of Shynglewelle [sic]. Parchment. In Latin. Stained. – Winter, Apr 12, 2006, lot 294, £140 ($248)
England – _ KENT. – Document. Deed of Gift. [12 Mar 1398]. No size or length given. John Spernor de Cobham & John Topleche convey to Simon Lepy a plot of land in Shyngled Well [sic] .Parchment. In Latin. Stained. – Illus in cat – Winter, Apr 12, 2006, lot 293, £240 ($424)
True, this one is perhaps a bit earlier than some of the examples listed above (and dates to the early part of the 14th century). However, at auction it would at most reasonably fall into the $400-500 range and perhaps a bit less as it is missing its original hanging seal.
To me that is rather remarkable: this small and ephemeral document has escaped the ravages of time for 700 years and is only worth approx. $500? Thankfully, it is written on vellum, a strong and utilitarian material which aided its survival. Still, the manuscript provides insight into paleography (the study of ancient and historical handwriting), English medieval history, early legal history, and when framed is a rather remarkable and impactful object for the pleasure of both the eye and mind. Perhaps old Latin documents are bit too erudite for most and that has kept the prices low, but for the keen collector they are a bargain that will not last in the years ahead. And certainly, I should send one to my real estate lawyer to show him how simple a document could be 😉
[ENGLISH MEDIEVAL DEED] Early 14th century. [Incipit] Sciant p[re]sentes & fut[ur]i q[uo]d ego Robert de edui? dedi concessi & hac p[re]senti carta mea confirmaui Simoni filio… A fine medieval example of a deed of gift bequeathing half of his lands to his son Simon.. 7 x 3 inches on vellum, evidence of attached seal at lower center. With scarce 14th-15th century English explanatory text to verso. Small holes but generally very good.
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