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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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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