Category: We buy old books

February 18, 2017

Value of an Old Vellum Manuscript

I have had numerous enquiries over the years to evaluate and appraise old manuscripts.  Certainly, I come across my fair share of antiphonals, graduals and choir books  that once graced innumerable churches in Spain, Italy and Europe.  Given their large size, the incredibly resilient  vellum upon which they were written, and perhaps the respect (not always) accorded to obviously religious books, a lot have survived.

The value of such a manuscript is quite complicated and here I cannot of course go into all the particulars regarding the age, style of decoration, illuminations etc. that factor into their value.  As an illustration, below is a recent one that passed through my hands- a rather elegant late 15th to 16th century Spanish antiphonal.  It was almost complete with a large number  pages (234 in total), albeit at some point,  as is often the case, the finest pages were likely removed as specimens of the illuminated art.  Still, many very attractive pen-work initials survived  in Mudejar style that reflect the artwork of the  individual Moors or Muslims of Al-Andalus who remained in Iberia after the Christian Reconquista.

One thing that I do not do is appraise these manuscripts as the value of an average individual page multiplied by the number of pages.   These are what I consider “book breaker” calculations and it is not something that I even consider.   Many beautiful books have been broken over the years for their plates as well as fine atlases dismembered for their individual framable maps.  Thankfully, given the economics of the trade, this has become less of an issue as complete preserved copies are often worth more as a whole than the some of their parts.  However, I do find the practice continues with antiphonal and liturgical manuscripts and the economics of selling individual pages at modest prices still favors tearing such books apart.

I will write here a bit of bibliophilic heresy (I know brace yourself!)  because while I do not condone the practice of breaking these manuscripts or evaluate them on that basis,  I do not condemn it either.   Many of these manuscripts are incomplete, and single examples (given the large surviving numbers) generally do not have singular importance in terms of what they add to our cultural or historical understanding of the period.  Also, in times past, dealers like Otto Ege, who made a controversial practice of dismantling medieval  manuscripts and selling the pages individually, also served the interest of scholarship in having some examples (even fragments) dispersed to many universities and a wider audience of students.  Therefore, I cannot say today, given the seemingly widespread lack of interest in objects of culture in general, that something  is not gained by having individual vellum leaves from such manuscripts grace ordinary living room walls.

 

 

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posted in: Handwritten Document Value, NYC Rare Book Dealer, NYC Rare Books, Old Manuscript Value, RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Book Auction Value, Rare book auctions, sell rare books, selling rare books, We Buy Manuscripts, We buy old books, We buy Rare Books

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.

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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

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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posted in: NYC Rare Book Dealer, NYC Rare Books, RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, sell rare books, selling rare books, We Buy Manuscripts, We buy old books, We buy Rare Books

March 18, 2015

Is an Incomplete Rare Book Still Valuable?

Many times I am asked to value a rare book and am forced to gently explain to the owner (who may have seen a complete copy online or at auction at a high price) that an incomplete copy is worth a very small fraction of the value of a complete work.  The expectation is often that if a book is just missing a page or two, then the price would be affected somewhat,  but still within reason.   More often than not, that is not the case however and the price is actually drastically affected.   Part of the reason no doubt is that while many collectors buy rare books of interest to them, they do keep an eye as well on their investment potential and future resale value.   Buying rare books is one thing and selling rare books is another.   It is often very hard to get future buyers to pay thousands of dollars for a book- even a very rare one-  that is described in an apologetic tone with words such a “lacking” or “missing” or  “wanting” (the preferred marketing euphemism of booksellers).

Nevertheless there are always exceptions to the rule, and sellers and owners are advised to consult a rare book expert even if their work is incomplete.

A couple weeks ago I was offered an incomplete book- a 1563 first edition of Foxe’s  Book of Martyrs- or the  Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church.  This was one of the most influential books of the 16th century, published early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Here are a couple photos of the large thick folio- a testament to one of the most  complex printings of the period.

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It can immediately be seen when opening the book that it lacking the title page- indeed a closer inspection and study reveals that it is actually lacking  the title, frontispiece, and  last leaf.   It is equally true that despite their age most books of the 16th century, if found in a similar state,  only fetch modest prices at auction.

This is not the case for Foxe’s  Book of Martyrs however.   A search of the ABPC auction database as well as the RareBookHub indicate that there have not been any complete copies sold at auction in the last 30 years of records. In fact, as one searches further back in time, it s clear that the popular book was often read to death and complete copies are virtually unheard of in commerce.  As far back as  1907, a rare book catalogue found in Google Books offers an imperfect copy for 80 sterling and adds to justify the price that  “no absolutely perfect copy is known.”  That may be an exaggeration or marketing ploy of an eager turn of the century bookseller, but it nevertheless indicates how rare complete copies are.  As such, despite its imperfect state, the book remains both valuable and highly desirable.

In any case, an incomplete work is better than a non-existent copy.  The woodcut below, inserted at p. 1548 in Foxe’s Book,  shows the fate that befell many books including being burned in a pyre.  We have to be thankful that some works survived at all and, like many things in life, learn to  forgive and be tolerant of imperfections.
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posted in: RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, sell rare books, selling rare books, We buy old books, We buy Rare Books

March 16, 2015

Selling Rare Books in Poor Condition – Worms, Rats, Floods & Fire

“Condition, condition, condition!”  That is often the phrase I hear antiquarian booksellers use as a warning to collectors- an echo of the most important thing to remember in real estate: “location, location, location!”

This, it must be said, is generally true.  Condition does have an important effect on the value of rare books- and often to degree that makes little sense to anyone with a rational understanding of the ravages of time or an appreciation of history.  Yes, if a copy of a modern first edition lacks its dust jacket, and there are an abundance of other freshly printed copies, there is little excuse not to buy a fine copy and consequently, any that do not measure up can be expected to be worth a mere fraction.

Should this be true, however, for antiquarian books that have travelled continents, passed through endless hands, been poured over in dim evening light next to irregularly melting candles, hid themselves in corners and basements from the horrors of war, and have borne witness to revolutions and peace? (remember what adaptable survivors books are the next time someone asks if books can survive the Kindle).

First, condition should be evaluated by a professional bookseller.  Do not assume just because your book looks in poor condition that it is in poor condition. There have been many instances when someone has sent me a book described as “worn and shoddy, or in poor condition” only to see that they are describing a book in the rare publisher’s cloth boards or a modest early 18th century American tree bark binding of great collectible value.  Additionally, certain titles and books – if they are rare enough- have to be compared with the number of surviving copies and the state and condition of those copies.  I have had books that are “incomplete”- perhaps the most damaging adjective to a book’s monetary value- only to have discovered that it is the most complete and best surviving copy (and have then priced it accordingly!)

I am one of those dealers that does NOT obsess over condition and appreciate (an even imagine) the stories that led a book to its present state.  As such, I am also against unnecessary restoration of books, to transform them into something they are not (handsome salable copies) and in essence to destroy (or at least detract from) part of their story.

Here are a few examples of the common condition problems that can befall books:

RATS:

Below is a legal manuscript from the first quarter of the 16th century: Manuscript, Statutes and Ordinances of the Diocese of Nantes [France, c.1515]. It was written shortly after the death of Anne of Brittany.  In the corner, some rodent had a field day munching on the fine vellum, but thankfully due to generous margins, missed the text itself  or just at least preferred  the “white” rather than the “dark” meat.  I imagine that as soon as the French Wars of Religion got into full swing that this Catholic statute book was abandoned in the basement of  a church with the rats running loose until at least the 19th century when it was rediscovered (as it contains some notes on the flyleaf.)

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WORMS:

Here is a humble little volume – and a rare one- of the Italian Renaissance poet Ascanio Grandi, printed in 1636,  where worms have left their mark.  Worms approach books with a callous indifference to subject matter- whether mundane or erudite- but at least they love books.   The turns and twists they make through the pages, if not hinting at 16th century fractal patterns, can be be appreciated for their natural beauty and modern artistic sensibilities.
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FLOODS:

Below is a 1616 folio of the collected works of  of Ben Jonson.  This folio was  crucial to developments in the publication of English literature and English Renaissance drama- and in no small measure inspired the publication in 1623 of Shakespeare’s First Folio (which helped preserve his works for us).  One can see that the work was severely damaged by the now brittle damp-stains of a flood.  What  student in Oxford in the 17th century was sitting reading with few cares by the Thames and dropped in momentarily into the water when a pretty maiden caught his eye?  As Shakespeare said, “there is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”  If only this were true of books.

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FIRE:

Here is a book whose damage really tells a story.  It is another work of Renaissance poetry, but this one came from and has the stamps of the Vatican Library! Inside a c. 1920s bookseller’s catalog clipping is tipped-in stating :”A curious collectors relic: a scorched book from the only fire in Vatican Library history. Contents sound, but singes covers preserved as grim momentos…”  The fire which broke out in the Vatican on November 1,1903, seriously endangered the library and art collection, and had it not been contained, would have taken its place in history next to the burning of the Alexandrian library.

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FINALLY:

I must conclude with an image where an unusual condition flaw (a splotch of ink) perhaps raises the value of the sullied manuscript to an inestimable degree (or at least made it a wonderful curiosity!   Here a cat, always indifferent  to anything of potential value more than itself, walked across this manuscript in the 15th century and left his prints.

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[Ref: Cat paws in a fifteenth-century manuscript (photo taken at the Dubrovnik archives by @EmirOFilipovic)]

If you are curious about the value of your antiquarian, antique, or rare book, and want a free evaluation and for me to assess its condition- don’t hesitate to send photos to webuyrarebooks@gmail.com

posted in: RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, sell rare books, selling rare books, We Buy Manuscripts, We buy old books