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.
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,