October 24, 2018

What is my Historical Document Worth? – Vellum Manuscript

Sometimes, given the name of the site – “Rare Book Buyer”- I am asked if I only buy rare books.
While that is a focus of course, I also buy historical manuscripts, early autographs, and other documents. Except at the highest end of the market for the flashiest names, interesting  historical documents can often fall below the radar and are not as appreciated as they should be. Recently, I bought a small collection from a fine gentleman collector in Florida – the type of old school erudite man who bought for the love of research and learning and not to profit.

It is easy to sell Alexander Hamilton and George Washington letters. There are a many fine auction houses who will happily evaluate them and take them on favorable selling terms.  However, it is the low to the middle range of the market that is really struggling. The manuscripts can be hard to read and many, written on vellum, can be cumbersome to display. Their market is often small and the joy of deciphering and studying them is not rewarded financially when they are sold.

When I evaluate manuscript these days, I have to keep that in mind.  It is amazing how affordable interesting documents are that give great insight into history.

One of the manuscripts in the aforementioned collection was the handsome specimen below.   Just look at the superb minuscule hand and imagine how much time it took a scribe  to write out in 1603.  The manuscript is addressed to to King Phillip III of Spain, who historians have called  a ‘undistinguished and insignificant man,’ a ‘miserable monarch,’ whose ‘only virtue appeared to reside in a total absence of vice.”  Nevertheless, Philip’s reign remains a critical period in Spanish history.

So what is a manuscript by Francisco Ruiz de Castro, a Spanish nobleman, to the King worth?  Generally, these type of documents might get $200 or but perhaps, as an unusually  fine specimen of penmanship,  this one might  get more appropriately in the $300-350 range.

 

 

The manuscript:

KING PHILIP III and DON FRANCISCO RUIZ DE CASTRO. Vellum manuscript in Latin, approx 15×25.5 inches, 15 lines of beautiful calligraphy.  Very good condition with minor holes on the folds not affecting the text. Had a seal attached at one time with a silk ribbon of red and yellow, the colors of the Spanish flag, which is still attached. Document signed in good faith by Don Francisco Ruiz, Viceroy of Naples for the great King and Catholic Mjeesty in the King’s Palace, Naples, 12 March 1603. Although untranslated it is evident that this is a political and historical document. In the text there is a “Count of Lemos” identified with the date 12 April 1601. Don Francisco Ruis de Castro was the 8th Count of Lemos and became Viceroy of Naples in 1601. (12 April?). He left Naples 12 April 1603, no longer Viceroy, exactly one month after this manuscript was written. Numerous people are mentioned in the manuscript including many members of the Pignatelli family, a noble Renaisance family from Calabria, near Naples. Especially Giulio Pignatelli, 1587-1658, Marquis of Cerchiana, a town near Naples and the Marquis of Briatico, Zenobio Pignatelli another town in Calibria.

 

posted in: Appraisal Manuscript, Handwritten Document Value, Rare Manuscript

July 11, 2018

Appraisal of a Rare Early English Book – How much is my 17th century book worth?

I am a very active buyer of early English books and tracts from the 1500s  through the 18th century.

I recently received this interesting 17th century work  – Walter Cradock’s “Gospel-libertie: in the extensions limitations of it.”

One of the difficulties of buying a rare book like this from private person or family, is making a fair evaluation and offer.  After all, somebody who has inherited a book or library, may not have a full sense of the value of their book or collection.  They may also have high expectations-  as many people reasonably would for a book that is 370 years old!

In such circumstances, a rare book dealer should try to be as transparent as possible.  Usually, one is not dealing with unique works of art, but rather with books – even rare ones – that have nevertheless sold previously and for which their are comparable examples in the auction records.  I am always happy to supply such comparables from databases such as Rare Book Hub or the American book prices current etc. for books that are emailed or sent to me.

So, what is  this 1648 copy of  Gospel-libertie worth?  When considering this important question, one has to consider many aspects the book.

1) It’s rare: According to Rare Book Hub, no copy has been offer for sale at auction since it appeared at  Sothebys in 1994 (albeit in a group lot for GBP 1,265). That is a plus.

2) It’s interesting: The author, Walter Cradock, was an unflinching advocate of  liberty of conscience. Some considered him a Puritan dissenter or a radical troublemaker (who doesn’t like books by troublemakers?). A reading of the work shows he was no doubt influenced by the religious upheaval of the English Civil War as well as the early preaching of the Gospel in the new English colonies.   As an early work that  promoted religious liberty,  it resonates with modern readers. All good.

3) It’s charming:  Wrapped in old paper boards and with a 19th century (or earlier) string holding the loose signatures together, it certainly has some vintage charm and visual appeal.

4) Nevertheless, it is (at least for serious collectors) in poor condition.  The text block is broken, some pages are detached and internally, it has had its fair share of the ravages of time.  Frustratingly, it is also lacking a single page of the table at the end (underscoring the importance of properly ‘collating’ a book and verifying its completeness).

Therefore, despite its intellectual appeal and even the visual authenticity of book that survived great upheavals, it is a book probably only worth $250 or so – and even at that only to the right customer ready to overlook its flaws (something that is as hard to do in the dating world as in the world of selling antiquarian books 😉
If you have an early English book, and you would like a free evaluation, feel free to send photos to webuyrarebooks@gmail.com or text them to 646 469 1851.


Adam Weinberger, Member ABAA
Rare Book Buyer
1510 Lexington Ave 9D
NY, NY 10029
(646) 469 1851
Note:  By Appointment Only

posted in: Early English Books, NYC Rare Book Dealer, NYC Rare Books, RARE BOOK APPRAISAL

May 15, 2018

Autograph Appraisal & Value

I am often asked if I can offer an appraisal or an evaluation of an autograph.   The short answer is yes.  And, of course, we do buy autographs and signed documents in the regular course of our business.   While the fields of autograph collecting and rare books and manuscripts are separate, they often do intersect.   Generally, I shy away from 20th century sports autographs (just too many fakes), and prefer to concentrate on autographs of historical and literary importance.

I was recently was offered a charming album containing the signature of our illustrious 16th President.  There is something poetic, at least in my mind, about just the signature of Abraham Lincoln sitting isolated and dead center on a barren single page.   I enjoy contemplating it-  staring at a the modest hand, in keeping with the character of  the President, and knowing that 150 odd years or so ago, his hand rested with a quill on this very page.

Cut signatures of Lincoln from documents can be had for reasonable sums.  Here, as an example, is a record culled from the manuscript sales database in American Book Prices current (an excellent reference for evaluating autographs)

Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-65 – Cut signature, [1861 to 1865]. On .75 by 3.75 inch strip of vellum. Sgd as President. Minor smudging to his last name. Left edge touching the extreme beginning of the first “A”. Mtd at right & left edges. – Swann, Nov 3, 2011, lot 187, $1,100

Of course that is towards the very bottom of the price range, and prices can quickly escalate:

Full autograph letters of interest can command $10,000+ such as this one:

Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-65 – ALs, 15 Dec 1862. 1 p, 8vo. On bifolium. To Sec of the Navy Gideon Welles. Regarding a request for an appointment from controversial congressman Alfred Ely. With 3-line holograph postscript sgd (“A. Lincoln”) & dated 16 Dec 1862. Soiled & creased with some marginal tears (1 into text & signature of postscript). Signature of letter slightly smeared. Not in Basler. – Sotheby’s New York, Jun 13, 2017, lot 97, $11,000

And of course pieces of great historic importance in the history of our nation can bring staggering sums:

Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-65 – Ds, [June 1864]. 1 p, 16.25 by 9.25 inch copy of the “Authorized Edition” oof the Emancipation Proclamation, printed to benefit the United States Sanitary Commission. Sgd by Lincoln as President. Countersgd by William H. Seward as Secretary of State & by “Jno. G. Nicolay” as the President’s Private Secretary, who additionally certifies that this printing of the Emancipation Proclamation is “A true copy, with autograph signatures of the President and the Secretary of State”. Several inches of blank margin trimmed from original sheet. With mat burn at edges touching the Nicolay signature but not affecting other signatures or text. Foxed & spotted. – Illus in cat – Sotheby’s New York, May 25, 2016, lot 78, $1,800,000

Naturally, the first step in evaluating an historical autograph is authenticity.    Lincoln is a frequently forged autographed, given the nation’s reverence and his consequent desirability.  Perhaps the most notorious forgers of “Lincolniana” were Joseph Cosey and Charles Weinburg.  However, there are many less famous but still accomplished forgers as well- so one must always be wary.

It is imperative to study the handwriting and to determine if it is correct-  to make sure it is in keeping with the President’s known hand at that date and that it possesses the small ‘tells’ of a fluidly written signature that are hard to copy without evidence of hesitation.

Besides the signature itself, it is importance to look at the paper, the ink, and whether it makes sense that it is a document that the President would even sign.   Provenance is very desirable as well, but not always obtainable as documents often pass from hand to hand through families and collectors without record kepts.

In the example we were offered below, the authenticity is without question.   If the leaf were seen only in isolation, one may not be certain of this, but our example is bound in an album filled with many of Lincoln’s cabinet and contemporaries and was compiled as a courtship gift for a woman by a Washington gentleman of means and access.  I would love to relate the full provenance and story here of the album, but don’t want to steal the thunder of the Institution that will likely acquire it.

 

FreeAutographAppraisal

posted in: Appraisal Manuscript, Free autograph Appraisal, Free Autograph Evaluation, We buy autographs

March 19, 2018

American Revolution – Autograph Appraisal

Early American autograph material can be complicated to properly appraise.   First of all,  there are questions of authenticity as it is significantly easier for forgers to fake an autograph or manuscript than a  full printed book.   I won’t address authentication in this post, except to stress it is the first step in an evaluation.

Once the hurdle of authenticity is overcome,  the next question is importance.  In manuscript and autograph material,  this essentially boils down to a question of  not only whose autograph it is but the importance of the content and its historical context.

Recently at an estate in the Upper West Side of New York, I bought a small collection of autographs that contained the following 18th century manuscript page.

Free Autograph Appraisal

The interesting manuscript concerns the appointment  John Laurance (1750 -1810) , the prominent American lawyer and politician from New York.   Laurance was a veteran of the Continental Army who served throughout the American Revolution,  and among other notable achievements served in the Continental Congress.  Additionally, he was named Judge Advocate General from 1777 to 1782.” Among the cases he handled were prosecuting at the court martial of Charles Lee for insubordination in 1778, and the 1779 court martial of Benedict Arnold for corruption. He also served on the 1780 board that convicted John André of spying and sentenced him to death by hanging.” [Wikipedia]

With such an illustrious name,  we can begin our search of other Laurance related manuscripts and autographs that have sold at auction in the ABPC Database.  Plugging in his name brings up at least three records of  sold documents connected with famous Americans that underscores his importance in the 18th century.

  1. Washington, George, 1732-99 – Ls, 1 Mar 1797. 1 p, 8 by 10 inches. On bifolium. Circular letter, this copy addressed to New York Senator John Laurance, inviting the recipient to the Presidential and Vice-Presidential swearing in ceremony of John Adams & Thomas Jefferson in the Senate Chamber. With conjugate self-envelope with address. Repaired. – Illus in cat. David A. Spinney Collection – Skinner, Oct 30, 2016, lot 31, $19,500
  2.  Hamilton, Alexander, 1757-1804 – ALs, 17 May 1798. 1 p, 10 by 8 inches. To Senator John Laurance of New York. Expressing his displeasure over the defeat of President Adams’s proposed bills for defense. With franked integral address leaf & postal stamp dated May 16. Address leaf with fold separations. – Illus in cat – Sotheby’s New York, Dec 11, 2008, lot 130, $13,000
  3. Continental Congress – Manuscript, fair copy of the journal of the Continental Congress, June-July 1776. 4 pp, folio. In the hand of John Laurance, Senator from NY. – Bonhams New York, Jun 20, 2007, lot 5293, $3,500

It is easy to get excited at the high prices in the database. However, one must keep in mind that only important material comes to auction as single lots and this can artificially skew prices toward the higher end.  Less expensive material is often sold in lots or at minor houses that are not included in the databases.

Additionally, if we read the document at hand carefully, it is clear that it is not signed by Laurance himself but is actually a 1781 copy “true copy of the Record lodges in the Secretary’s Office of the State of New York”  So, while it refers to his 1775 appointment, it is actually written six years later in 1781 as an administrative copy.

As such, it is necessary to reduce of expectations in terms of salability and value.   As an interesting document connected to an important American, it is certainly worth something, but most likely less than $500.  Still, it is an interesting piece that yields insight into Colonial government and  an excellent starter manuscript for someone who wants to begin collecting in the field but cannot yet afford the bigger prizes.

If you have any American autographs (or historical or literary autographs in general) in general, please email me and I will be happy to provide a free evaluation and relevant and comparable auction records to support it.

posted in: American Autograph Value, Free autograph Appraisal, Handwritten Document Value, Old Manuscript Appaisal

November 28, 2017

Appraisal of a Colored Plate Book : Auction vs. Retail comparison

We recently purchased a lovely copy of  Smith’  Antiquities of Westminster published in Folio 1807.  Nevertheless,  a glance through the auction records reveals very modest prices.  Perhaps this is partly explained by a lack of connoisseurship.  Years ago,  there were more perhaps more appreciative everyday collectors that delved into the nitty gritty of printing history. Indeed, the book is recorded (see plate on p. 48 below) as being the first use of lithography in an English  book (cf. Lithography: 200 years of art, history & technique, NY, 1983, p. 224)

The other colored plates below – engraved and hand colored by comparison- also possess a remarkable charm.  The shattered specimens of stained glass from St. Stephen’s Chapel have an explosive and modern aesthetic, and are beautifully rendered by John Thomas Smith.    The shards, among with wall paintings and sculptures,  were discovered during a restoration of Westminster in 1800 that revealed part of a 14th century wall.   The author was very eager to record these discoveries for posterity before they were lost again to time.

So, like the glass, it is shattering to see that a copy at auction in 2016 at Dominic Winter only achieved a paltry 84 GBP! (approx $120).  This compares to a retail copy on line marked at $1200.  That is quite the disparity – a full 1000% between what a copy achieved at auction and what a book dealer (and colleague)  is asking for it.

Perhaps, a not unreasonable retail price (if one indeed wishes to sell it within some reasonable time frame) is no doubt somewhere down the middle at $500-600, but still, the beauty of the book and its significance to book illustration and English antiquarianism, does support a retail price at the higher end in my mind.

If you have a fine book with colored plates, I am happy to evaluate it – just send photos to our email address or text them to 646 469 1851.   Do kindly remember that the value of colored plates books is very sensitive to condition, and it is best to include photos of any defects such as foxing or browning.

 

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Colored Plate Book Value

 

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posted in: RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Book Auction Value, Rare Colored Plate Book