June 6, 2019

Value of a Rare Miniature Book

We just purchased this rather charming miniature book – c. 1820s and bound in lovely Mother of Pearl.  It is approx. 1″ tall, and if you are aquainted with collectors of miniatures books they are emphatic that the books must meet the definition of being less than 3″.   Sometimes, I am forced to shrug my shoulders how a  few millimeters extra considerably narrows the field of buyers,  but this one easily qualifies.

The book is formally a Dance Card, or, Le Carnet de bal in French and was used by a woman to record the names of the gentlemen with whom she intends to dance each successive dance at a formal bal. It even comes with a miniature little pencil.

These were delicate productions and not too many survive as they were often discarded since they could not be re-used and children didn’t likely care to preserve a record of their Mother’s dance partners and suitors.

What is the value of such a  charming miniature book?  The standard auction databases such as Rare Book Hub yield little clues and searches on OCLC turn up almost no Institutional copies.   It is not that they are that rare, but there is scant bibliographic information for librarians to catalog, and it is more probable they are just lying uncatalogued in boxes.

Outside of the world of books, the major auction houses used to regularly conduct sales of Objects of Vertu, but these have been often been lamentably discontinued both to a lack of supply, changing tastes, and the quest of auction houses for more financially rewarding auctions (like Modern Art).   At a sale in 2006 at Christies, there was described a much finer “Louis XVI gold-mounted ivory carnet-de-bal set with two enamels, and dated 1776/1777” and that rather mesmerizing beauty only realized 750 GBP.

This much more modest example, while undeniably charming, probably only has a fair retail value of $200 or so by comparison.   Still, like a fine dance partner, she is a pleasure to hold with the hand.

If you have any miniature book (or any rare book or manuscript) in general, and would like me to value it, don’t hesitate to send photos by email or text 6464691851.

 

posted in: miniature book, rare book value, rare books NYC

May 27, 2019

VALUE OF A BOOK OF HOURS OR ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT

What is my illuminated manuscript or book or hours worth? We have been active buyers of illuminated manuscripts for years, privately and at auction, and can certainly assist with the proper evaluation of a manuscript.

Interestingly, books of hours are not “rare.” Tens of thousands of them have survived to the present day,  often highly valued, preserved, and handed down in wills over the centuries.  They were the most popular books of the Middle Ages and meant for private devotion. They have rightfully been called a medieval bestseller.  Their purpose was to provide ordinary people a book that enabled private reading and meditation,.

Valuing a book of hours requires more connoisseurship than just a printed  book because many can be considered medieval works of art.  So what is such a ‘book’ worth? There are books of hours that are worth as little as $10,000, or less if they are incomplete or have had their miniatures removed, effaced, or adulterated.  Finer books of hours can be bought for $100K and some of the most luxurious go into the millions, albeit you should restrain your excitement as it is very unlikely you have one originally commissioned for king or queen .

The price of a book of hours depends largely on the quality of the miniatures or the school and artists who painted them. This is why even a collection of single leaves can command high prices. So, how does one  determine quality?  The refinement of the underlying drawing, the delicacy of the colors, the application of gilt all play an important role in how finely the manuscript was executed.  Also, if your manuscript has drolleries –  small decorative figures in the margins like monkeys, dragons, elephants – this will certainly add significant value.  Usually a proper evaluation though will require first hand study and research.

Another factor is of course the age of the manuscript.  As a rule of thumb, unlike books, the older your manuscript is, the more valuable it becomes. Most book of hours date from the second half of 15th century,  and any before that period are increasingly rare in commerce and often command significant premiums.

It should be emphasized, there are as well many other medieval manuscripts, including deceptively simple looking ones – unadorned and sometimes not even particularly attractive.   There are theological works, bibles, law, medical and literary manuscripts for instance..  Literary examples are particularly rare  – we recently paid $20.000 for a manuscript about love and it had only had 20 leaves!   It is essential to study a manuscript very carefully firsthand as its importance can turn on very small details.  For instance, a number of years ago we bought a manuscript,  misidentified by a reputable  auction house, as belonging to an incomplete book of hours (as it lacked miniatures),  but it turned out to be an immensely important Dutch literary text.

There are some resources a private person can consult for rough comparables:

  1.  American Book Prices Current is a subscriber site that contains a manuscript database of old sales but no illustrations (often essential)
  2. Sothebys and Christies each have auction record databases on their sites of books of hours that have sold in  previous auctions.

And of course, if you send photos of any manuscript to webuyrarebooks@gmail.com or text 6464691851,  I am happy to assist and give a free evaluation as well as provide specific auction comparables.   You can also stop by our gallery by appt. at 1050 Lexington Ave Gallery 93 (at 55th St.) to show us in person 

 

 

posted in: Appraisal Book Hours, Appraisal Manuscript, Book Hours Value, Early Manuscript Value

April 7, 2019

SIGNED LITTLE PRINCE – 1 of 525 – WHAT IS MY SIGNED BOOK WORTH?

One of the most common questions I receive is : What is my SIGNED  book worth?   Naturally, a book signed or inscribed by a well known author (we are not talking just previous book owners here who have scrawled their name) can be worth a considerable amount of money if the book is important and the author revered.  There are of course many types of signatures.

Some books have simply been signed on the title page.  These can be collectible,  but for me without the greater context of a dedication, they tend to be the least interesting.  Such books also require special scrutiny. Many books have been advertised on the internet as  “flat signed” by their author (or just simply  signed) , and this is a term that is not really acceptable among serious dealers.   The area is ripe with fraud as all it takes is an unscrupulous seller to buy an unsigned first edition and with a practiced flourish imitate the hand of an author.

After that, there are association copies – books inscribed by the author to someone.  These are far more interesting as they have a narrative  associated with them that requires explaining, context and research.   These are often much harder to fake given the extra words beyond the signature, which can often contain handwriting gaffes or “tells” that betray a forger.

Finally, there are signed numbered limited editions.  These were books specifically produced by the publisher largely for collectors and additional profit.  They required the author to sit there patiently wasting his literary talents  ;), tediously inscribing books for collectors’ pleasure – something for which we bibliophiles are often nevertheless quite thankful.   Numbered limited editions are understandably extremely difficult to forge.  Unlike more unique association copies, finding auction record comparables for signed limited editions is often easy.  There is a little bit of the cookie cutter pricing model involved when previous copies sold for a specific price  in the various databases (albeit one must make adjustments for condition etc. )

One of the signed limited edition books I am frequently asked to evaluate is The Little Prince.  Impressively, for a book that was printed in relatively few copies,  I probably have seen 10 copies in the past 3 years alone.

The Little Prince was first published in English by Reynal & Hitchcock, Inc. in New York on 6 April 1943 and a few  few days later in French, appropriately translated as  Le Petit Prince.   The beloved book of the famed French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, has become a staple of bedtime reading for children.   It is highly collectible both for the elegance of its simple meaningful story but also for the nostalgia of childhood that it evokes in all of us.   Anyway, I am not here to wax nostalgic about one of my favorite books, but like the businessman on the  the fourth planet, I am concerned with number crunching and matters of consequence.

525 copies (of which 25 were not for sale), were printed and autographed by the author of the original first English language edition. Additionally, there is the scarcer run of 260 of the French edition (10 of which were not for sale)

It is quite important to have the original dust jacket with the book.  Notably, the publisher did not print a separate jacket for the signed limited edition, so the USD 2.00 price was clipped and the limitation number written in ink above the publisher’s name on the spine.  A copy of the scarcer French edition sold at Heritage in 2008  described as ” jacket is slightly browned and a little rubbed, with a few small chips and tears, some repaired with tissue, those at the foot of the spine affecting a couple of letters in the publisher’s name.”   It realized $8962.50  inc. the buyer’s premium.  Prices have been rising at a strong clip as Forum Auction recently sold the English edition (1 of 525 and described as ” original pictorial cloth, light rubbing to tips of spine and corners, first state dust-jacket with publisher’s address listed as “386 Fourth Avenue” on front flap, priced $2.00, spine browned, spine ends and corners chipped)  for 10,000 GBP inc. premium.  Without the jacket, prices can fall as much as 50%, but it is still a very desirable book even in that state.

If you have any inscribed or signed book by any major authors, please email me for a free evaluation.  We are always interesting in buying signed copies of the Little Prince at competitive prices as well as inscribed book by Ernest Hemingway,  Mark Twain, A.A. Milne, James Joyce, Ian Fleming. Virginia Woolf, Khalil Gibran, F. Scott Fitzgerald et al.   I am always happy to provide actual auction record comps as well.

 

posted in: Uncategorized, valued signed book

December 30, 2018

Value of a Rare Chinese Book

This 1705 edition of George Psalmanazar’s An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa (i.e. Taiwan) is a long time favorite title of mine.   Indeed, the book is one of the greatest hoaxes of the 18th century. The mysterious author, George Psalmanazar, invented a book on Taiwan for eager English readers filled with tales of infant sacrifices,
breakfasts of viper’s blood, devil worship, all inventively illustrated.  For good measure, he included a fictitious alphabet of the Formosan language (depicted below), an effort that was so convincing that German grammarians included samples of  it well into the 19th century.  The book itself was a great success and went through two English editions, as well as later French and German translations.

Despite being blond with a faux French accent, and an opium addiction, Psalmanazar hobnobbed with the upper crust of London society including Swift, Johnson, and even Isaac Newton.  In this copy in an 18th century hand,  someone describes  Johnson’s love of the man who he called, “the most pious man he had ever met”

So, what is a 1705 edition of the book worth?

This copy sadly is not in pristine condition:  the calf is worn and dry, the front board is detached, and the title page has some inner marginal loss (perhaps slight gnawing) that just touches the outer border   Additionally, it has a one plate lacking.   Generally, in the antiquarian book world, when anything is lacking, it is often considered a fatal condition flaw.

If we look in the rare book auction record, we can see a copy perhaps in similar condition, albeit complete,  in 2015 that sold for a modest price of  $344 (including the buyer’s premium).  It was described as:

PSALMANAZAR, GEORGE An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa. London: Wotton, et al, 1705. Second edition. Half red morocco gilt. 7 3/8 x 4 1/4 inches (19 x 11 cm); 296 pp., with folding map and 17 plates (one folding). Some spotting, worming to lower margin of rear of volume not affecting text, rear joint cracked. C Estate of William W. Appleton.

The low price at auction for such an interesting  antiquarian volume is largely a consequence of its popularity.   Its success meant that it had a relatively large print run in its day and many copies survive in the trade.  Law of supply and demand as always.

So, what is value of this charming, albeit imperfect volume?   Well, it does have one interesting redeeming aspect: as mentioned above on the front paste-down , in 18th century  contemporary hand, someone has recounted Samuel Johnson’s love of the author.  While it would take more careful research to see if there is new information not previously known to scholars about their relationship, it dovetails nicely with the remarkable story of this forged account.   As such, it probably adds a couple hundred dollars to the value.

So, overall I would judge the book to be worth $400.

If you have any rare Chinese books, you would like valued,  please send photos to webuyrarebooks@gmail.com or text 6464691851.    I am always interested in purchasing old and antique books on China and the Far East.  

 

 

posted in: antiquarian chinese book, antiquarian chinese books, chinese book appraisal, rare chinese book, Uncategorized, we buy chinese books, we buy old books on china

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