October 31, 2019

Appraisal of an 18th century Book – unusual provenance

So, I’m just back from a trip up to Westchester, NY where I bought several boxes of antiquarian volumes that belonged to a prominent lawyer.

One of the volumes fresh out of the box is a copy of Jean Louis de Lolme’s
The Constitution of England, or an Account of the English Government; In Which It Is Compared with the Republican Form of Government, and Occasionally with the Other Monarchies in Europe. Printed in London by  T. Spilsbury and Sold by G. Kearsley, in 1775.

I love Constitutional law, especially anything printed around that magical year of the American Declaration.  This volume was a frequently reprinted (I have had several copies over the years), but it still is an important work that influenced many of the framers of the United States Constitution.

A quick physical  inspection of the book (as seen in the photos below) shows that it is bound in it original 18th century marbled boards.  Unfortunately, the spine is rather dry and worn, but to its credit, the pages are what we call “uncut” – which is a heartwarming word to rare book dealers and collectors who appreciate original condition.

A quick review of the auction databases on sites such as RareBookHub, reveal a rather depressing state of affairs.   A copy of this First English edition sold for $23.50 in 2014 at auction.   I have to retype that for emphasis as it is quite unbelievable to type even.  $23.50!!  Can you imagine an an interesting 18th century work being sold for the price of a few lattes at Starbucks?  It shows that not everything old is gold.

The prices of retail copies is a bit more reassuring.  On sites like ViaLibri, one can find ranges for the book (or at least similar editions) from about $200-900, depending on the exact edition, condition etc.   With that said, there appears to be several copies circulating in commerce, and it is getting harder and harder to sell books of which several copies can be found online at the touch of a few buttons.

This particular copy has some redeeming aspects which I believe raise the value and its desirability – and as a rare book dealer,  it is my passion and job to discover and highlight them.   First, it has a lovely  late 18th century bookplate of CHAINED MONKEYS.  That is enough charm to win over my heart.   A quick Wikipedia search and wee can se that it is the ex-libris of St Andrew St John, 14th Baron St John of Bletso PC FRS (22 August 1759 – 15 October 1817), an English politician who sat in the British House of Commons from 1780 until 1806 when he inherited a peerage.  So, this copy  of a  influential work belonged to a politician during the year that America wrote her Constitution in 1783.   Very cool indeed, but generally even that provenance is not sufficient in the market today to substantially raise the value of the copy – albeit, we are building an interesting story around the book.

However, it gets better.   When I read through the inscriptions in ink on the following page, they contain a very unusual and remarkable record:  the book appears to have been passed AMONG WOMEN READERS and women readers alone.  It contains such jottings in an old hand as “1776   Mrs. Stephenson received this Book Nov 5 || Miss Manley sent this book to Lady Robinson”  The list continues for about 15 lines as the book was clearly circulated among the 18th century  aristocratic women, who perhaps were keenly interested in Constitutional law given the regular news of the increasingly tumultuous state of affairs in America.  The list of names requires additional investigation, but I have not seen a similar list in any book that I can recall handling.

So, overall despite being a relatively common work in commerce, and well represented in various institutions in its many editions, this particular copy is very interesting and unusual.    Its boards are a bit dry and the spine could use some restoration, but generally I would say this is a work that I would be able to price in the $500 range and find some institutional interest from  a special collections that focuses on  women studies or more generally a law library.

If you have any rare books or manuscripts and would like a free evaluation, don’t hesitate to send photos buy email to webuyrarebooks@gmail.com or by text to 646-4691851.

 

Where to sell rare book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

posted in: 18th century book value, Constitution value, Early English Books, RARE BOOK APPRAISAL

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