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.