Contact us at WeBuyRareBooks@gmail.com or Text Photos (646) 469-1851 for a free evaluation of your old and rare books. Our main gallery is located by appt. at 1050 2nd Ave (@55th) Gallery 90 in the Manhattan Art and Antique Center. We also are opening a second office in San Diego, CA by appt. only. We travel widely and buy nationwide.
If you are interested in learning the value of your rare books, I made a couple instructional videos that are on Youtube that explain what to look for as well as some rare book pricing databases. If you have any rare books you need me to look at or have specific questions about (yes, I know it gets complicated!), feel free to send photos to WeBuyRareBooks@gmail.com or by text to 646-469-1851.
I adore antiphonals. They are often massive volumes of calf over boards, with metal bosses, with the music and chants handwritten on vellum. Although they are becoming less and less common in commerce – they are surprisingly inexpensive compared with other medieval and renaissance manuscripts when they do pop up at auction.
Many were purchased by tourists in Spain- especially post WWII and brought back to the Sates as objects of great curiosity. I had a couple enquiries recently regarding some that were inherited in separate families – and understandably the sellers thought they could be worth small fortune (some are if illuminated or have important provenance, or are especially early). I made the video below to showcase one in the gallery here and what it is worth as an example.
If you have one, reach out and I am always happy to evaluate you 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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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.
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.
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.