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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 email@example.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
Title and land deeds survive in abundance. They are often large sheets of particularly sturdy parchment that have escaped the ravages of time that destroy a lot of other early paper counterparts and ephemera. They are also quite attractive, filled with meticulous calligraphy and generally remain a very neglected area of collecting. I am often offered vellum deeds or asked how much they are worth. Surprisingly, most have very little monetary value in the market unless they are signed by important people, are particularly early, or can shed some light on an interesting household. Still, any old deed should be properly evaluated as some can fetch substantial sums. For example, a deed to Mohawk land at Schenectady, New York to Johannis Vedder, signed by 3 Mohawks with their totem signatures, recently got $18,000 at a rare book auction.
This recently purchased 1694 New York deed is not in the high value category of Indian deeds, but it is of scholarly interest. It conveys a water lot of Peter Sinclair, a mariner on the south side of Pearl Street. Wait, but Pearl Street does not touch the water? Well, it once did. In fact, it was the original eastern shoreline of the lower part of Manhattan Island, until the latter half of the 18th century when landfill over the course of several hundred years has extended the shoreline roughly 700–900 feet further into the East River, first to Water Street and later to Front Street.
Besides affording a lesson in early Manhattan geography, if not urban planning, it also gives insight into early immigrant communities. According to Joyce Goodfriend’s “Before the Melting Pot” (1994): “Religious persuasion may also have influenced the marriage choices of British immigrants to New York City. Because of the doctrinal similarity between the Presbyterian church and the Dutch Reformed Church, dissenters may have found it relatively easy to marry into Dutch families. Three Scottish men, for example, married Dutch women in New York City. ” One of those Scotsman, RobertSinclair, married Mary Duycking in the New York City Dutch Reformed Church in 1683. “Sinclair‘s life history shows how a British newcomer was incorporated into a Dutch kinship network in New York City.”
I have had numerous enquiries over the years to evaluate and appraise old manuscripts. Certainly, I come across my fair share of antiphonals, graduals and choir books that once graced innumerable churches in Spain, Italy and Europe. Given their large size, the incredibly resilient vellum upon which they were written, and perhaps the respect (not always) accorded to obviously religious books, a lot have survived.
The value of such a manuscript is quite complicated and here I cannot of course go into all the particulars regarding the age, style of decoration, illuminations etc. that factor into their value. As an illustration, below is a recent one that passed through my hands- a rather elegant late 15th to 16th century Spanish antiphonal. It was almost complete with a large number pages (234 in total), albeit at some point, as is often the case, the finest pages were likely removed as specimens of the illuminated art. Still, many very attractive pen-work initials survived in Mudejar style that reflect the artwork of the individual Moors or Muslims of Al-Andalus who remained in Iberia after the Christian Reconquista.
One thing that I do not do is appraise these manuscripts as the value of an average individual page multiplied by the number of pages. These are what I consider “book breaker” calculations and it is not something that I even consider. Many beautiful books have been broken over the years for their plates as well as fine atlases dismembered for their individual framable maps. Thankfully, given the economics of the trade, this has become less of an issue as complete preserved copies are often worth more as a whole than the some of their parts. However, I do find the practice continues with antiphonal and liturgical manuscripts and the economics of selling individual pages at modest prices still favors tearing such books apart.
I will write here a bit of bibliophilic heresy (I know brace yourself!) because while I do not condone the practice of breaking these manuscripts or evaluate them on that basis, I do not condemn it either. Many of these manuscripts are incomplete, and single examples (given the large surviving numbers) generally do not have singular importance in terms of what they add to our cultural or historical understanding of the period. Also, in times past, dealers like Otto Ege, who made a controversial practice of dismantling medieval manuscripts and selling the pages individually, also served the interest of scholarship in having some examples (even fragments) dispersed to many universities and a wider audience of students. Therefore, I cannot say today, given the seemingly widespread lack of interest in objects of culture in general, that something is not gained by having individual vellum leaves from such manuscripts grace ordinary living room walls.
Lord Chesterfield’s Letters were not originally intended for publication. Four hundred letters survived his son’s early death in 1768, and thankfully for literature and posterity, were published in 1768 by the son’s widow. The work became famous as a complete education manual of the 18th century, albeit the great Samuel Jonson did deride it for teaching the “”the morals of a whore”
The edition pictured here – the first American- was published in 1789 in Philadelphia. It appears to be a great rarity with only three known copies listed Worldcat and one at the American Antiquarian Society. There are also no records in ABPC or Rare Book Hub or copies at auction in many decades.
It got me to ponder what was the first American published manual of education. That honor probably goes to the New England Primer, a textbook used by students in New England and in other English settlements in North America that was first printed in Boston in 1690. With that said, the famous Primer was religious in nature and followed a tradition of combining the study of the alphabet with Bible reading.
The present volume as an educational work is entirely different and is rightfully a guide to conduct and values in every practical sense. Take the chapter on “Prejudice” which contains valid advice for even our internet age of highly partisan and fake news: “Never adopt the notions of any books you may read, or of any company you may keep, without examining whether they are just or not, or you will otherwise be liable to be hurried away by prejudices, instead of being guided by reason; and quietly cherish error instead of seeking the truth.”
I try to make it a habit of valuing books on this blog and this book presents a particular challenge. It is certainly a pleasing copy in many respects, retaining the original binding with charmingly scratched initials of its early owner. It also has some early handwritten provenance on its paste-downs. Most unfortunately it is missing one leaf, ripped from the text block in the chapter on Lying. Sadly, Chesterfield issues no admonishment or warning of the derived opprobrium for tearing out a page from a book!
A missing page can often be a fatal flaw in the antiquarian book world, but I am informed by Chesterfield to focus on virtues and not flaws. As such, given it charm and rarity, I would still value the work at $1000 at least.
With a specialty in early printed books, we are often sent rare books to evaluate. One learns in life quickly enough (even as a toddler) to be suspicious of what we are told, and this carries through to the rare book trade – especially with regards to boxes, labels, and especially old bookseller descriptions.
This fine folio was handsomely presented in a protective cloth box with a morocco label proudly announcing “Biel Collectorium 1495.” That would make the book an “incunable” – a book printed in the earliest days of printing before 1500. Any book that can rightfully be called an incunable has a certain cachet in the world of rare book collectors and often warrants a high price or premium just for being that old. Indeed, one rarely sees an incunable for less than a few thousand dollars except perhaps in a poor or incomplete state.
It is difficult in this case to place blame for the incorrect identification on the previous owner. Sometimes, attempts are made to deceive or inflate value, but this misidentification might more rightly be based on a reliance old bibliographical records that had recorded this seemingly undated book as being printed in 1495. Even Worldcat.com still lists a copy still with the date.
In fact, we can with a little research quickly discover that this book is referenced by the standard works on early printed books including Adams B1999; Hain-Copinger 3187; ISTC ib00653000. All of them state that the book was printed in Tübingen y Johann Otmar for Friedrich Meynberger, after 23 April 1501.
Well, what is the difference between a book printed in 1501 and one printed in 1499? – a lot actually even if it is only buyer’s psychology. The paper is the same rag paper as they used only two years early and for all intents and purposes little changed in the printing world technologically in those two years to justify any difference in reverence or price. Nevertheless, this is a “post-incunable” and as such it just does not have the added prestige of being officially one of the first printed books that collectors covet. It is disappointingly not a “fifteener” as some old time booksellers used to say.
Further hurting the value of this book is that it is only volumes three & four of a four volume set. Thus despite its handsome and mostly original blind-stamped binding, its attractive printing and rubrication, and it being a work Gabriel Biel, one of the most distinguished theologians of the late Middle Ages, it nevertheless is worth less than $1000 at auction.