Category: Rare Book Auction Value

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.

 

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posted in: RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Book Auction Value, Rare Colored Plate Book

August 26, 2017

Rare Book Auction Prices vs. Retail Prices

I am often asked “What is this antique book worth?”   The adage that “something is worth what someone will pay” is not a satisfactory or helpful answer.   In the antiquarian book world, when giving a professional opinion of value, it is often helpful to consult actual action records in the databases for comparable copies that have sold, as well as other retail copies on the market (primarily through collectible and out of print book search engines like Abebooks.com).  It is also particularly important to assess the actual copy of the work at hand to look for any distinguishing characteristics that can increase the value such as provenance, binding, condition etc.

Here is a copy of a work I was recently asked to evaluate.  The book is an 1810 copy of Henry Fuseli’s Lectures of Paintings.   Fuseli’s style had a considerable influence on many younger British artists, most importantly William Blake.

When examining the auction records, one can easily find that a copy sold at Bloomsbury Auctions  in London 2013 for 69 GBP.  Certainly that can be used as a benchmark evaluation for the book since that is an actual sales price.  Perhaps if this copy went into auction, it would receive only scant attention from buyers and a cursory examination,  and achieve a similar price.

Nevertheless, the book appears increasingly scarce in commerce.  There are no copies at present listed on the major book search engines for purchase at the touch of a button.  This gives one, as they say in retail,  some pricing power (at least some limited pricing power as it assumes demand).

What is lovely about this book is that there is an  engraved vignette at end (“Ancora imparo: Mr Angelo Bonarroti”) by Blake.  This engraving directly  links two of the world’s greatest artists:  Blake and  Michelangelo. In a Blake Dictionary, S. Foster Damon writes that  “Michelangelo was to Blake’s painting what Milton was to Blake’s poetry.”   To a buyer that may be unfamiliar with Fuseli’s book,  the possibility to own an original Blake engraving at modest cost – and one that depicts his own  interpretation of the image of Michelangelo-  certainly raises interest in the book.

Additionally, this copy features a rather fascinating  “CLD”  in gilt on the black morocco spine (in attractive contract with the earthy pebbled marbled papers).  The CLD ares the initials of  Caroline Lucy Scott, Lady Scott (1784–1857), the Scottish novelist.   A known 18th century woman writer’s provenance is quite interesting, and I don’t recall seeing a similar placement of initials or a monogram on the side of a spine of a book,  perhaps a parallel to the way a monogram might be placed on the clasp of a diary.   It makes a delightful example of a bookbinding and personal ownership and that certainly raises the value in my eyes.

It would therefore not be inappropriate, given its scarcity in commerce and the attractiveness of this particular example, to put a price of $450 on it.  Whether someone will pay that is, as always, another story.

 

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posted in: RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Book Auction Value, Rare book auctions, sell rare books, selling rare books, We buy Rare Books

February 18, 2017

Value of an Old Vellum Manuscript

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.

 

 

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posted in: Handwritten Document Value, NYC Rare Book Dealer, NYC Rare Books, Old Manuscript Value, RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Book Auction Value, Rare book auctions, sell rare books, selling rare books, We Buy Manuscripts, We buy old books, We buy Rare Books

September 4, 2016

Value of a ‘Dust Jacket’ on a Rare First Edition

As a rare book dealer, I get calls on a weekly basis to provide valuations of first editions. These requests usually involves some household names of authors of the 20th century from Faulkner to Hemingway and Steinbeck to Fitzgerald.  One of the first questions that comes up is “does the book have the dust jacket?”  This often leads to great disappointment as it is difficult for someone not familiar with the antiquarian and rare book market to fully appreciate the value of a dust jacket on a literary first edition.   Once can see a copy of a particular first edition online for $20,000 and it can be incomprehensible how merely missing a piece of paper wrapper can reduce its value to a few hundred.

I won’t get involved in this brief post as to why dust jackets are so valuable. Suffice it to say, they can both be extremely rare given their ephemeral nature and beautiful as icons of graphic art.   Here, I would rather focus on an early type of “dust jacket.”   The earliest-known book dust wrapper dates from 1829 and was intended to protect a finely-bound gift book entitled Friendship’s Offering.  You can read about that Bodleian treasure here.    The dust jacket was therefore born as a simple protective wrapper and only later evolved into works of art and tools of marketing.  Oftentimes, the earliest jackets were used to protect expensive volumes bound in fine materials such as leather or silk.

The book below is not one of those finely bound volumes but a rather inexpensively produced and issued American imprint.  Specifically, it is a 1814 Boston edition (a first American edition) of “Some Details concerning General Moreau”, the French general who helped Napoleon to power, but later as a rival was banished to the United States and whose abode near Trenton eventually became the refuge of many political exiles.   Nevertheless, despite this rich history and actually being a scarce imprint in commerce, the book itself is not particularly valuable if one takes values in the auction databases as a gauge. In fact, I bought it in a lot myself at the very modest price of $20 from an antique dealer at the fun DCFlea.

One can notice in the photo a sort of dust jacket on the book that is almost contemporary with the date of publication.  That does not make it the earliest such jacket as I would have to make the reasonable assumption that this was not a wrapper issued by the publisher but rather placed on for protection slightly later by a reference library in Bath Maine of the American Colonization Society.   The book is inscribed by Jonathan Hyde who was one of the society’s earliest members.  Most interestingly,  the American Colonization Society promoted the relocation of free blacks to West Africa and transported 12,000 blacks to Liberia.

So, in keeping with the theme of this blog, I do try to place a monetary value on the work and give some indication of how I arrived at a figure.  Despite it being a relatively early American imprint of French history,  it probably would not have a market value of anything more then $100 or so.  Still, with the added value of the early paper wrappers as well as its provenance and historical connection to free blacks, it has broader appeal both as a bibliographical curiosity and to the African-Americana collectors.  As such, I would place a fair value more likely in the $400 range.

Monetary value aside it, it is a wonderful example of how by unfolding the story of a simple unnoticed paper jacket, history itself unfolds.

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posted in: First Edition Appraisal, RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Book Auction Value, Rare book auctions, Rare Books, sell rare books, selling rare books, Uncategorized, Value First Edition, We Buy Manuscripts, We buy old books, We buy Rare Books

June 24, 2016

Value of an Incunable – What’s the Real Biel?

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.

 

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posted in: NYC Rare Book Dealer, NYC Rare Books, RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Book Auction Value, selling rare books, We Buy Manuscripts, We buy Rare Books