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.
The rare book gallery is closed this week because of Covid-19 shutdowns, so I will discuss at home the ultimate “Homeschooling” book – a 1579 copy of Roger Ascham’s “The Scholemaster.” He was the tutor of the young Princess – and future Queen Elizabeth I. I’ll value this rare book and discuss its importance as an early work of progressive instruction. Additionally, the author was an early proponent of female education. So, if you have Zoom classes and remote learning going on for the kids right now, you might as well throw in some Royal education.
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.
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.
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.