Category: 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.


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

December 31, 2014




Occasionally we are offered an “incunable, or a book that that was printed— not handwritten —before the year 1501 in Europe. Incunabula (in plural) are not as rare in commerce as one would suppose — at least as a group — even if specific individual titles or editions can be exceptionally rare.  The printing press was such a success that its development spread throughout Europe with incredible speed and entrepreneurs quickly opened establishments to turn out these technological marvels. A commonly used referred work, The Incunabula Short-Title Catalogue, records at least 28,000 15th century editions.

It is natural to think a book from the 15th century would be worth a fortune, and this is especially understandable when one holds in their hands such a remarkable object. Unfortunately, this is often not the case and like other books, incunabula tend to have auction records that help establish a clear picture of their market value.

It is beyond the scope of this short post to review all the factors that can influence the value of an incunable from the binding, the work and edition, the illumination or rubrication (painting to make it look like a manuscript), rarity, and importance etc.

By way of example, however, I can illustrate how I evaluated a recent incunable we were offered (and purchased). To start with, here are some photos of the book:





First,  we can identify the book from both the “incipit” (the opening words of a text, manuscript, early printed book) and the “colophon” (often the last paragraph which gives info on the publisher, place, and date of publication).  From this we quickly learn that we have here a copy of Johannes Reuchlin’s  Vocabulari[us] breuiloqu[us] cu[m] arte.  This is a well known, and not particularly rare work of the 15th century.  However, Reuchlin‘s popular dictionary opened the door to German humanism, by providing the linguistic key to a study of the Latin classics. This edition was printed by Georg Husner on  25 August, 1495 in Strassburg, Germany.

Next we check the work’s “collation” or page count- to make sure all the pages are there.  A work that is incomplete — lacking even a single page — can often really hurt its value.  Checking the collation takes time and requires some familiarity with basic bibliographical references, notations, and the way an early book was printed. This copy, save for a blank leaf,  is thankfully complete.

After that,  we look at the binding.  Books can be rebound over the centuries and original bindings do not always escape the ravages of time.  We are fortunate here as well that this copy has retained the original binding, which is known as an “Augsburg binding”, with attractive rosettes and leaf ornaments stamped into the pigskin in “blind”. Those ornaments can be seen close-up in the second photo above.

A search of the auction records reveals a few recent copies that have sold, but one in particular which is comparable to our copy above, was auctioned at Christie’s New York, Apr 23, 2001, lot 106, for $8,000.  Naturally, an auction is a battle of buyers and sellers — and many times only one buyer and one seller pitted against each other.  Results, like the romantic glance of a first encounter with someone, cannot always be duplicated on a second occasion.   Therefore, while the auction records are a good guide, they still require a certain knowledge and connoisseurship to be properly used for evaluating another example.  In this case, however, and despite the copy at auction having come from the prestigious Helmut Friedlaender collection, $8000 is not an unreasonable evaluation (weighing the passage of time since that sale and looking at the condition of other copies that have sold for less).

Next we look to see if there are any distinguishing characteristics of this book — and there are!  In fact, they are quite fascinating.  In this copy, there is an  early manuscript on the inner rear board (in an early or near contemporary to the period German hand).  After some careful study this is revealed to be a sort of  code or at least a medieval word-game.  Specifically, it is acrostic poem with the columns spelling the first letters of the  Hail Mary — “Ave Maria,gratia plena, Dominus tecum.”    This can be seen in the photos below if one carefully reads the vertical column which spells out the latin letters  “A … V … E … M … A .. R .. I … E …” etc.  The owner of the work hundred of years ago used each letter as the start of a line of poetry.

One of the reasons  that this secret AVE MARIA “acrostic” (as it is called) is so interesting is it is a  formative example of early ciphers.  In other words, this word play (and the Ave Maria form in particular) started as fun (and maybe out of religious reverence) in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but then someone said  “Hey — why don’t I use this type of code for writing secret messages?” Cryptography was born.



We are still left with coming up with a final value to place on the book, given this interesting and unique manuscript on the inner rear board.  In my estimation, it certainly adds a couple thousand dollars to the value of an identical edition without it as it is a rare surviving example of an acrostic and an intellectually exciting find.

Pricing books is an art and not a science — and when the book is unique as in the case here — even experienced dealers can underprice books as often as they overprice them.  The market quickly decides with the underpriced ones snatched off the shelves and the overpriced ones left to linger to collect dust and booksellers’ frustrations. Here, I have priced the book (given all the factors above) at $9500.











posted in: RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Books

July 12, 2014


Sometimes, we are fortunate to buy a truly amazing historical artifact .   This checkbook , which dates from the 1790s, was recently discovered at the bottom of a  trunk of personal papers that had descended in a NJ family.   Research indicates that it is the oldest surviving American Checkbook from the Bank of New York, the oldest bank in the United  States  (established in 1784 by the American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton).   One check is even made out to Hamilton for legal services!   In a new digital age, when checkbooks are quickly becoming part of a bygone era,  it is an evocative object of early American banking and, with its yet unwritten checks, of raw New York capitalism in particular.


[OLDEST SURVIVING AMERICAN CHECK BOOK] BANK OF NEW YORK.  NY, 179[-], some check stubs dated 1796  Folio. 38 x 24 cm.  [1 blank] [38 stubs] [82 unused pages of 3 check each; i.e. 246 unused checks] [1 leaf partially excised] [5 blank stubs] [1 blank].   Of the relatively used stubs one is particularly interesting and made out Alexander Hamilton (and James Kent) for legal services; another is for the purchase of land on Broad Street (possibly where the NY Stock Exchange sits).  Exceedingly Rare: while individual cancelled checks from the period survive (and are scarce by themselves), I been unable to trace another example of a full surviving check book from the period.  [Ref:  Domett, Henry W.  A history of the Bank of New York, 1784-1884. Putman, NY 1884]. [Price on Request] Provenance: From multiple appearances of Robt. Boyd on the used stubs-  Robert Boyd, sheriff of New York from 9 September 1787 to 29 September 1791.  Boyd helped organize Washington’s inauguration and “rode alone in state on horseback” during the procession. He erected the Iron and Scythe Works, one mile below Newburgh and inherited the estate of his Uncle Samuel. Binding: 18th century marbled paper over paste-boards and quarter calf. Despite loss to spine and the text-block being broken with some leaves detached, generally, in remarkable condition in its original unsophisticated binding.   WeBuyOldBooks_OldestAmericanCheckbook1 WeBuyOldBooks_OldestAmericanCheckbook2 WeBuyOldBooks_OldestAmericanCheckbook3 WeBuyOldBooks_OldestAmericanCheckbook4

posted in: Rare Books

April 18, 2014


How does one price a rare book when there are no comparable records of its sale?

As an example, I recently purchased a copy of Galeazzi’s important 18th century music treatise which includes a fascinating section on how to play the violin. A quick review of sale records in two modern databases- the ABPC database and AmericanaExchange, show that no copies have hit the auction block in over 30 years at least. Comparable values in those two databases often set the benchmark for many prices today. Going further back into the printed book prices current catalogs, also does not reveal any copies- at least as far back as 1965 when my references give out.

The next step then is to ascertain it rarity. Reviewing OCLC (through WorldCat) and entering into the actual library catalogs to verify holdings, indicates about 10 known Institutional copies. This is a reasonably small number, albeit we may presume as an Italian work, there are copies in Italian libraries which have not yet been accounted for in OCLC. Of course, we also do not know how many copies are in private hands.

So, how does one place a value on such a book then? The truth is that it relies a bit on connoisseurship coupled with a reasonable understanding of the market for the book. Some books are rare, but the buyers are rarer. Here, however, we have not only what is essentially Italy’s last truly valuable contribution to music theory, but there is a strong market for antiquarian music books in general and violin books in particular.

While it is impossible to know what such a book would command in an auction, as ‘expert’ estimates are often inaccurate, I would reasonably place a retail price of $5000 on the set.

The true test of the market and my evaluation will be whether it actually sells for that!

[Violin — Instruction and study] [18th century Music Theory] Galeazzi, Francesco, 1758-1819. Elementi teorico-pratici di musica con un saggio sopra l’arte di suonare il violino : analizzata, ed a dimostrabili principi ridotta, opera utilissima a chiunque vuol applicare con profitto alla musica / di Francesco Galeazzi torinese. Published:In Roma :, In Roma : Nella stamperia Pilucchi Cracas, Nella stamperia di Michele Puccinelli …, 1791-1796. 2 vols. 8vo. 21.5 cm x 14cm. COMPLETE. vol. 1: 252 p., 11 folded leaves of plates; vol. 2: viii, xxvi, 327 p., 8 folded leaves of plates (2 more plates in vol.1 than other listed collations),, minor plate repairs. Errata lists: v.1, p. 323-327; v. 2, p. 251-252 Binding: Italian c. 1900 three-quarter vellum and floral patterned boards, some soiling, calf and gilt spine labels with wear. Signed ‘G. Jacobini’ in an early hand to half-title, later 1931 gift inscription to first renewed blank. Internally, some foxing and toning, but a handsome uncut copy with broad margins. Very Rare in commerce with no copies appearing in ABPC for over 30 years. Deborah Burton and Gregory W. Harwood in the introduction to the reprint of the second volume in 2012, refer to Galeazzi’s work as “a foundational treatise in music theory…In 1791 he published the two volumes of his Elementi teorico-practici di musica, a treatise that demonstrated both his thorough grounding in the work of earlier theorists and his own approach to musical study. The first volume gave precise instructions on the violin and how to play it; the second demonstrated his command of other instruments and genres and provided comprehensive introductions to music theory, music history, and music aesthetics. The treatise also addresses the nature of compositional process and eighteenth-century concerns about natural and acquired talent and creativity.” [Ref: Burton and Harwood]


posted in: RARE BOOK APPRAISAL, Rare Books

April 7, 2014



Osorio da Fonseca, Jeronimo, 1506-80. Hieronymi Osorii de gloria libri V. Florence, Laurence Torrentinus, 1552…Bound with.. . De Nobilitate civili, libri duo…. – Florence, Laurence Torrentinus, 1552. 2 vols. in 1; 8vo., 22.5 x 15 cm. Contemporary calf gilt, covers with double fillet and fleurs-de-lys corner pieces enclosing a cartouche with the badge of Robert Dudley, a bear chained to a ragged staff with a crescent for difference with his initials ‘R D’. Remarkably, unrestored with wear to boards and corners, hinges very weak or partially separated; internally some light marginal damp staining. While not unrecorded, the binding has not resurfaced since it was sold at Sotheby’s Monday, April 11th, 1932. Ref: BMC of Italian Books p. 478.

The lower title page bears the interesting 1608 Scottish English verse: “In all ye varld is na mair ado || bot sawll to kepe and honor to luik to” (In all the world [there] is no more necessary but [your] soul to kepe and honour to look to [ie. make sure you keep an eye on]), signed by Sir Patrick Home of Polwarth (1550-1609) the courtier and poet, as in the Flyting of Montgomerie and Polwarth. The facing inscription attests that this book was bought in London by him in 1608.

Lord Robert Dudley, the English nobleman and the favourite and close friend of Elizabeth was one of the first Englishmen, after Thomas Wotton, to commission gold-tooled bindings. An inventory at the dispersal of his possessions after his death in 1588, shortly after his crucial preparations to repel the Spanish Armada, records 232 books – of which 80 have survived in institutional collections. In commerce, Robert Dudley bindings are exceedingly uncommon.

Jerónimo Osório (1514-80) was the best known Portuguese writer of the period in England and his works were practically required reading for Elizabethan statesmen. “De Gloria and its companions … deal with the role of the leader in society from a Catholic and anti-Machiavellian perspective. Their first great English admirer was Roger Ascham, at the time Queen Mary’s Latin secretary, who thought De Nobilitate…might have been written with Cardinal Pole in mind. He had probably seen a copy of the Florentine edition of 1552, which was brought to England by two of Osório’s friends when they were sent there by Pope Julius III to congratulate Philip of Spain on his marriage to the English queen. [Ref:] The work was translated by William Blandie into English in 1576: The fiue bookes of the famous, learned, and eloquent man, Hieronimus Osorius, contayninge a discourse of ciuill, and Christian nobilitie.


In all, a splendid pairing of remarkable provenance, a beautiful binding with a highly influential work that helped shape the Elizabethan mindset. [SOLD]

posted in: Rare Books