Category: Rare Books

December 22, 2013


When traveling and purchasing rare books from estates and libraries, it is impossible sometimes to realize the value of every single book one encounters or even buys.  This is especially true with ephemera that has suffered from the ravages of time, and whose importance can easily be overlooked.  However, that is the fun of research!  The book below was  originally purchased from a house in Virginia whose contents descended in the family for 200 years.

The book languished on my shelf before I finally sat down to examine it.  I initially dismissed it as early music instruction book- and one that was incomplete- the type of work which rarely excites interest or brings any money.  However, as I started researching it through the standard databases such as, I immediately saw how rare it was.   In fact, Worldcat cites no other known copies. Surprisingly, there wasn’t even a copy in the Library of Congress,  which since the 1790 Copyright law,  has served as a repository of deposit copies of all printed works (albeit it is conceivable this was printed in 1790 or even a bit earlier and escaped that legal requirement).

What makes the book fascinating is the author/composer Alexander Reinagle, who was an English-born American composer, organist, and theater musician, but who journeyed in 1786 to try his  fortune as a professional musician in the new United States of America  (see Wikipedia). George Washington was one of his admirers and  Reinagle composed important pieces which were performed on the way to Washington’s inauguration.  In fact, Alexander Reinagle taught George Washington’s step-granddaughter (Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis (March 31, 1779 – July 15, 1852), known as Nelly) to play the pianoforte and he likely used this very book!  During during George Washington’s presidency, Nelly helped entertain guests at the first Presidential Mansion on Cherry Street in New York City, and therefore it is very conceivable that these pieces were among the first pieces of music ever performed for the guests of the President of the United States.

That fascinating history behind this simple, worn book of piano lessons, therefore requires a re-evaluation in terms of its price.   There are condition issues, including a missing last leaf that must be taken into consideration.  Still, this was a very cheaply printed, ephemeral production and it is remarkable that it even survived at all.  Pricing this important piece of American music history, without any comparable examples recorded (let alone sold), is as much art as science.



The Book:

Reinagle, Alexander.  Twenty four short & easy pieces : intended as the first lessons for the piano forte s.d.s.l.;  [Baltimore] : Printed and sold at Carrs music store Baltimore., [between 1790 and 1800].  Oblong 8vo.,  23.5 x 16 cm., first two lvs. detached but present, wanting last leaf with XXIII-IV as indicated on the title and ending on XXII; original string holding pages together, with wear, thumbing, staining as depicted.  Overall, a remarkable survivor in any condition and EXTREMELY RARE- no copies of this Carrs imprint listed in Worldcat with the only similar work being the c. 1806 second set of pieces. The Library of Congress holds only the earlier 1780 London imprint.  THIS IS LIKELY THE ONLY SURVIVING COPY OF A FASCINATING WORK OF EARY AMERICAN MUSIC PUBLISHING.   $3500.00

VI, Allegretto and VII, Allegro  present here are reproduced in Maurice Hinson’s  Music for the Washingtons : a collection of keyboard pieces and songs performed in Philadelphia during the early days of the young republic Belwin Mills, 1988.


posted in: Rare Books

June 16, 2013


Printed 1777:  The earliest instance of a self-compiled catalogue raisonné and a landmark work history of copyright protection.

[FINE PRESS] [HISTORY OF PRINTING][COPYRIGHT LAW] Lorrain, Claude [Laude Gelee] Liber Veritatis; Or, a collection of prints after the original designs of Claude Le Lorrain; in the collection of His Grace the Duke of Devonshire, executed by Richard Earlom… London: Messrs. Boydell and Co., n.d. (dated 1777 in the preface)  Two volumes. Folio: frontispiece, 18 pp.,  100 plates in mezzotint printed in bistre by Earlom after Claude,  frontispiece, 10 pp., 100 plates in mezzotint printed in bistre. 3/4 red morocco and marbled bords, spines richly gilt.   Provenance:  Sir William Eden Bart, his bookplates with laid in gift presentation note from Robert Goff.  Abbey Life 200.     $14,000

A magnificent and unusually clean set of a great work in the history of the book.  Abbey, without exaggeration, describes it as “a capital work, a landmark in the history of reproduction master drawings.” Its compilation was intended to protect Claude from numerous forgeries and imitators, and as such, it is perhaps the earliest instance of a self-compiled catalogue raisonné.  A work of enormous influence that even Turner sought to emulate with his Liber Studiorum, it also ranks as one of the great causes célèbres in the history of copyright protection, vying with Dürer’s challenge to Marcantonio Raimondi’s, Ruben’s privilege applications, and William Hogarth’s lobbying for the first English Copyright Act.  A third volume was eventually published in 1819.





posted in: Rare Books

June 2, 2013

William Duncan’s 1794 New-York directory with the Map intact

[EARLY NEW YORK HISTORY] [EARLY NEW  YORK MAP] [EARLY AMERICAN DIRECTORY] Duncan, William. The New-York directory, and register, for the year 1794. : Illustrated with a new and accurate plan of the city and part of Long-Island, exactly laid down, agreeably, to the latest survey … New-York : Printed for the editor, by T. and J. Swords, no. 167, William-Street., –1794.   Small 8vo., 16 x 10 cm.,  COMPLETE WITH MAP; i.e.  xii, 288 p., [1] leaf of plates: 1 map.  Some small loss to left margin of map as depicted, restorable tear to right margin, some general toning, a few folded corners, map detached. Early marble wraps partially preserved (and remarkably so), wraps detached, text-block without stitching (requires relatively easy resewing through the clean stab-holes present). Ref: Evans 26919.  An EARLY NEW YORK CITY DIRECTORY OF GREAT RARITY, ESPECIALLY IN PRIVATE HANDS.  $12,000

The Map present in this modest, ephemeral, and exceedingly rare directory is of great importance in American cartography.  It was engraved by the well regarded early American engraver Cornelius Tiebout (1777-1832) after John McComb Jr. (1763-1853 ), one of the most important architects of the period.  It was drawn primarily to depict the First Meeting of the Federal Government in New York.  “The federal government under the new United States Constitution first met in Federal Hall (formerly City Hall) in New York City during the spring of 1789. This plan of the city of New York by John McComb (1763–1853) shows the city and environs and indexes many important landmarks, including Federal Hall.” [LOC].  Additionally, according to Evans, “In this directory is given the changes from the early names of the streets.”

There is a wonderful blog post by Philip Sutton on the importance of early directories to researchers, historians and genealogists (in connection with  New York Public Library’s Direct Me NYC 1940 project)  here.

Auction Record:
The only copy actually sold at auction in the last 30 years was in 1986 Swann Galleries  for $650.00 (Thursday, April 3, 1986. lot 292) for an INCOMPLETE copy described as having “good portion of the engraved plan of the City and part of Long Island is lacking, tear at D2; lacks F5 and F6”  Please keep in mind that the copy for sale here is COMPLETE by comparison with the important map intact!


posted in: Rare Books

September 17, 2012


One of the most common questions any rare book dealer receives is  “What is my Old Bible Worth?”

With notable exceptions, most Bibles printed after 1800 in America and after 1700 in Europe are actually not worth very much money.  That is simply a consequence of the fact that so many Bibles were printed as well as the fact that many were treated as important family heirlooms and have therefore survived the ravages of time.

With that said, there are exceptions to the rule for Bibles with unique appeal or characteristics.    For instance,  there are historically interesting Bibles such as the 1858 “Pony Express Bible” that is a coveted artifact of the Old West or the Harper’s Illuminated and New Pictorial Bible (1843- 1846), which was the  most extensively illustrated American book up until its time.  There are also feats of the printer’s art such as the 1800 Giant Macklin Bible Seven-Volume Bible, which is considered among the most impressive Bibles ever printed.

If you have any questions about a Bible you may have (especially any printed before 1800), feel free to send photos to We are happy to offer a free evaluation.

I thought it would be instructive to look at and appraise, in a step-by-step fashion, a Bible that was recently sent to us and which is shown in the photos below.


The book we received was a 1580 copy of the Geneva Bible.  The Geneva Bible is one of the most significant translations of the Bible into English. It was first printed in 1560, a full 51 years before the King James Bible.  It is often referred to as the “Breeches Bible”, because of its translation of Genesis 3:7 (“they sewed figge tree leaves together, and made themselves breeches”).  The Geneva Bible  is  also considered to be the “Bible of the Protestant Reformation” and was naturally the Bible the Puritans held so dear as they stepped off the Mayflower.   The edition here from 1580 is an early edition and increasingly scarce in commerce.

As is often the case with the early Bibles, they are a complicated patchwork of various editions and parts.  This one consists of the following:

[I] The Booke of Common prayer and administration of the Sacraments : and other rites and ceremonies in the Church of England.Imprinted at London : By Christopher Barker …, 1580.  BOUND WITH.. The  Holy Byble.  Publisher: Imprinted at London : By Christopher Barker, printer to the Queenes Maiestie, 1580.  The Newe Testament Of Ovr Lord Iesus Christ Publisher: London: Imprinted by Christopher Barker, 1580.  BOUND WITH… Tvvo right profitable and fruitfull concordances : or large and ample tables alphabeticall. The first containing the interpretation of the Hebrue, Caldean, Greeke, and Latine wordes and names scateringly dispersed throughout the whole Bible: and the second comprehending all such principal vvordes and matters, as concerne the sense and meaning of the Scriptures. The further contents and vse of both the which tables, (for breuitie sake) is expressed more at large in the preface to the reader. Collected by R.F.H.Publisher: Imprinted at London : by Christopher Barker, printer to the Queenes Maiestie. Cum priuilegio Regiæ Maiestatis, [1580] BOUND WITH… Thomas Sternhold; John Hopkins; William Whittingham.  The whole boke of psalmes. Publisher: At London : Printed by Iohn Daye, dwelling ouer Aldersgate, 1580.


Perhaps the first thing to consider in an appraisal, after the identification of the Bible and an assessment of its historical importance, is its completeness. Sadly, in the case of this particular Bible, it is NOT complete.  The first part bound, the Booke of Common Prayer,  is just a fragment.  The title page of the Old Testament is missing and has been replaced by a modern facsimile.  Finally, the Book is Psalms is also severely incomplete.   This certainly affects the value significantly as there is a very wide price disparity between complete copies and incomplete ones (especially when important pages are missing such as a title page).  As to the condition, when it comes to early bibles, as they were heavily used and often printed on inexpensive paper stock, one must be somewhat forgiving of the general browning and occasional stains found in the present example.


A full original binding (i.e.’ contemporary’ or period) is certainly the most desirable.   This Bible retains enough of the original English paneled calf (likely 17th century) to at least have that wonderful immediate impression of historical authenticity.  With that said, it has been re-backed, i.e. the spine is a period-style, but modern spine.   The paste-downs and the flyleaves are marbled paper and a bit anachronistic for a 16th century Bible.


Occasionally it is possible to find signatures or genealogical records that can tie a specific Bible with an important previous owner or prominent family. It would be lovely to find a copy of a Bible owned by Byron, for example.  In this example, we only have one early owner’s signature to the verso of the last leaf of the Book of Common Prayer: an “Edw. Shopard (likely Shepard) ” in a handsome 17th century calligraphic script.  While there is an early Puritan settler by that name, it is too common a name of the period to ascribe to any particular individual with any confidence.  So, insofar as we are concerned with this Bible, there is little provenance that can add to its value.


We might next turn to internet to look for similar examples.  With Bibles, this can be a treacherous starting point.  Often on the internet, it is possible to find similar Bibles quoted at very high sums.  These are often marketed to buyers that are not sophisticated book collectors, but perhaps just  people who want to own a nice old Bible and are not familiar with the market.   As an enthusiast of early printing, I must say that while I think early Bibles are grossly undervalued when compared to other collectibles, it is still possible to buy them at numerous regular book auctions and often at  surprisingly modest prices. Therefore, when looking for an accurate appraisal, most serious dealers turn to the auction records as a benchmark.

In the American Book Prices Database, it is easy to find a similar example of this Bible that sold in 2010 for approx. $475.  While the flaws are not identical, they are comparable. One should note that the Bible at auction likely possessed a more attractive binding than the present copy as it is described as having “blind-tooled calf with metal fittings”, which can be very handsome.

The auction record for a similar copy:
Bible in English – [New Testament Geneva-Tomson].  L: Christopher Barker, 1580 – Bound with The Sternhold Whole Booke of Psalmes, 1580. – 8vo, – contemp blind-tooled calf with metal fittings – worming to lower cover, rebacked, upper joint split – Bible lacking 1st title & all before E2; a few short tears with loss; 1 leaf def. Psalmes lacking c.25 leaves & with soiling & dampstaining – Bonhams, Oct 12, 2010, lot 206, £300 ($477) – STC 2129; Herbert 164

It is therefore not unreasonable to conclude that the present Bible at auction would command something on the order of $400.   That seems like a rather paltry some for such an interesting and early Bible.   I must agree that indeed it is!   If the general public were more appreciative of the wonder of holding a 16th century Bible in one’s hands, perhaps prices would be higher and booksellers would be happier 😉






posted in: Rare Books

April 7, 2012

The First Major Account of Discoveries and Invention in the NEW WORLD

PRINTED 1646:  2 VOLS in 1:   “The history of many memorable things lost”

The Book:

[SCIENTIFIC INVENTION] [THE NEW WORLD] [EARLY ENCYCLOPEDIA] Pancirolli, Guido ;  Salmuth, Heinrich];  Guidonis Pancirolli rerum memorabilium sive deperditarum pars prior[-liber secundus] : commentarijs illustrata, et locis prope innumeris postremum aucta, Publisher: Francofurti : sumptibus Godefridi Schonwetteri, 1646.   The title-page is engraved.Title of v.2 reads: Nova reperta sive rerum memorabilium recens inventarum, & veteribus plane incognitarum … liber secundus. The second part completed by Heinrich Salmuth. 2 vols in 1.  COMPLETE. 2 vols in 1.  Small 4to, 21 cm.   Contemporary vellum with yapp edges, some chaffing to inner front board, small hoel to blank flyleaf, minor upper inner marginal stain to first few leaves, t.p. lightly browned, some light browning throughout,  last few leaves with some wear to l.r. margins.  Overall an attractive copy that contains the often missing second volume on the New World. [SOLD]

Guido Panciroli of Reggio, was a professor of law at Padua and a scholar with immense antiquarian interests.  This treatise, which was translated into Latin with copious annotations by Henry Salmuth, is considered the second most important book on “inventions” and the first to really touch upon the new world in any detail.  It follows in the footsteps of  the Italian humanist Polydore Vergil (1470-1555) whose popular and oft-reprinted work, On Discovery (De inventoribus rerum, 1499), was the first comprehensive account of discoveries and inventions written since antiquity.  Here Panciroli and Salmuth treat many diverse subjects, including the New World  (“De Novo Orbe”- Panciroli was in fact one of the first to use the term new world), alchemy, spectacles, tournaments, clocks, porcelain, falconry, as well as many particulars including  “[Indian] knives made of stone, pictures made of bird feathers, and the famous Benzoar stone- that universal antidote for any poison.


posted in: Rare Books