January 6, 2016
Rare Book Appraisal – a “16th century” Book
This “1550” edition of the works of Machiavelli is one that I have been asked to value many times over the years. Early editions of Machiavelli can be quite valuable and few Renaissance figures evoke such imagination in the modern popular mind as the author of the great Prince.
What is particularly interesting about this edition is that it was issued with a false date. Despite the 1550 prominently printed on its title pages, it was in fact printed in the mid 17th century. Machiavelli’s works were subject to a papal ban in 1559 and the pre-dated publication (nine years early) was clearly an attempt to evade the famous Index of Prohibited books and the sanctions on publisher’s, booksellers, and even owners. Geneva became the unofficial capital of the Protestant movement and a hotbed of false imprints often intended to smuggle prohibited books into Catholic areas, so it is no surprise it was printed there.
So, what is a 17th century edition of Machiavelli worth? Well, a 1640 first ENGLISH edition just sold in 2015 for $43,000 at a rare book auction in New York, but that is a different kettle of fish as the English edition is a great rarity. However, this “1550” Testina edition (as it is popularly called after the head portrait) is considerably more common and affordable. Auction records (available through the American Book Auction Records Database– or ABPC), support a price of around $1000 for a copy in contemporary vellum and perhaps a retail copy might not unreasonably fetch $1500 or so.
In the 1640 translation, Edward Dacres, as justification for his labors, stated that “This book carryes its poyson and malice in it; yet mee thinks the judicious peruser may honestly make use of it in the actions of his life, with advantage.” $1000 for the Testina edition of this remarkable work with a fascinating publishing history does not seem like a very Princely sum and it might be added that the judicious collector may honestly make use of it.
Macchiavelli (Niccolo) Tutte le Opere, Geneva, Pietro Alberto, 1550. Five parts in one vol. 4to. 9 x 7″ TESTINA EDITION with the eponymous woodcut head and shoulders portrait of Machiavelli on each title. Contemporary vellum over paste-boards and app edges, small loss of vellum to spine. Effaced early ink ownership inscriptions to general title of R.D. Lecky etc. Internally, some light toning or foxing, but generally a handsome edition. Stated 1550 on t.p., but ascribed by bibliographers (with various precedent in Gamba) to 17th century a false and earlier imprint of 1550 intended to evade the Index Librorum Prohibitorum- papal ban of Michiavelli’s works in 1559.