October 24, 2018
What is my Historical Document Worth? – Vellum Manuscript
Sometimes, given the name of the site – “Rare Book Buyer”- I am asked if I only buy rare books.
While that is a focus of course, I also buy historical manuscripts, early autographs, and other documents. Except at the highest end of the market for the flashiest names, interesting historical documents can often fall below the radar and are not as appreciated as they should be. Recently, I bought a small collection from a fine gentleman collector in Florida – the type of old school erudite man who bought for the love of research and learning and not to profit.
It is easy to sell Alexander Hamilton and George Washington letters. There are a many fine auction houses who will happily evaluate them and take them on favorable selling terms. However, it is the low to the middle range of the market that is really struggling. The manuscripts can be hard to read and many, written on vellum, can be cumbersome to display. Their market is often small and the joy of deciphering and studying them is not rewarded financially when they are sold.
When I evaluate manuscript these days, I have to keep that in mind. It is amazing how affordable interesting documents are that give great insight into history.
One of the manuscripts in the aforementioned collection was the handsome specimen below. Just look at the superb minuscule hand and imagine how much time it took a scribe to write out in 1603. The manuscript is addressed to to King Phillip III of Spain, who historians have called a ‘undistinguished and insignificant man,’ a ‘miserable monarch,’ whose ‘only virtue appeared to reside in a total absence of vice.” Nevertheless, Philip’s reign remains a critical period in Spanish history.
So what is a manuscript by Francisco Ruiz de Castro, a Spanish nobleman, to the King worth? Generally, these type of documents might get $200 or but perhaps, as an unusually fine specimen of penmanship, this one might get more appropriately in the $300-350 range.
KING PHILIP III and DON FRANCISCO RUIZ DE CASTRO. Vellum manuscript in Latin, approx 15×25.5 inches, 15 lines of beautiful calligraphy. Very good condition with minor holes on the folds not affecting the text. Had a seal attached at one time with a silk ribbon of red and yellow, the colors of the Spanish flag, which is still attached. Document signed in good faith by Don Francisco Ruiz, Viceroy of Naples for the great King and Catholic Mjeesty in the King’s Palace, Naples, 12 March 1603. Although untranslated it is evident that this is a political and historical document. In the text there is a “Count of Lemos” identified with the date 12 April 1601. Don Francisco Ruis de Castro was the 8th Count of Lemos and became Viceroy of Naples in 1601. (12 April?). He left Naples 12 April 1603, no longer Viceroy, exactly one month after this manuscript was written. Numerous people are mentioned in the manuscript including many members of the Pignatelli family, a noble Renaisance family from Calabria, near Naples. Especially Giulio Pignatelli, 1587-1658, Marquis of Cerchiana, a town near Naples and the Marquis of Briatico, Zenobio Pignatelli another town in Calibria.