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