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Rare Book Buyer: We Buy Old and Rare Books bio picture

We Buy Old and Rare Books and Entire Libraries

This is the blog for our site We are always interested in buying old and rare books nationwide. With limitations (due to the number of emails we receive),  even if your books are not for us, we will try our best to offer quick evaluations (not legal appraisals) as well as some places that you might
explore selling them.  

Feel free to email us at, use the contact tab above, or call 646-469-1851.   Digital photos are VERY helpful.   We are located  (by appointment only)  at 1510 Lexington Ave 9G NY, NY 10029 

This blog will be also be a running log of some interesting rare book purchases we have made and books we have handled.  This way, over time, we can keep a slightly more permanent public record of them.   Internet descriptions are so fleeting and generally when a book is sold, the catalogue description these days is quickly taken down and made unavailable to scholars and other book collectors doing  research.

Secondly, as the main purpose of our site is to purchase old and rare books, we also hope that this blog will indicate by example what type of material we do purchase.   Don't be afraid to write us if your books are not as old or as important looking as the books on this blog!  Not all rare and valuable books appear rare and valuable and age alone is not the determining factor. 

We Buy Americana – Free Rare Book Appraisals- Early American Binding


We recently bought a set of Matthew Henry’s well-known six-volume Exposition of the Old and New Testaments which provides an exhaustive verse by verse study of the Bible.  This is a relatively common work of the 18th century, and due to its its bulkiness and subject matter, doesn’t tend to hold much appeal for collectors.  A set can reasonably be obtained for a modest few hundred dollars.

So, why did we buy it?

What makes this particular set fascinating, and which shows there are plenty of discoveries to be made in old books, are the pages that were pasted as publisher’s waste inside the book.  Paper was expensive and bookbinders were loath to throw our scraps that could be re-used as binding material.   Many important discoveries are made from “binder’s waste” – even fragments of the Gutenberg Bible and otherwise lost manuscripts.

Here is a full description off our set that highlights the interesting leaves pasted-in.

Matthew Henry. An exposition on the Old and New Testament : In five volumes. … Wherein each chapter is summed up in its contents ; the sacred text inserted at large in distinct paragraphs ; each paragraph reduced to its proper heads ; the sense given, and largely illustrated: with practical remarks and observations. By Matthew Henry, late minister of the Gospel.  London : Printed for John and Paul Knapton in Ludgate-street, Thomas Cox under the Royal-Exchange ; Richard Ford and Richard Hett both in the Poultry, Aaron Ward in Little-Britain, and Thomas Longman in Pater Noster Row, 1737. [i.e. 1737-1738].   Five Folios, 40 x 26.5 cm., internally some toning, foxing and intermittent stains, Kings II in vol. I lacking some pages at rear, toning and discoloration to paste-downs with some cracking to boards and splitting of sheets,  t.p. of Vol. III pasted at a later date over a Roger and Fowle publishing sheet, corner to Vol. 1 of first signatures cut without loss and some singeing.  Bindings with general scuffing and discoloration, some chipping, and peeling to head of spine of Vol. 2.


The nine paste-downs (more formally ten, but one is obscured at a later date) comprise repeated sheets of the first signature from a run of  “A letter from William Shirley, Esq; governor of Massachusetts-Bay, to His Grace the Duke of Newcastle : with a journal of the siege of Louisbourg, and other operations of the forces, during the expedition against the French settlements on Cape-Breton; drawn up at the desire of the Council and House of Representatives of the province of Massachusetts-Bay; approved and attested by Sir William Pepperrell, and the other principal officers who commanded in the said expedition. Published by authority.  [Boston] : London: printed 1746. Boston: re-printed by Rogers and Fowle, for Joshua Blanchard, at the Bible and Crown in Dock-Square, 1746.   Ref: Evans 5863

Shirley’s letter is one of the most important contemporary accounts of the French and Indian Wars, specifically King George’s War.  It was the first important English victory in America, when a New England colonial force, aided by a British fleet captured Louisbourg (present-day Cape Breton Island). “A provincial army under William Pepperell sailed from Boston on March 24, 1745, & was joined by a British fleet under Commodore Warren. Louisbourg surrendered on June 15—The diary spans March 24-June 17.” [Goodspeed Cat. 549, 1968]

This set is of particular American bibliographical importance.  Uncut sheets of the Boston printing could only conceivably have been available to the Rogers and Fowle or, possibly, the bookseller Joshua Blanchard with whom they corroborated.  Blanchard is recorded  by Isaiah Thomas in 1810 as “as a dealer in English editions, in stationery, &c., but finally he confined his trade solely to English goods.”  It is quite likely that Blanchard imported from London the unbound sheets of Carey‘s highly regarded Exposition and then had Rogers and Fowle bind them for a customer.  The bindings are almost certainly American; the leather is more coarse than typical English bindings and the boards have internal crude stitching under the paste-downs which one sees in  early American tree bark bindings, but generally not in their more refined English counterparts.

Evidence that ties these bookbindings to Rogers and Fowle is of particular interest as there is scant surviving information about their workshop.  Sometime prior to 1752 (and likely in the 1740s after this Shirley tract was issued), Isaiah Thomas  (who was earlier indentured as an apprentice to  Boston printer, Zachariah Fowle, where he learned his trade.) indicates that Gamaliel Rogers and Daniel Fowle printed “an edition of about two thousand copies of the New Testament, 12mo., for D. Henchman, and two or three other principal booksellers.” This would have been the first printing of the New Testament in America, but no copies have survived, and modern scholarship takes the unsurprising view that Thomas was mistaken in his claim.  Needless to say, if Rogers and Fowle indeed bound this large set of commentaries, as evidence suggests,  it would indicate a larger and more sophisticated workshop than previously supposed, and certainly one capable of undertaking a substantial printing run, by Colonial standards, of the  famous bibliographical ghost-printing of the NT.

Overall, this set is is interesting from many angles including the influence of Henry’s Exposition in the Colonies, with parallels to the extensive commentaries and writings of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards.  It is also a fine example of the English-American book-trade, when it was illegal for any printer in the Colonies to produce the English Bible, and the import trade flourished.  Most importantly, it may shed important light on the operations of one of Boston’s early and important printing establishments.

So, what is the set worth?

As I said, if this was just a regular set, it would not be an easy set to sell and may well only command $250 or so – despite being an impressive undertaking that no doubt took countless hours of toil and sweat in the 18th century to produce.

If we had the complete tract of 31 pages of this very rare Boston printing of the Shirley’s famous Letter, it might reasonably command $4000-6000 at auction.  However, we only have several interesting uncut sheets from that printing – not the complete work.   The sheets are of great rarity, but the market for them is highly specialized and narrow.  It is one of those cases of rare books, but rarer buyers.  Still, they are a worthy addition to many University libraries and would be of interest to scholars.  As such, we have priced them at $1800.









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.












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


As a specialized dealer, when offering free appraisals for rare books or when making offers to purchase, I am often confronted by questions such as “should I sell these book at auction” or “should I just list the book myself on eBay?   These are perfectly legitimate questions of course.   If one is selling a rare books, naturally one wants to obtain the highest possible price.

While it is impossible to make too generalized statements about dealer prices vs. eBay or auctions houses, I can at least present an illustrative example.

We recently purchased a rare first edition of Johnson’s A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most Notorious Pyrates- a classic of 18th century Pirate literature.   As part of our interest in taking advantage of all avenues of sale, we decided to test the market on eBay and see what the set would sell for and how that would have compared with what what we would have priced it at ourselves (a retail price) as well as what other copies have achieved at real world auctions houses.

So, first let’s start with a description of the book:


A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, and also Their Policies, Discipline, and Government [-A History of the Pyrates]. London: C. Rivington / T. Woodward, 1724-[26]. 2 volumes. 8vo., 190 x 125 mm, [xxii], 17-320; [xiv], 1-[416] pp. 3 engraved plates inc. “Blackbeard the Pirate” IN CONTEMPORARY COLOR (possibly inserted), a plate of “Ann Bonny and Mary Read”, the most famed female pirates of all time (with an additional hand-colored example loosely laid in at rear- see photos), “Captain Bartho Roberts with two ships”, partially colored in a contemporary hand, a “A New and Exact Map of Guinea”, IN CONTEMPORARY COLOR, VERY RARE and first issued for the later 4th edition and here inserted. Binding: Handsome modern three-quarter red morocco, renewed paste-downs and blanks. Notes: This is the first edition of Vol. I, which was separately published incl. subsequent edition before the publication of Vol. II. Vol. II is present here also in the first edition and for comparison the title page of the 4th edition has been bound in as well preceding the first edition title page. The added t.p. is inscribed in an 18th century hand by Mary Pollock, underscoring the popularity of the book even among women. A third volume in a plain cloth binding accompanies the set and contains an extract with t.p. of 419-438, representing the first complete Chapter 17 of the 4th edition which contains the account of Pirate Gow and was not added until the later 4th edition. This supplemental extract’s cloth binding contains an ORIGINAL PIRATE COIN: a 1-reale silver “cob.” Pillars and waves, cross on back. 18 mm, evidently from the Consolacion, a Spanish Armada del Sur (South Sea Armada) galleon Condition: Internally, some light general toning and foxing, some foxing to title pages, upper corner stain to t.p. of vol.1 and prelim leaves with some slight soiling, minor marginal stain affecting outer margin (mostly edge), Blackbeard slightly short. Generally, VERY GOOD and certainly one of the best obtainable copies. Copies were often read to death in the 18th century, and it is very hard to find acceptable copies of even the later edition, let alone the first. EXCEEDINGLY RARE FIRST EDITION OF BOTH VOLUMES. Philip Gosse in his 1926 “My Private Library” states If any copies of the first edition exist they must be very scarce. There is none in the British Museum Library, nor have I been able to trace a copy elsewhere. (The BL has since acquired a copy)

Now, back to rare book pricing:

1.    What would a dealer price this set at?    Well, given the rarity of the first edition , I would have asked a retail price of $7500.00

2.   What have other copies achieved at real world auctions?   A search of the ABPC database reveals  that Sotheby’s sold a comparable copy May 12, 2005, lot 109, £4,200 ($7,788). Since it is not possible to always duplicate what two bidders in a single auction would pay,  let’s more conservatively place the auction value at $6000 if another comparable copy was auctioned. A net price after commission and fees at auction, in that case,  would likely be $5000.

3.   What did our set realize on eBay?   Well, first, we did make a thorough, well researched description, highlighting why the book, and our copy in particular, was important.  After some last second bidding (as always), it sold for $4150.00.   After eBay fees and commission, the net proceeds were about $3800.  While it is hard to say why the eBay sale was a bit disappointing,  from my experience, the pool of serious buyers on eBay are limited for very rare antiquarian books and there is a natural skepticism of “why is this guy placing this on eBay and not going to Sotheby’s or Christies?”   This can make bidders a little hesitant.

4.  Finally,  there is the question of what the book would have realized on eBay if a dealer without  lengthy feedback or a serious following did not write a thorough and proper description. Well, that is impossible to say,  but again from my experience it is unlikely to have realized more than half of what it sold for if it had been listed by a non-professional seller without a long term reputation.  In that case, my best guess is that it would have realized approx. $2000

So,  what then is the best route to selling your rare books?  Generally, I encourage sellers to seek independent evaluation from a major auction house like Christie’s or Sotheby’s and compare them to evaluations/appraisals or purchase offers a dealer such as myself makes. While I always provide auction records when possible to make the process transparent, I do find another auction house evaluation often instills confidence that the valuations are accurate. Once a fair valuation is established, I find many sellers accept a dealer’s offer as they want immediate payment without the risks of the auction houses.   I usually don’t recommend (given the comparisons above) that sellers without specialized knowledge ‘eBay’ the books themselves.







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]




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]


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.



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.





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!



It is often necessary to examine books firsthand to appraise them properly. There are often attributes to a book besides the specific title, date or edition that can affect the value. One of those is certainly provenance, which may be formally defined as the “chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object.” In simpler terms: who previously owned the book. So, how does prior ownership or provenance affect the value of a book? This is a question I am often asked by people who find signatures or inscriptions in their books.

Sometimes, if the book contains a signature or bookplate of a person of great literary, cultural, or historical importance, then the value of the book will clearly be affected. However, I am not talking here about books owned by George Washington (one of which sold for $9 Million). I wanted instead to look at the more subtle examples rare booksellers normally encounter: ownership marks of well known or important people, but not necessarily household names.

As a simple case study, I will examine one of the 19th century’s most popular works on archeology: Lazard’s Nineveh and its Remains. “Layard became the foremost archeologist of his time, and discovered the ancient ruins of Nineveh at the tender age of thirty-one. While the British Museum unloaded hundreds of tons of sculpture from Layard’s excavation, Layard wrote Nineveh and Its Remains, a popular account of his discoveries… The book appeared to rapturous acclaim and sold out numerous printings. Readers loved the fluent mix of high adventure and archeology in his books, and intoxicating stew of compelling characters and sudden crises. He made the Assyrians accessible to the common person and brought alive a shadowy Biblical civilization.” [Kessinger Publishing, LLC, describing the reprint]

Here is the simple description and photo of the set:

Layard, Austen Henry. Nineveh and its Remains. London, John Murray, 1849. 2nd ed., 2 vols. 8vo., 22 x 14.5 cm., complete with half-titles, 26 plates and plans (many folding), engraved folding map (short tear), occasional light spotting. Full fine crushed red morocco and gilt as depicted, all edges gilt, inner gilt dentelles, slight chipping to spine and rubbing to hinges.

Based solely on title, edition, and condition alone, we might consult one of the subscription auction databases such as the American Book Prices Current
A recent auction record of the set listed there is: Layard, Austen Henry, Sir, 1817-94 – Nineveh and its Remains. L, 1849 – 1st Ed – 2 vols. 8vo, – contemp half calf – rubbed – With 2 frontises, folded map & 24 plates. – Foxing – Winter, May 16, 2012, lot 40, £180 ($279). Because the attractive bindings on our set perhaps are more desirable that the half calf described in the auction record, we could reasonably increase the evaluation fo our set to $350.

However, upon examining this particular set, we find the 19th century Crest Bookplate of Henry B. H. Beaufoy, F.R.S, the famed hot-air
balloonist, Royal Society member, and bibliophile. Beaufoy owned an important library including a set of magnificent copies of the first four folios of Shakespeare, known now as the “Beaufoy Shakespeares” Copies of Beaufoy books, often splendidly bound, may be referred to reverentially as “the Beaufoy copy.”

Additionally when we open the set further, we find bound in before the preliminary pages a 10 PAGE MANUSCRIPT IN BEAUFOY’S HAND commenting on the work and furnishing details of the famous Beaufoy library. When reading this manuscript, it is mentioned that Layard (the author) was a family friend
and had donated a manuscript volume of another of his works to the prestigious library. It may be supposed, without proof (an authorial inscription), that this set may also have been a presentation from the author.

So, how does the Beaufoy provenance affect the value of a set that would normally sell for $350? This is, of course, a subjective question as the inclusion of the manuscript and provenance are unique attributes not found in other copies. Needless to say, is not unreasonable to add perhaps $400 to the value of the set, making the total value $750. Beaufoy may be fascinating to bibliophiles and book collectors, but he is no George Washington.

Nineveh and its Remains in Fine Morocco

Beaufoy’s Bookplate

Beaufoy’s Bound-in manuscript