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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. 


Medieval Manuscript Appraisal


I was recently selling a NYC coop, feeling overwhelmed at the amount of paperwork and due diligence necessary to transfer ownership of shares, when I was offered a medieval deed.   It is a relatively small and simple document, when a man could transfer his earthly possessions- or in this case half his landholdings- on a mere document only 7 x 3″ inches in size.  It opens simply in Latin: To all [men] present and future…

So, what is the value of a document like this from the 14th century?  Surprisingly, they can be collected for rather modest sums.  Here are a couple records for other similar documents pulled from the ABPC manuscript database – a subscriber database that is an essential tool for examining past auction records of comparable books and documents and substantiating a fair market value.

England – _ KENT. – Document. Deed of Gift. [23 Feb 1411]. No size or length given. William George conveys a house in the village of Shynglewelle [sic]. Parchment. In Latin. Stained. – Winter, Apr 12, 2006, lot 294, £140 ($248)

England – _ KENT. – Document. Deed of Gift. [12 Mar 1398]. No size or length given. John Spernor de Cobham & John Topleche convey to Simon Lepy a plot of land in Shyngled Well [sic] .Parchment. In Latin. Stained. – Illus in cat – Winter, Apr 12, 2006, lot 293, £240 ($424)

True, this one is perhaps a bit earlier than some of the examples listed above (and dates to the early part of the 14th century).  However, at auction it would at most reasonably fall into the $400-500 range and perhaps a bit less as it is missing its original hanging seal.

To me that is rather remarkable:  this small and ephemeral document has escaped the ravages of time for 700 years and is only worth approx. $500?   Thankfully, it is written on vellum, a strong and utilitarian material which aided its survival.   Still, the manuscript provides insight into paleography (the study of ancient and historical handwriting), English medieval history, early legal history, and when framed is a rather remarkable and impactful object for the pleasure of both the eye and mind. Perhaps old Latin documents are bit too erudite for most and that has kept the prices low, but for the keen collector they are a bargain that will not last in the years ahead.  And certainly, I should send one to my real estate lawyer to show him how simple a document could be 😉

[ENGLISH MEDIEVAL DEED] Early 14th century.  [Incipit] Sciant p[re]sentes & fut[ur]i q[uo]d ego Robert de edui? dedi concessi & hac p[re]senti carta mea confirmaui Simoni filio… A fine medieval example of a deed of gift bequeathing half of his lands to his son Simon..  7 x 3 inches on vellum, evidence of attached seal at lower center.  With scarce 14th-15th century English explanatory text to verso. Small holes but generally very good.


Many times I am asked to value a rare book and am forced to gently explain to the owner (who may have seen a complete copy online or at auction at a high price) that an incomplete copy is worth a very small fraction of the value of a complete work.  The expectation is often that if a book is just missing a page or two, then the price would be affected somewhat,  but still within reason.   More often than not, that is not the case however and the price is actually drastically affected.   Part of the reason no doubt is that while many collectors buy rare books of interest to them, they do keep an eye as well on their investment potential and future resale value.   Buying rare books is one thing and selling rare books is another.   It is often very hard to get future buyers to pay thousands of dollars for a book- even a very rare one-  that is described in an apologetic tone with words such a “lacking” or “missing” or  “wanting” (the preferred marketing euphemism of booksellers).

Nevertheless there are always exceptions to the rule, and sellers and owners are advised to consult a rare book expert even if their work is incomplete.

A couple weeks ago I was offered an incomplete book- a 1563 first edition of Foxe’s  Book of Martyrs- or the  Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church.  This was one of the most influential books of the 16th century, published early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Here are a couple photos of the large thick folio- a testament to one of the most  complex printings of the period.




It can immediately be seen when opening the book that it lacking the title page- indeed a closer inspection and study reveals that it is actually lacking  the title, frontispiece, and  last leaf.   It is equally true that despite their age most books of the 16th century, if found in a similar state,  only fetch modest prices at auction.

This is not the case for Foxe’s  Book of Martyrs however.   A search of the ABPC auction database as well as the RareBookHub indicate that there have not been any complete copies sold at auction in the last 30 years of records. In fact, as one searches further back in time, it s clear that the popular book was often read to death and complete copies are virtually unheard of in commerce.  As far back as  1907, a rare book catalogue found in Google Books offers an imperfect copy for 80 sterling and adds to justify the price that  “no absolutely perfect copy is known.”  That may be an exaggeration or marketing ploy of an eager turn of the century bookseller, but it nevertheless indicates how rare complete copies are.  As such, despite its imperfect state, the book remains both valuable and highly desirable.

In any case, an incomplete work is better than a non-existent copy.  The woodcut below, inserted at p. 1548 in Foxe’s Book,  shows the fate that befell many books including being burned in a pyre.  We have to be thankful that some works survived at all and, like many things in life, learn to  forgive and be tolerant of imperfections.

Selling Rare Books in Poor Condition – Worms, Rats, Floods & Fire

“Condition, condition, condition!”  That is often the phrase I hear antiquarian booksellers use as a warning to collectors- an echo of the most important thing to remember in real estate: “location, location, location!”

This, it must be said, is generally true.  Condition does have an important effect on the value of rare books- and often to degree that makes little sense to anyone with a rational understanding of the ravages of time or an appreciation of history.  Yes, if a copy of a modern first edition lacks its dust jacket, and there are an abundance of other freshly printed copies, there is little excuse not to buy a fine copy and consequently, any that do not measure up can be expected to be worth a mere fraction.

Should this be true, however, for antiquarian books that have travelled continents, passed through endless hands, been poured over in dim evening light next to irregularly melting candles, hid themselves in corners and basements from the horrors of war, and have borne witness to revolutions and peace? (remember what adaptable survivors books are the next time someone asks if books can survive the Kindle).

First, condition should be evaluated by a professional bookseller.  Do not assume just because your book looks in poor condition that it is in poor condition. There have been many instances when someone has sent me a book described as “worn and shoddy, or in poor condition” only to see that they are describing a book in the rare publisher’s cloth boards or a modest early 18th century American tree bark binding of great collectible value.  Additionally, certain titles and books – if they are rare enough- have to be compared with the number of surviving copies and the state and condition of those copies.  I have had books that are “incomplete”- perhaps the most damaging adjective to a book’s monetary value- only to have discovered that it is the most complete and best surviving copy (and have then priced it accordingly!)

I am one of those dealers that does NOT obsess over condition and appreciate (an even imagine) the stories that led a book to its present state.  As such, I am also against unnecessary restoration of books, to transform them into something they are not (handsome salable copies) and in essence to destroy (or at least detract from) part of their story.

Here are a few examples of the common condition problems that can befall books:


Below is a legal manuscript from the first quarter of the 16th century: Manuscript, Statutes and Ordinances of the Diocese of Nantes [France, c.1515]. It was written shortly after the death of Anne of Brittany.  In the corner, some rodent had a field day munching on the fine vellum, but thankfully due to generous margins, missed the text itself  or just at least preferred  the “white” rather than the “dark” meat.  I imagine that as soon as the French Wars of Religion got into full swing that this Catholic statute book was abandoned in the basement of  a church with the rats running loose until at least the 19th century when it was rediscovered (as it contains some notes on the flyleaf.)















Here is a humble little volume – and a rare one- of the Italian Renaissance poet Ascanio Grandi, printed in 1636,  where worms have left their mark.  Worms approach books with a callous indifference to subject matter- whether mundane or erudite- but at least they love books.   The turns and twists they make through the pages, if not hinting at 16th century fractal patterns, can be be appreciated for their natural beauty and modern artistic sensibilities.















Below is a 1616 folio of the collected works of  of Ben Jonson.  This folio was  crucial to developments in the publication of English literature and English Renaissance drama- and in no small measure inspired the publication in 1623 of Shakespeare’s First Folio (which helped preserve his works for us).  One can see that the work was severely damaged by the now brittle damp-stains of a flood.  What  student in Oxford in the 17th century was sitting reading with few cares by the Thames and dropped in momentarily into the water when a pretty maiden caught his eye?  As Shakespeare said, “there is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”  If only this were true of books.















Here is a book whose damage really tells a story.  It is another work of Renaissance poetry, but this one came from and has the stamps of the Vatican Library! Inside a c. 1920s bookseller’s catalog clipping is tipped-in stating :”A curious collectors relic: a scorched book from the only fire in Vatican Library history. Contents sound, but singes covers preserved as grim momentos…”  The fire which broke out in the Vatican on November 1,1903, seriously endangered the library and art collection, and had it not been contained, would have taken its place in history next to the burning of the Alexandrian library.















I must conclude with an image where an unusual condition flaw (a splotch of ink) perhaps raises the value of the sullied manuscript to an inestimable degree (or at least made it a wonderful curiosity!   Here a cat, always indifferent  to anything of potential value more than itself, walked across this manuscript in the 15th century and left his prints.


















[Ref: Cat paws in a fifteenth-century manuscript (photo taken at the Dubrovnik archives by @EmirOFilipovic)]





If you are curious about the value of your antiquarian, antique, or rare book, and want a free evaluation and for me to assess its condition- don’t hesitate to send photos to




Sotheby’s Rare Books

Sometimes, after I evaluate a rare book collection, clients will reasonably ask themselves if they would they be better selling them privately or at auction.   The auction house that is often on the tip of everyone’s tongue is Sotheby’s (with no insult to their peer Christie’s as they are a fine house- but I just am asked about them less frequently).  After all, Sotheby’s is a household name, and despite the fact that the majority of their revenues these days comes from modern art sales (which Al Capp mocked as the product of the ‘untalented sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered”), they actually started as a rare book auction house in the 18th century with the  disposal of “several hundred scarce and valuable” books.  To this day, they maintain an active rare book and manuscript department even if their focus has shifted.

So, the question is more succinctly stated: Would I get more money at auction for my rare books or by selling them privately.

Auctions are an important venue for selling books, and one can often get fair market value for books.  However, that does or not mean that the net proceeds will be higher than a private sale or that certain types of books will do better at auction.

Let’s break them into the simple positive and negatives as viewed form an the perspective of an experience bookseller who loves books auctions.

Positives at auction:

1) These days, exceptional material does well.  The rarest and most unique material can command strong prices.  The auctions have to a large degree focused on selling such ‘highlights’.  There have been many times in fact when I have advised sellers to consider the auction route if I felt the material would honestly ‘fly’ there due to its obvious importance/rarity or fresh to market appeal.

2) Sellers feel they can trust the process that a fair market value will be established.  There is less of a “can I trust this person” concern than with private dealers.

Negatives at auction:

1) Auction houses are increasingly fussy about rarity, condition, and the minimum worth of a book that they will consider for consignment (at the big houses this is often in the thousands of dollars).  If you have a library, this means it will be quickly cherry picked without solving the issue of what to do with the remaining books.

2) Auction houses can and do make mistakes and miss things that would raise the value of a book substantially.  That is how dealers make money- by going to auction and hunting for these ‘sleepers.’  An honest dealer who is buying privately (but certainly not at auction) will often point out a unique attribute in a book that makes a book more salable, where an auction house that is swamped with material may not pay as much attention.  This can be especially true for manuscript material that requires a lot of time and energy to read and properly evaluate.

2) Some books command more money privately than at auction.   Many quality rare antiquarian books and manuscripts that are not obvious highlights can do substantially better through private sales than at auction.  I have purchased many early printed books at auction and have sold them at considerable profit – clearly that would not be possible if I did not recognize value in them that exceeded the auction price.  Also, some dealers may have certain clients or libraries in mind and are willing to pay a high price to obtain material for them – especially when it has the attractive veneer of being ‘fresh to market” in an age when internet exposure can hurt value by the draining excitement of a find that everybody else has seen and knows about.

3)  Auction estimates can be overly optimistic.  After all, auction houses do not have ‘teeth in the game’ as they don’t lay out money for inventory.  While they sometimes present themselves as esteemed houses that offer bias-free evaluations, they are of course in reality businesses that are interested in making money  (as we all are) and they can’t do that without a constant flow of consignments.  As such, they can on occasion entice clients with estimates that are too optimistic (and there is nothing that kills a final sale price like a high estimate)

4) There is uncertainty in terms of the proceeds- some may enjoy gambling but that is not for everyone.  Additionally, it often takes a long time to get paid from the start of the process (certainly 6 months on average from consignment to payment)

5) Auction contracts can be overwhelming to new consignors.  They say “sign here” but clients sometimes do not pay attention to withdrawal or reserve fees if items do not sell or more complex rescission clauses that permit the auction house – even years later- to demand money paid to consignors if the item is returned for material defects that were not properly described (this happens only rarely with books but is not infrequent in other categories)

Let me offer a concrete example of a book I was offered: A couple years ago a seller came to me with a handsome copy of  Chandler (Alfred) & William Beattie Booth’s Illustrations and Descriptions of the Plants which Compose the Natural Order Camellieae.  This is wonderful and important monograph that contains 40 sumptuous hand-colored plates of camellias grown in his father’s nursery in Vauxhall.

When this was offered to me, I made an offer of $13,000 cash.  I provided an auction record (and full transparency often works against dealers unfortunately) of a copy that sold for $37,957 in 2002 at auction, but explained that there was a large paper copy from an important collection and the market for fine botanical books had weakened considerably since a couple well known collectors that had inflated prices withdrew from the market.

Here is a photo of one of the plates:


Rare Botanical Value



The owner did not sell the book, which was perfectly understandable given what a copy had once sold for.   The owner  then consigned to auction to Christie’s with an $8000-$10,000 estimate, which although reasonably enticing, did not elicit much interest in a weak botanical market.  The book did not sell.   Given the transparency and wide availability of auction prices today, when a copy is unsold it can carry the scarlet letter of being unsold which can further hurt its resale value in the private market even if it is otherwise a lovely and important book.  In this particular case, the allure of a potential home run at auction (hopes that are infrequently, but sometimes, met) was too strong, and in the 20-20 hindsight none of us can possess, it would have been better to take the cash private offer.

Regardless of whether you wish to consider auction for your books or a private sale, I am happy to make free evaluations and you can contact me at or at 646 469-1851.   I will provide actual auction records for your books so you can reasonably estimate what your books would get at auction and make an informed decision.  I think you will also find that I devote the time and energy required to making discoveries that can often be overlooked.

Selling Rare Books in England?

A brief note as we are a NYC Based company but get a lot of enquiries from the UK regarding evaluating and possibly purchasing important rare books,  manuscripts and entire libraries.

Q:  Do we purchase books in the UK and can we visit?

A:  Absolutely.  We have a UK representative that is happy to make house calls for important rare books and manuscripts.  As always, it is first very helpful to send photos of the books and manuscripts you would like evaluated for free or wish us to consider for purchase.  Our email address is For books  located books in the UK, kindly put “attn: Robert” in the subject to receive a quick reply and evaluation.



Rare Book Hub – Free Evaluations Rare Books – Rare Book Auctions

I sometimes recommend major auction houses to clients that are considering selling books (especially if they are important) so they can receive an additional and independent evaluation.  However, one must keep in mind that auction houses have their own commercial interests in getting material for consignment and sometimes their ambitious estimates are designed to encourage consignment (they don’t have risk after all in selling consigned material).   Also, on occasion, the wait to hear back from a specialist can be frustrating as naturally their departments are quite busy and focus on very valuable estates and individual works.  (Incidentally, if you go the auction route, I am happy to provide tips on which auction house you should use, where, and what estimates to encourage bidding)

An alternative for independent evaluations is the  Rare Book Hub  (formerly Americana Exchange, but recently changed as their focus is no longer strictly just Americana).  It is in fact one of the best and most comprehensive Rare Book Evaluation sites on the web.  To access the increasingly comprehensive records, there is a paid subscriber database, which has (along with the American Book Prices Current database) become an indispensable tool to evaluate books.  It is quite different than sites such as Abebooks and other book search engines online that provide retail values  or asking prices (which are often unobtainable for most sellers of old books).  Instead, the Rare Book Hub provides many actual auction records of books,  old dealer catalogues, as well as a great deal of informative bibliographical and descriptive information.  Anyone can subscribe and check values themselves, albeit it is still wise to consult a professional as comparing books and prices is an art and not a science as sometimes small and not readily apparent differences can greatly affect the value of a work.  When you have me evaluate your books, I certainly check databases such as these and can provide the records for individual works.  This transparency is very helpful when dealing with clients that do not necessarily know the value of what they have.  It allows for sellers to see what the books should reasonably sell for at auction if they went that route.  Dealers can even sometimes pay more than the likely auction values if a book is particularly rare.  As in the art market,  there is an added value for works that are fresh to market and privately sold and for which they may have specific clients.

As always, I am happy to provide free evaluations for old and rare books, and you can contact me anytime at  If you do not hear from me within 2 days, please write “Attn. Adam” in the subject as this prevents email from accidentally falling into spam and delaying a reply. Sending photos of the bindings and title pages are an excellent start.



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.