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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. 


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

The Rare Book Buyer

Many people have old and rare books in their homes that have been passed down in the family.  They might include a well-loved and worn edition of Dickens that may be worth only a few dollars or an unnoticed early colonial printing that could be worth thousands. Whether to raise money or simply because they can no longer be properly cared for, books gets sold. Nevertheless, selling a library or inherited book can be a very emotional process. Books contain not just the voice of their authors but reflect the person who bought them and can often bridge generations in a family. These short stories are meant to chronicle some of those connections and collections.



LOCATION: Wallingford, Connecticut


The books, stacked in neat piles on the basement floor, were part of
the collection formed by Eugene Silver Barry,
Chris’s maternal grandfather.  Eugene S. Barry left school at twelve
and by his late twenties opened a leather tannery. He befriended a
bookseller in Boston, who in exchange for leather, offered rare books
and expert advice. Clearly, a love of books was an inherited trait as
his own father, Eugene Barry, Sr., was a published poet and an
original donor and trustee of the Lynn Woods Reservation, one of the
largest largest municipal parks in the United States. A humble volume
of his 1904 poetry, inscribed to his wife, sat lightly bruised and
infrequently dusted on the shelf.


Many of the books being sold concern voyages. As a leather tanner, Chris’s
Grandfather had a natural interest in the fur trade and exploration
books concerning the NorthWest Passage, the potentially highly
lucrative trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that
captured the imagination of generations of explorers. Collecting
exploration books was a shrewd investment. Mankind always has
yearned to uncover the mysteries of new lands and the fascination
has not escaped the attention of collectors. Fine copies
of important voyage and exploration books have become expensive.


There is a nice ten volume 1912 set in blue cloth of The Photographic
History of the Civil War. That will stay in the family.
Chris’s relative, Sergeant Joseph R. Balsley of the 142nd Pennsylvania
Infantry, fought at Gettysburg and the set contains
thousands of Civil War photographs including those of Matthew Brady.
Chris proudly showed me his relative’s original battle sword.

Another book of sentimental value that will remain on the shelf is a
copy of Kipling’s Just So Stories. Chris’s Grandfather read it to him
as a child, but today he hesitates to read it to his own
grandchildren. The story of how the elephant got his trunk seems
dated and less palatable today when the paragraphs end with
“they beat him.”


An attractive and sought-after copy of John Marshall’s The Life of
George Washington was one that grabbed my attention. Copies at auction
generally command $1500-2500 or more depending on the condition and issue.
This wonderful six volume set was printed between 1804 and 1807
and unites two great historical figures in American history- Chief
Justice John Marshall, the principal founder of our constitutional
law with George Washington, a founder of our nation. Washington was a
major influence on the young Marshall, and his eloquent biography was
drawn from Washington’s diaries, letters and secret archives. The
accompanying, and often missing, Atlas volume contains maps of
Revolutionary War battlefields. It is the type of patriotic work that
no doubt would have interested the upstanding and civic minded Barry


There is no room in the house anymore and the books have been moved
between homes several times, with the occasional
nick in a spine or missing volume resulting from the shifts.


The money will be funneled into the upkeep and care for a family property
in Maine. The property was originally bought by Eugene Barry, Sr. in 1988.
As Chris explained, he met a women (Lucy Wyman) from Sebec Village, at the
eastern end of the lake, at a church social after the men had rowed 12 miles
just to get there! They married, and the property has been in the family ever since.
Chris is the fourth generation and his grandkids are the sixth. It is a comforting
thought that the books have come full circle and the proceeds will benefit the family
property that was so dear to his Grandfather’s heart.


The books as seen piled on the basement floor in Chris’s home




The First Edition of Marshall’s Life of Washington


The Civil War battle Sword of Sergeant Joseph R. Balsley



We just received in the mail a very interesting work on watch and clockmaking from 1732:  Johann George Leutmann’s Vollständige Nachricht von den Uhren.  This is a complicated work and typographically intimidating.  It is  printed in black-letter script with only occasional Roman script, a style that remained  common in Germany  until the end of the 18th century.  It is not a book, like a signed limited copy of the Little Prince, for example,  that can more easily be looked up on the internet for a range of prices.  So, I thought it would be instructive, to outline what goes through the mind of a bookseller when appraising a book’s value:

There are several factors one must reasonably consider:

IMPORTANCE: When evaluating an old book, and once it has been identified, it is necessary first to get a sense of its importance.  Some books are rare, but not necessarily important and therefore not very valuable.    The book here is important.   A little research indicates that it is considered to be the  “The first detailed treatise on clocks and watches.” (Baillie, Clocks and Watches, p.147).  Book dealers are often fond of books that can be labeled “the first of this” of the “first of that”, and while they sometimes go to extremes to elevate a particular book’s importance with such descriptive labels for the purpose of marketing, this is truly a breakthrough work in horology.  It is particularly  fascinating, as while some other earlier works had touched upon clock mechanisms, Leutmann delves into the relatively newer area of pocket watches and portable time pieces, with a chapter even on how to tell the age of a watch (albeit that is not much use today if you like a glitzy Rolex or a more subdued vintage Patek Phillipe)

THE BINDING:  The binding of this book is a scarce and collectible binding.  It is a Brocade paper binding that is almost certainly contemporary with the book (i.e.  from the 1730s).  The paper was originally printed in bright colors, with an abundance of  decorative leaves and flowers.  It is now worn, and like many things that suffer the ravages of time, only displays a glimpse of its former beauty.  Still, it is a quite fascinating as an example of innovative and inexpensive 18th century European bookbinding.

RARITY: The book is not a first edition, as it was originally issued in 1718.   Still, it is a work that very rarely appears at auction in any edition.  I have only been able, in fact, to trace two copies at auction in the last thirty years.  There are several subscription databases to check auction results such as the ABPC, AmericanaExchange, and in the case of German books, the JAHRBUCH der Auktionspreise für Bücher.   A quick and free option to ascertain rarity is to look at   This is a solid, albeit not entirely comprehensive, database of holdings of  books in Institutional Libraries (how many libraries have copies of a particular book).   Worldcat has its flaws, such as duplicate listings, incorrect listings of actual books vs. microfilmed copies etc.  Still, it is very helpful, and certainly one can also get the collation (page count) and cataloger’s notes of many rare books.  Through Worldcat, I was able to trace only 9 other copies of this 1732 edition- so it is quite rare.

PROVENANCE: It is essential when evaluating a book, to look for signs of previous ownership, bookplates, annotations, inscriptions etc. and to assess their importance. In this book, we do have some ownership signatures in a fairly illegible hand, but which read “Ex Libris W.W. Eckark”    Now, if that was an important and identifiable watch or clockmaker, that would certainly raise the value of the book.  Unfortunately, there is scant biographical information on who that is and as such it does not contribute much to the value.  Additionally, there are some mid-18th century notes to the inside of the front cover (paste-down) of the book.  These notes however just reference and re-state part of the text and do not appear to be significant.

COMPLETENESS:  The work should contain 2 parts in 1 volume with 2 engraved frontispieces, 30 engraved plates and 16 tables (mainly folding, or double-page). One must carefully check and count all pages.  While all the text pages are present as well as the 2 engraved frontispieces, this copy only possesses 18 of the 46 plates and tables and therefore must be considered severely defective.

VALUE: While the book is extremely important in the history of horology and is bound in an interesting 18th century binding,  it is incomplete.   It is a unfortunate fact that collectors and dealers want complete books even if that means passing over otherwise interesting and rare works.   Condition and completeness are extremely important when it comes to assessing the monetary value of a book.  Were this a complete example, it would have a value in the range of $1500-2000.   Sadly, with so many plates missing, it is just an antiquarian curiosity to those interested in watchmaking or bookbinding, but something not likely worth more than $300.