03/08/2016 Chiswick Curates, Books
The following is intended as a guide to those who are novices in the field of rare and antiquarian books, but feel they might have something of interest.
When understanding the value of a book there are many factors involved. First of all, is the book common or rare? Second - and perhaps more importantly - is it desirable? The terms 'rare' and 'desirable' are not necessarily interchangeable.
Here is an indication of what books are usually saleable at auction:
1.Antiquarian - the majority of books printed in the 20th-century and 19th-century are not of sufficient value for sale at auction. A case in point would be 19th-century, and even many 18th-century, bibles, which are very common. They would have to have something very special about them to be saleable. There are, of course, major exceptions: some of the most valuable books created were created in the 19th-century, but these tend to be the very grand natural history and travel books of the period, or books marking some major step-forward in human thought, Darwin's 'Origin of Species' being perhaps the most salient example. The first edition of 1859 is exceptionally scarce and valuable; very early editions have some value, but much less; and mass-produced copies from a later date are almost worthless, unless they belonged to someone of note. Darwin was a prolific author, and first editions of some of his other works are sought-after, but they are in a different league from 'Origin of the Species'.
2.Anything leather bound before 1850 as a starting point: but
3.Interesting and quirky engravings - the type that might have been sold on a street corner in 1749 for a shilling! For example early 19th century hand coloured satirical engravings by Cruikshank or Gilray.
4.Bindings - in good condition. Books in leather with spines in gilt and morocco labels, usually red or green on the spines.
5.Charming children's books - with nice hand coloured plates, usually before 1850, although more modern writers can be highly collectable, perhaps most notably Beatrix Potter (in first edition or inscribed by the author).
6.Maps - Early 19th century and older if of the Americas and Asia; if of European subjects, then very few maps later than 1700 are valuable, although, as always with books, there are major exceptions!
7.Manuscripts (letters) - relating to notable persons or a collection of manuscripts relating to a an interesting subject - i.e. an archive.
8.Ephemera - Printed advertisements, broadsides (poems, ballads etc.) - Preferably before 1860.
9.Autographs - signed photos, postcards, album pages, signed pieces of ephemera relating to notable persons.
10.An interesting provenance – in the form of a bookplate, a previous owner’s inscription or an annotated book (annotated by the previous owner). If the person to whom the book belonged has an entry on the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) or Wikipedia then this is a good starting point.
11.Scrap albums – including engravings, water colours, ephemera, generally prior to about 1880.
12.Signed limited edition books.
The following books are, generally, not suitable for auction:
With all the above, the exceptions are if the book has a good previous auction record, is NOT in COPAC (and antiquarian) * (COPAC- the repository of library records, which lists all known copies of a particular work), has good provenance or is signed by the author or notable persons or is in a fine binding.
Understanding value and Previous Expectations.
Although the Internet is good to look up a price for your book, these prices are only indications of your book's value if it has SOLD at that price. Auction is different and a representative litmus test as to what the demand, be it dealer or collector is and what they are willing to pay. Markets are always changing. Our advice is based on demand for the particular book, completeness/condition and rarity. For example if a rare book is in a library binding this will affect the value because it is not in contemporary calf or cloth, and will by default be not worth as much. When it comes to value- The old adage about putting too high an estimate on something does literally kill off any interest from potential buyers. When a book has been re-entered at a much lower estimate it sometimes reaches that which was hoped for in the first place. Auctions are swings and roundabouts but you always have to as a valuer give the book the best possible chance of selling.
We are happy to offer our free valuation service ranging from single items to complete libraries/ collections whether from dealers in the trade or private individuals. We are also able for home visits or if you would like to bring items in. It is best to call in advance or email to discuss your items ahead of your visit.
If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or call the main Chiswick Auctions line on 0208 992 4442 and ask for the Book Department.