Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2016 Issue

Books Missing Over Half a Century Found in Deceased Man's Cabinet


A Dreadful Plague in France (London Library/ABA photo).

Some very old books, overdue for a very long time, were recently discovered in the back of a locked cabinet in Wimbledon. They had been missing from the London Library since the 1950s. A spokesman for the library said they never give up on retrieving lost items, though they had no expectations that these would ever be found. The books themselves were very old, dating back to the late 17th and early 18th century.


The books were held by an unnamed person who recently died. The family called in Patrick Marrin of Marrin's Bookshop who quickly identified their source. These were not merely overdue books forgotten by the borrower almost 60 years ago. Attempts had been made to remove the library's identification. However, one book was an assembly of pamphlets, including one where the London Library stamp was still in place. Marrin immediately realized something was wrong because, as he explained, the London Library never sells its material.


The taker's intentions are unclear, and perhaps will never be known. Removing identification stamps is typical for those who plan to sell stolen books, but these were never sold in all of the years since they were removed. Perhaps he wanted to have them but hoped to disguise the books' origin in case someone else saw them. Maybe he planned to sell them but got cold feet. Their being kept in a locked cabinet reinforces the obvious – that he knew his possession was illegal. Perhaps having these books became something of an albatross as years went by, something he was uncomfortable possessing, but lacking an idea of how to get rid of them.


The library made clear that it would not try to punish the family in any way. They don't even want the fines for overdue books. They are just happy to have them back.


Seven books, or pamphlets, were discovered and returned to the London Library. A librarian said some of the books are of "considerable significance." We looked at several of the titles to try to determine their rarity and value. For sources, we looked through our own Rare Book Transaction History of over 6.8 million (mostly auction) records, AbeBooks, and generally online. We also looked at the OCLC listings for thousands of libraries, but it is often hard to tell when they have an early edition, a recent reprint, or even an electronic version. Suffice to say that while there are a few old copies around, each of these is scarce even within libraries.


They are all valuable, though not overwhelmingly so. Their rarity and age imply value, but being pamphlets, and not of overwhelming significance, their value is not enormous. Mid to upper hundreds of dollars seems to be where they mostly fall. They do provide interesting looks at their times, and their rarity is sufficient that we can all be gratified that these long missing books are back at their rightful home. There aren't so many copies left that we can afford to lose any.


Here is what we found for these various titles.


A Discourse on Witchcraft, occasioned by a Bill now depending in Parliament to repeal the Statute... published in 1736. The most recent auction record we can locate for this anonymously written pamphlet, arguing for repeal of the English witchcraft law on the grounds that belief in the existence of witches results from a misreading of the Bible, comes from 1920. Anderson Galleries offered a copy, noting then the title was "scarce." We do not have a price for this sale. They say the author was Justin Winsor. No copies offered on AbeBooks but we found a Maine Bookseller offering a copy for $650.


The Most Sacred and Divine Science of Astrology, by JBBD (clergyman John Butler), published in 1680. This argument defending astrology from attacks by others did come up for sale at Swann's in 2006, where it sold for $660. Previously, it was at Anderson Galleries in 1922. A single copy on AbeBooks is listed for £327 (US $400).


The Age of the World Collected in All Its Periods by JS (John Sympson) published in 1707. No auction records found in the past century, though listed in the 1864 sale of the collection of John Allan. Not on AbeBooks. A copy was offered by Edinburgh bookseller G. P. Johnston in 1881 for 5 shillings. Described as "rare" even then.


A Collection of Letters by His Excellency General George Monk Relating to the Restoration of the Monarchy, published in 1714. One auction record since 1900, in 2015 at Christie's. Estimated $4,000-$8,000 but was unsold. However, this copy was bound with an item pertaining to a feud between Alexander Pope and Colley Ciber which was considered the more desirable item. Not on AbeBooks.


The First Part of the Treatise of the Late Dreadful Plague in France, Compared with that Terrible Plague in London in the Year 1665... by H. Parker, published in 1722 (or 1721). This one is a charming plague comparative. I have found no auction records for this pamphlet, not on AbeBooks, no other copies currently for sale (other than many recent reprints).


The True-Born English-man. A Satyr (satire), by Daniel Dafoe, a 1708 edition of a booklet first published in 1701. This one is uncommon despite it having been printed in many editions, as many as 10 the year it was first published (mostly pirated). The most recent sale took place at Dreweatts Bloomsbury on October 16, 2016. This was for a 1707 edition. It sold for £186 (US $226). AbeBooks lists one copy for sale, a 1701 edition from James Cummins for $300. The only match I could find for a 1708 edition went for a mere $1.87, but that was back at the Brinley sale in 1893. Incidentally, this is a most timely piece despite being over two centuries old. Dafoe argues for respecting immigrants in a time of xenophobia, noting that England was composed of earlier immigrants – a timely message on both sides of the Atlantic. At the time, the English King, William III, was a Dutch immigrant.


The Famous History of the Seven Champions of Christendom, by Richard Johnson, published in 1696. This one appears a bit more common than the others. Most recently, it sold at Keys Fine Art Auctioneers in 2006 for £176 (US $275). That appears to be a most reasonable price as it sold for $132 at Sotheby's back in 1972. Inflation has been substantially greater than that. Two copies are currently offered on AbeBooks, priced at $650 and $1,038.  

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> George Washington, Letter Signed to General James Clinton, preparing for the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, 1778. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising to send reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Edison, Autograph Letter Signed, to Western Union President William Orton, 1878. $10,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> William, Bishop of Coventry, vellum charter granting the church of Rochdale to the Cistercian Abbey of Stanlaw, in Latin, 1222. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> FDR, Photograph Signed & Inscribed, framed with wood removed from the White House roof, 1927. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Dubuffet, archive including many letters written while painting in NYC, 1951-72. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autograph Letter Signed, describing the source of his patience, 1939. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Lithograph portrait of Albert Einstein by Hermann Struck, signed by both, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Letter Signed to Johann IV of Nassau, in French, 1470. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Cocteau, Autograph Letter Signed, in French, 1919. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Louis Armstrong, two Autograph Letters Signed to Erich Kauffmann, his lip salve purveyor, 1965-70. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Wernher von Braun, Autograph Letter Signed to Jonathan Cross, 1975. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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