Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2008 Issue

Cardiff Considers Selling 18,000 Books. Residents Debate: Smart Move or Desecration?

Cardiff

The Cardiff Library from the library's website.


By Michael Stillman

A battle over rare books is taking place today in the city of Cardiff, South Wales, UK, that is significant because it raises the most vexing of issues regarding libraries and old books in this new world. The city of Cardiff would like to auction some old books from its central library, as many as 18,000, dating back as far as the 15th century. Some residents are appalled by the plan. They have formed a group to stop the sale. To them, the plan would strip their community of its history, and turn Cardiff into a second-tier place for historical research.

The City Council announced its plan to sell antiquarian texts from its library last month. It did state that it would retain some of its most important items, including its manuscript collection and some notably important Welsh works. However, others, as many as 18,000, could be available for sale. They will not quickly flood the market with books, but a group of 139, including a Shakespeare Second Folio, might be put up in a first sale. Bonham's would host the sale. Over the coming years, the city would continue to review the remaining 18,000 to determine which should be sold.

The reasons for the proposed sale are ones common to many libraries all across the world that are not really designed to be rare book libraries. Maintaining valuable texts under conditions necessary to avoid deterioration is costly, while few people ever bother to consult them. Now, as more old texts are scanned and become available digitally to anyone with an internet connection, the potential use of these old books diminishes even more. The cost-benefit analysis does not look good. Meanwhile, the library has lots of other expenses necessary to update it to 21st century needs. Not only would a sale save the library money, it would add substantial sums to its coffers to modernize its services. Estimates are that the first auction could take in as much as £3 million, or over $5 million in US dollars. The Cardiff Council has pledged that all funds realized from the sales will be returned to the library.

Cardiff University has expressed an interest in some of the material, particularly that of local context. However, it has nowhere near the funds to purchase it all. If the books go to auction, they will likely be dispersed to both institutions and private collectors, and many if not most will probably end up far from Cardiff and South Wales. A piece of that area's cultural heritage will be gone forever. On the other hand, the library may be financially empowered to provide new services that will bring a younger generation inside its doors. In a changing world, where libraries often find themselves under great pressure to justify the tax dollars spent on them, this could be the difference which enables it to survive.

In a victory for those opposing the sale, it was announced late last week that 32 books in the Welsh language or of Welsh interest have been withdrawn from the sale. That is probably a good thing, as it would be sad to see books of primarily Welsh interest depart Wales. That still leaves the vexing question of what is the right decision for regular libraries possessing collections of rare but rarely used old books. This difficult choice will be faced by many libraries in the increasingly technologically oriented years ahead. I would not like to be the one making these decisions.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <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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