Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2009 Issue

Immortality has a Price


The Hiftory of Trauayle, 1577

15 CORTÉS, Hernando (1485-1547). La preclara Narratione di Ferdinando Cortese della Nuoua Hispagna…
Venice: Bernardino de Viano, 1524.

First complete edition in Italian. the earliest surviving printed account of new Spain by the infamous Spanish conquistador.

Acquisition: sale, Sotheby's New York, 29 January
1995, lot 38, $3,737.50.

Estimate $5,000 - $8,000

16 MARTYR, Peter (1457-1526). De orbe novo … decades. Alcalá de Henares: Miguel de Eguía, December 1530.

Rare first complete edition, with all eight Decades containing Peter Martyr's accounts of the great voyages of the age, a fundamental source of knowledge of the earliest encounters.

Acquisition: Botfield sale, Christie's London, 30 March 1994, lot 8, $24,000.

Estimated $30,000 to $50,000

19 MARTYR, Peter (1457-1526) - oviedo y vald es gonzal ofernand ez de (1428-1557). Summario de la General Historia de L'Indie Occidentali Cavato da libri scritti dal signor don Pietro Martyre…
Venice: October and December 1534.

An important collection of narratives and the work of several authors. perhaps the earliest voyage collection, a work of tremendous importance in the dissemination of knowledge of the new world to Europe.

Acquisition: purchased from William Reese Company (2000), $35,000.

Estimated $20,000 to $30,000

The value of books is of course not expressed exclusively as price. Their significance is actually much more important and it is expressed by the communal will of institutions, authors and researchers, collectors and dealers who, by their incremental inclusion and exclusion from exhibitions and texts send material hurtling into oblivion or hoist it high for the maddened throngs to acknowledge. No one can predict future taste or opinion but what can be said of these items, the newest of which is 384 years old, is that they have so far stood the test of time and look to have legs. That some, perhaps most will return to auction occasionally seems likely and that some evidence of my relationship to them continues also probable.

To ensure the collection the fairest possible hearing great effort has been expended on the catalogue and both reserves and estimates set low. As well, a bookplate unique to the sale was important and for that I turned to E. M. Ginger of 42 Line in Oakland, California. Succeed or not, the bookplate adds complex narrative to books that on their own are valuable. The plate includes a scene of seismic upheaval in the middle ages and the line Liceat Decernere Foro, let the market decide. In accounts yet to be written, writers will know what we can not yet discern, how the sale went and in the decades ahead, how these books have done. No doubt, every decade or so fresh stories will appear. In time a verdict will be rendered but until enough time has passed, it won't be certain.

For me this is all worth the effort. I love the complexity of books. The possibility of weaving a single thread through important books and sending them on to posterity tagged with a marker that identifies them to future collectors is very appealing. Collecting books is after all a complex game.

For those in New York on December 2nd I'll speak for 45 minutes on collecting in the modern era and then take questions for 15 more. The location is Bloomsbury's at 6 West 48th Street, the time 6:30 pm.

Rare Book Monthly

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