Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2011 Issue

Breaking:  The Parts are Sometimes Worth More than the Whole

1839 miniatlas

Worn old atlas is ripe for breaking.

The subject of breaking is one of the touchiest and most controversial in the book world, but if you handle printed material long enough you will certainly come across books and magazines that are already broken or ready to break. They come to you in pieces or so worn and ragged that if you don’t take them apart they will fall apart on their own.

 

Look at this little 1839 mini-American atlas (see photo). It’s already missing a good 40 pages and what’s left looks so wretched that you’d think no one would want it. That’s where you’d be mistaken, because that atlas still has text, pix and maps on Africa, pre-Civil War America, and discoveries in the Pacific that are sufficiently interesting and graphic that they’re likely to find buyers by the page or section.

 

I learned how to break from my Dad. In the 1950s he’d take me along on his buying expeditions. We’d often come back with fat semi-decayed volumes of Scribner’s, Century, Harper’s, and others of the late 19th and early 20th century books, magazines and journals.

 

He couldn’t keep them all, so he took them apart and kept the parts he wanted. Work by Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Howard Pyle, Arthur Rackham, and Joseph Conrad appeared in those pages. There were also ads for beauty products, early autos, strange electrical devices, and travel to all points by train and much of it beautifully illustrated. A lot of what he broke came to me and most of it went on to new homes at decent prices.

 

You can still buy many of those same books and magazines and often for very nominal sums. One reason is that almost all of those things are now available free in digital format on the internet. Another is the people who are selling them frequently haven’t a clue as to what might be of value or why. 

 

The truth is there’s still an avid core of enthusiasts who prefer the real thing, especially the real plates as they were first issued. Years ago I worked for another dealer who bought a broken set of the Harriman Expedition to Alaska 1901. He eagerly stripped the colored illustrations and folding maps and tossed the rest into the trash.

 

I was right behind him fishing it out. He missed the photogravures by ES Curtis. Yes, the same Curtis who went on to take the celebrated pictures of Native Americans. It was lovely stuff with full plate marks tucked inside a picked over breaker and plucked directly from the rubbish bin.

 

In those days there was no internet, you just had to know. Now that the internet is permanently with us my advice to buyers and sellers is to browse for what might be interesting digitally and then look for the issues or volumes to appear via eBay or Google.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>19th, 20th and 21st April 2021</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br>Atlases and Maps</b
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br> Veneto and Venice, a Selection of Books from the XVI to XX century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br></b>Rossini Gioachino, Baguette de chef d'orchestre appartenuta a Gioachino Rossini, dono del Comune di Passy. 1500 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Manetti Saverio, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo. Cinque volumi. 1767. 18.000 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Poe Edgar Allan, Double assassinat dans la rue morgue. Illustrations de Cura. 1946.
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions