Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2023 Issue

“Junky” Old Book Taken to Antiques Road Show Turns Out to be Worth $50,000

Third quarto edition of Shakespeare's King Lear (Swann Galleries photo).

You never know. This story is a follow-up on an account from the Antiques Roadshow where a gentleman showed up with an old book by William Shakespeare. It was published in 1655, old but not extremely so for Shakespeare as he had been dead almost 40 years by then. It was also quite ratty looking. The lesson here is that while condition is of great importance, and first editions are often the only ones of significant value, some books and some authors trump the usual constraints. William Shakespeare is such an author.

 

The gentleman (Mike) brought some old books for an estimate. They had been collected by his grandfather, passed down to his father and then to him. Rare books expert Devon Eastland of Swann Galleries glanced through them, at first seeing they were old but unspectacular until one caught her eye. It wasn't pretty, but it was a 1655 edition of Shakespeare's King Lear. Not only was it a fairly early Shakespeare but she noted it was a quarto edition. Those are particularly rare. She did some digging into the auction records and discovered it last sold at auction at Sotheby's in 1946. Auction records are usually the best source for estimating values, but that is so long ago it can be hard to use it for accurate appraisals.

 

The 1655 edition sold at Sotheby's in London for £28. That's about $36 in U.S. dollars, but a lot has changed since 1946. Taking into account inflation, that's around $7,000 today, but even that would be a serious underestimate. Some books increase in value more than others, and early Shakespeare fits the bill. This was a third quarto edition and not only was it old, it was rare. Eastland could only locate 17 other copies of this edition known to still exist.

 

The third quarto had sold prior to 1946 at Anderson Galleries in 1918, but we do not have the price from that sale. What should be noted of the previous two sales is the provenance. The 1918 copy came from the library of Henry Huntington, one of the greatest collectors of the last century. He did not collect unimportant material. The 1946 copy was sold to legendary British bookseller Maggs Bros., and they would have purchased for discerning collectors, ones who would have been willing to pay considerably more than the auction price.

 

When Mike presented the book to Eastland on camera, she examined it and noted, “This book doesn't look that great. Looks a little brown. We had trouble setting it up because the front board is detached. Looks like a piece of tape on it. Do you think that looks like a junky book?” She also pointed out that the publisher, Jane Bell, the widow of Moses Bell, has a somewhat shady reputation and might not have had authorization to print it. It might have been a pirated edition.

 

Mike must have been feeling a bit down at this point, but then Eastland said, “At auction I would conservatively say $10,000 to $15,000.”

 

Mike responded, “Really?”

Eastland, “Yes.”

Mike, “Wow.”

Eastland, “For this dirty little book.”

Mike, “I knew it was unusual but I had no idea.”

 

A week later, Eastland received an email from Mike. He was ready to sell. Since the condition was a mess, and the covers weren't original anyway, she rebound it. Then, they put it up for sale at Swann Galleries. It turned out that Eastland's term “conservatively' before her estimate was prophetic. When the bidding at Swann finally stopped, it sold for $57,500 all in, with $46,000 to the seller. Appearances can be deceiving. Beauty turned out to be more than skin deep.


Posted On: 2023-08-02 02:39
User Name: mairin111

Terrific story, Mike. And its moral: You can't judge a book by looking at its cover
(or its condition). Happy thanks for this, M. Mulvihill, Collector.
_____


Posted On: 2023-08-08 21:50
User Name: Bkwoman

I often get folks in who want to sell their grannies old books. The first thing I tell them is that old does not mean valuable. However, one gal friend of mine brought me a box of junk, mysteries and old romance from her mom. We unpacked in and I was about to tell her to take it to Goodwill when we discover a lovely little leather bound hymnal from the mid-1760s (I've forgotten now), so I researched it and put it up for sale for her for $4000 and someone came in the next day and bought it. So sometimes old can be valuable.


Rare Book Monthly

  • Doyle, May 1: Thomas Jefferson expresses fears of "a war of extermination" in Saint-Dominigue. $40,000 to $60,000.
    Doyle, May 1: An exceptional presentation copy of Fitzgerald's last book, in the first issue dust jacket. $25,000 to $35,000.
    Doyle, May 1: The rare first signed edition of Dorian Gray. $15,000 to $25,000.
    Doyle, May 1: The Prayer Book of Jehan Bernachier. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Doyle, May 1: Van Dyck's Icones Principum Virorum Doctorum. $10,000 to $15,000.
    Doyle, May 1: The magnificent Cranach Hamlet in the deluxe binding by Dõrfner. $7,000 to $10,000.
    Doyle, May 1: A remarkable unpublished manuscript of a voyage to South America in 1759-1764. $3,000 to $5,000.
    Doyle, May 1: Bouchette's monumental and rare wall map of Lower Canada. $12,000 to $18,000.
    Doyle, May 1: An rare original 1837 abolitionist woodblock. $8,000 to $12,000.
    Doyle, May 1: An important manuscript breviary in Middle Dutch. $15,000 to $25,000.
    Doyle, May 1: An extraordinary Old Testament manuscript, circa 1250. $20,000 to $30,000.
  • Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Edition of Piccolomini's De La Sfera del Mondo (The Sphere of the World), 1540.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Edition of Vellutello's Commentary on Petrarch, With Map, 1525.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: Finely Bound Definitive, Illustrated Edition of I Promessi Sposi, 1840.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: Rare First Edition of John Milton's Latin Correspondence, 1674.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: Giolito's Edition of Boccaccio's The Decamerone, with Bedford Binding, 1542.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Edition of the First Biography of Marie of the Incarnation, with Rare Portrait, 1677.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Aldine Edition of Volume One of Cicero's Orationes, 1540.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Edition of Bonanni's Illustrated Costume Catalogue, with Complete Plates, 1711.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: An Important Incunable, the First Italian Edition of Josephus's De Bello Judaico, 1480.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: First Edition of Jacques Philippe d'Orville's Illustrated Book of the Ruins of Sicily, 1764.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: An Incunable from 1487, The Contemplative Life, with Early Manuscript.
    Leland Little, Apr. 26: Ignatius of Loyola's Exercitia Spiritualia, 1563.
  • Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 546. Christoph Jacob Trew. Plantae selectae, 1750-1773.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 70. Thomas Murner. Die Narren beschwerung. 1558.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 621. Michael Bernhard Valentini. Museum Museorum, 1714.
    Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 545. Sander Reichenbachia. Orchids illustrated and described, 1888-1894.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1018. Marinetti, Boccioni, Pratella Futurism - Comprehensive collection of 35 Futurist manifestos, some of them exceptionally rare. 1909-1933.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 634. August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof. 3 Original Drawings, around 1740.
    Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 671. Jacob / Picasso. Chronique des Temps, 1956.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1260. Mary Webb. Sarn. 1948. Lucie Weill Art Deco Binding.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 508. Felix Bonfils. 108 large-format photographs of Syria and Palestine.
    Jeschke Jadi
    Auction 151
    Saturday, April 27, 2024
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 967. Dante Aligheri and Salvador Dali. Divina Commedia, 1963.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1316. Tolouse-Lautrec. Dessinateur. Duhayon binding, 1948.
    Jeschke Jádi, Apr. 27: Lot 1303. Regards sur Paris. Braque, Picasso, Masson, 1962.
  • Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: McCarthy (Cormac). Cities of the Plain, N.Y., 1998, First Edn., signed on hf. title; together with Uncorrected Proof and Uncorrected Advance Reading Copies, both signed by the Author. €800 to €1,000.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Stanihurst (Richard). De Rebus in Hibernia Gestis, Libri Quattuor, sm. 4to Antwerp (Christi. Plantium) 1584. First Edn. €525 to €750.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Fleischer (Nat.) Jack Dempsey The Idol of Fistiana, An Intimate Narrative, N.Y., 1929, First Edn. Signed on f.e.p. by Rocky Marciano. €400 to €600.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Smith - Classical Atlas, Lond., 1820. Bound with, Smiths New General Atlas .. Principal Empires, Kingdoms, & States throughout the World, Lond. 1822. €350 to €500.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Rare Auction Catalogues – 1856: Bindon Blood, of Ennis, Co. Clare: Sotheby & Wilkinson. €320 to €450.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: [Mavor (Wm.)] A General Collection of Voyages and Travels from the Discovery of America to the Commencement of the Nineteenth Century, 28 vols. (complete) Lond., 1810. €300 to €400.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Mc Carthy (Cormac). Outer Dark, N.Y. (Random House)1968, Signed by Mc Carthy. €250 to €300.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Three signed works by Ted Huges - Wodwo, 1967; Crow from the Life and Songs of the Crow, 1970; and Tales from Ovid, 1997. €200 to €300.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: The Garden. An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Horticulture in all its Branches, 7 vols. lg. 4to Lond. 1877-1880. With 127 colored plates. €200 to €300.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Rare Book & Collectors Sale
    24th April 2024
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: Procter (Richard A.) Saturn and its System: Containing Discussions of The Motion (Real and Apparent)…, Lond. 1865. First Edn. €160 to €220.
    Fonsie Mealy, Apr. 24: [Ashe] St. George, Lord Bishop of Clogher, A Sermon Preached to the Protestants of Ireland, now in London,... Oct. 23, 1712, London 1712. Second Edn. €130 to €180.
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions