Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2003 Issue

It’s the (Book) Antiques Road ShowWith Kenneth Gloss of the Brattle Book Shop

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Ken Gloss displays some early editions of Life Magazine.


Fortunately, this is more fun than work to him, as Mr. Gloss never tires of talking about books. A good thing too, as the appraisers on the "Antiques Road Show" pay their own way and even pay for their own hotel rooms. Their primary benefit is the publicity, but even this is chancy: if no one brings you anything very interesting that day, he points out, you don’t get on TV. Still, you get to meet other appraisers of all sorts of antiques, and those connections can lead to referrals at a later date. It is these future referrals that motivates Mr. Gloss to make the many appearances he does. As he explains, he rarely buys any books at talks like the one he has given this night. What he hopes is that someday down the line, someone who met him at a show will be disposing of a collection, and they will remember him from this night as at least one person they should call.

Appraising Your Books

While most in the audience have come to have their own books appraised, Ken Gloss’ talk offers a lot of guidance that can help any owner get a start on valuing his or her books. He opens the talk by asking what is a valuable old book. For starters, there’s the Gutenberg Bible. Printed in 1456, it’s the first book ever printed. Anything printed in the 1400’s, he explains, is valuable. After that, value is no longer certain. “A book that was dull and uninteresting in the 1500’s may still be dull and uninteresting,” he points out.

The Gutenberg Bible emphasizes his point. A book printed in the 1600’s may sound old, but for a bible, this is not old. Now if it is printed in America and the date is 1640, it’s very valuable. That’s because 1640 is the date for the Bay Psalm Book, the first book printed in America, and it is extremely valuable. It may be much newer than the Gutenberg, but like the Gutenberg, it is also a first. On the other hand, a bible printed in Europe in 1640 is far from a first, and unless there is something else notable about it, it is not likely to be particularly valuable.

To take the example further, a book printed in the American Northeast in 1840 may not be worth much because it is not that old for this area, but an 1840 California imprint likely will be valuable. A religious book from 1870 may not be valuable as this is not old for religious texts, but an 1870 book about the telephone and telegraph probably is valuable. 1940 is old for books about computers. Even first edition Harry Potter books can go for $10,000 plus if they are the very first of the first in this series. In other words, “old” is a relative term, and your book should be judged not by an absolute standard of “old,” but by where it fits into its subject’s timeline. And this is why that 1850 book in your attic may not necessarily be as valuable as you think.

The next issue is first editions. Are they valuable? Mr. Gloss points out that most books don’t even have second editions, so that isn’t enough by itself. First the book needs to be historically significant. Then the chances are better that the first edition will be valuable.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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