(Note: This is taken from W. Roberts' The Book-Hunter in London.)
It is perhaps to be regretted that the late Adam Smith did not make an inquiry into the subject of Books and their Prices. The result, if not as exhaustive as the 'Wealth of Nations,' would have been quite as important a contribution to the science of social economy. In a general way, books are subject, like other merchandise, to the laws of supply and demand. But, as with other luxuries, the demand fluctuates according to fashion rather than from any real, tangible want. The want, for example, of the edition of Chaucer printed by Caxton, or of the Boccaccio by Valdarfer, is an arbitrary rather than a literary one, for the text of neither is without faults, or at all definitive. To take quite another class of books as an illustration: the demand for first editions of Dickens, Thackeray, Ruskin, and others, is perhaps greater than the supply; but we do not read these first editions any more than the Caxton Chaucer or the Valdarfer Boccaccio; we can get all the good we want out of the fiftieth edition. We do not, however, feel called upon to anticipate the labours and inquiries of the future Adam Smith; it must suffice us to indicate some of the more interesting prices and fashions in book-fancies which have prevailed during the last two centuries or so in London.
The sale of books by auction dates, in this country at all events, from the year 1676, when William Cooper, a bookseller of considerable learning, who lived at the sign of the Pelican, in Little Britain, introduced a custom which had for many years been practised on the Continent. The full title of this interesting catalogue is in Latin—a language long employed by subsequent book-auctioneers—and runs as follows:
Catalogus | variorum et insignium | Librorum | instructissimæ Bibliotheca | clarissimi doctissimiq Viri—Lazari Seaman, S. T. D. | quorum Auctio habebitur Londini | in ædibus Defuncti in Area et Viculo | Warwicensi. Octobris ultimo | cura Gulielmi Cooper Bibliopolæ | Londini.
|Gruis in Cæmetario
As will be seen from the foregoing, Cooper had no regular auction-rooms, for in this instance Dr. Seaman's books were sold at his own house in Warwick Court. Mr. John Lawler, in Booklore, December, 1885, points out an error first made by Gough (in the Gentleman's Magazine, and extensively copied since), who states that the sale occurred at Cooper's house in Warwick Lane. In his preface 'To the Reader,' Cooper makes an interesting announcement, by way of apology. 'It hath not been,' he says, 'usual here in England to make sale of books by way of Auction, or who will give most for them; but it having been practised in other Countreys to the advantage of Buyers and Sellers, it was therefore conceived (for the encouragement of learning) to publish the sales of these books in this manner of way; and it is hoped that this will not be Unacceptable to Schollars; and therefore we thought it convenient to give an advertisement concerning the manner of Proceeding therein.' The second sale, comprising the library of Mr. Thomas Kidner, was held by Cooper three months after, i.e., February 6, 1676-77. On February 18, 1677-78, the third sale by auction was held, and this, as Mr. Lawler has pointed out, is the first 'hammer' auction, and was held at a coffee-house—'in vico vulgo dicto, Bread St. in Ædibus Ferdinandi stable coffipolæ ad insigne capitis Turcæ,' the auctioneer in this case being Zacharius Bourne, whilst the library was that of the Rev. W. Greenhill, author of a 'Commentary on Ezekiel,' and Rector of Stepney, Middlesex. The fourth sale was that of Dr. Thomas Manton's library, in March, 1678. From 1676 to 1682, no less than thirty sales were held, and these included, in addition to the four already mentioned, the libraries of Brooke, Lord Warwick, Sir Kenelm Digby, Dr. S. Charnock, Dr. Thomas Watson, John Dunton, the crack-brained bookseller, Dr. Castell, the author of the 'Heptaglotton,' Dr. Thomas Gataker, and others. The business of selling by auction was so successful that several other auctioneers adopted it, including such well-known booksellers as Richard Chiswell and Moses Pitt. At a very early period a suspicion got about that the books were 'run up' by those who had a special interest in them, and accordingly the vendors of Dr. Benjamin Worsley's sale, in May, 1678, emphatically denied this imputation, which they described as 'a groundless and malicious suggestion of some of our own trade envious of our undertaking.' In addition to this statement, they refused to accept any 'commissions' to buy at this sale.
The dispersal of books by auction developed in many ways. It soon became, for example, one means of getting rid of the bookseller's heavy stock, of effecting what is now termed a 'rig.' Its popularity was extended to the provinces, for from 1684 and onwards Edward Millington visited the provinces, selecting fair times for preference, taking with him large quantities of books, which he sold at auction, and this doubtless was another method of distributing works which were more or less still-born. John Dunton (who, the Pretender said, was the first man he would hang when he became King) took a cargo of books to Ireland in 1698, and most of these he sold by auction in Dublin. This visit was not welcomed by the Irish booksellers, and one of its numerous results was 'The Dublin Scuffle,' which is still worth reading. Dunton's receipts amounted to £1,500. It was said that Dunton had 'done more service to learning by his three auctions than any single man that had come into Ireland for the previous three hundred years.'
It may be pointed out that the early auction catalogues are of the 'thinnest' possible nature. The books were usually arranged according to subjects, but each lot, irrespective of its importance, was confined to a single line. The sales were at first usually held from eight o'clock in the morning until twelve, and again from two o'clock till six, a day's sale therefore occupying eight hours. Mr. Lawler calculates that the average number of lots sold would be about sixty-six. The early hour at which the sales began was soon dropped, and eventually the time of starting became noon, and from that to one or even two o'clock. It is quite certain that, up to ten shillings, penny and twopenny bids were accepted. The sales were chiefly held at the more noteworthy coffee-houses. Dr. King, in his translation of Sorbière's 'Journey to London,' 1698, says: 'I was at an auction of books at Tom's Coffee-house, near Ludgate, where were about fifty people. Books were sold with a great deal of trifling and delay, as with us, but very cheap. Those excellent authors, Mounsieur Maimbourg, Mounsieur Varillas, Monsieur le Grand, tho' they were all guilt on the back and would have made a very considerable figure in a gentleman's study, yet, after much tediousness, were sold for such trifling sums that I am asham'd to name 'em.'
It is curious to note the evolution of the book-auctioneer from the bookseller. Besides the names already quoted, John Whiston, Thomas Wilcox, Thomas and Edward Ballard, Sam Bathoe, Sam Paterson, Sam Baker, and George Leigh, were all booksellers as well as book-auctioneers. Of these the firm established by Samuel Baker in 1744 continues to flourish in Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge. The earlier auctioneers with whom books were a special feature, but who did not sell books except under the hammer, include Cock (under the Great Piazza, Covent Garden), Langford (who succeeded to Cock's business), Gerard, James Christie, Greenwood, Compton, and Ansell.
The firm of Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge is, by nearly half a century, the doyen of London auctioneers. One hundred and fifty years is a long life for one firm, but Sotheby's can claim an unbroken record of that length of time. The founder of the house was Samuel Baker, who started as a bookseller and book-auctioneer in York Street, Covent Garden, in 1744. At the latter part of his career, Baker, who retired in 1777 and died in the following year, took into partnership George Leigh, and, at a later date, his nephew, John Sotheby, whose son Samuel also joined the firm. Writing in 1812, Richard Gough observes in reference to Leigh: 'This genuine disciple of the elder Sam [Baker] is still at the head of his profession, assisted by a younger Sam [Sotheby]; and of the Auctioneers of Books may not improperly be styled facile princeps. His pleasant disposition, his skill, and his integrity are as well known as his famous snuff-box, described by Mr. Dibdin as having a not less imposing air than the remarkable periwig of Sir Fopling of old, which, according to the piquant note of Dr. Warburton, usually made its entrance upon the stage in a sedan chair, brought in by two chairmen, with infinite satisfaction to the audience. When a high price book is balancing between £15 and £20, it is a fearful sign of its reaching an additional sum if Mr. Leigh should lay down his hammer and delve into this said crumple-horn-shaped snuff-box.' The style of the firm was for many years Leigh, Sotheby and Son. In 1803-4 a removal to 145, Strand, opposite Catherine Street, was made. John Sotheby died in 1807, and the name of Leigh disappeared from the catalogues in 1816. Samuel Sotheby removed to the present premises, No. 3 (now 13), Wellington Street, Strand, in 1818, not more than a few yards from either of the two former localities. The last of the race, Samuel Leigh Sotheby, joined his father in partnership in 1830, and is well and widely known as a scholar and author of considerable note. In 1843 John Wilkinson became a partner, and S. L. Sotheby died in 1861. The next alteration in the style of the firm was effected in 1864, when the present head and sole member, Mr. Edward Grose Hodge, was admitted into partnership. The first sale was the collection of books belonging to Thomas Pellet, M.D. Curiously enough, Baker's name does not occur anywhere in connection with this sale on the catalogue thereof. The auction took place in the Great Room over Exeter 'Change, and lasted fifteen days, or rather nights, for the sale began at five o'clock in the evening on Monday, January 7, 1744. The octavos, quartos, and folios, of which a selection appeared in each evening's sale, were numbered separately, a process which must have been very confusing, and one which was soon dropped. The first day's sale of 123 lots realized £47 7s. 1d., whilst the fifteen nights produced a total of £859 11s. 1d. One of the highest prices was paid for Mrs. Blackwell's 'Herbal,' 1740, 'finely coloured and best paper, in blue Turkey,' £14. The catalogue of this sale contained the interesting announcement: 'That the publick may be assured this is the genuine collection of Dr. Pellet, without addition or diminution, the original catalogue may be seen by any gentleman at the place of sale.' In 1754-55 Dr. Mead's books occupied fifty days, and produced £5,518 10s. 11d.; and in 1756 forty days devoted to the library of Martin Folkes yielded no more than £3,091 odd. In February, 1755, Baker sold Fielding's library of 653 lots (£364 7s. 1d.). Gradually more important properties came to hand—the effects of Samuel Tyssen, 1802, thirty-eight days, £9,102 16s. 7d.; Prince Talleyrand (Bibliotheca Splendidissima), 1816, eighteen days, only £8,399; James Bindley, 1819, twenty-eight days, £7,692 6s. 6d.; the Dimsdales, 1824, seventeen days, £7,802 19s. Of course, very interesting days have been experienced where the financial result was not very striking, as when, in 1799, the firm disposed of the library of the Right Hon. Joseph Addison, 'Author and Secretary of State,' for £533 4s. 4d.; and in 1833 of that of 'the Emperor Napoleon Buonaparte' (sic), removed from St. Helena, for £450 9s. (his tortoiseshell walking-stick bringing £38 17s.); and, once more, when the drawings of T. Rowlandson, the caricaturist, were sold in 1818 for £700. The libraries of the Marquis of Lansdowne, 1806; the Duke of Queensberry, 1805; Marquis of Townsend, 1812; Count McCarthy, 1789; H.R.H. the Duke of York, 1827; James Boswell, 1825; G. B. Inglis, 1826; Edmond Malone, 1818; Joseph Ritson, 1803; John Wilkes, 1802; and a large number of others, came under the hammer at Sotheby's from 1744 to 1828. But the portions—the first, second, third, ninth, and tenth—of the stupendous Heber Library, dispersed here in 1834, owing to the prevailing depression, and what Dibdin called the bibliophobia, nearly ruined the auctioneers. They rallied from the blow, however, and have never suffered any relapse to bad times, whatever account they may be pleased to give of the very piping ones which they have known pretty well ever since 1845, when Mr. Benjamin Heywood Bright's important library was entrusted to their care. The secret of this steady and sustained progress is to be found in the general confidence secured by strict commercial integrity. The house receives business, but never solicits it. During the last half century nearly every important library has been sold at Sotheby's, including the Hamilton Palace and Beckford, the Thorold, the Osterley Park, the Seillière, and the Crawford libraries.
But from 1812 to 1845 the most important libraries were almost invariably sold by R. H. Evans, who began with the famous Roxburghe Collection—this sale, it may be mentioned, was held at the Duke's house, now occupied by the Windham Club, 13, St. James's Square—in 1812, and finished with the sixth part of the library of the Duke of Sussex in 1845. We can only refer to a few of the more important of Evans's sales, in addition to the two foregoing: In 1813 he sold the fine collection of early-printed books collected by Stanesby Alchorne, Master of the Mint, Earl Spencer having previously bought Alchorne's Caxtons; in 1815 the Duke of Grafton's library; in 1818-19 two parts of James Bindley's collection; in 1819-20 the White Knights Library of the Marquis of Blandford; in 1832-33 John Broadley's collection of books, which included the celebrated 'Bedford Missal,' bought by Sir John Tobin for £1,100, and now in the British Museum; in 1833 Edmund Burke's books; Lord Byron's in 1827; T. F. Dibdin's, 1817; the Earl of Guilford's, in three parts, 1830-35; the fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and eleventh parts of the Heber Collection, 1834-36; the books of Thomas Hill ('Paul Pry'), 1841; Daniel and Samuel Lysons, 1820, 1828, 1834; G. and W. Nicol, booksellers, 1825; Colonel Stanley, 1813; Sir M. M. Sykes, three parts, 1824; and J. Towneley, 1814-45, 1828. A complete list of Evans's sales is contributed by Mr. Norgate to The Library, iii. 324-330. Of the auctioneer himself a few details will not be out of place. Robert Harding Evans was the son of Thomas Evans, a bookseller of the Strand, and served his apprenticeship with Tom Payne at the News Gate. Leaving here, he succeeded to the business of James Edwards, Pall Mall, and was induced by George Nicol to undertake the sale by auction of the Duke of Roxburghe's library. The experiment was such a success that he became almost exclusively known as an auctioneer, and his business as a bookseller speedily declined. He was an admirable auctioneer, having an excellent memory and a vast fund of information; but he neglected the most important of all matters in commercial life, his ledgers. He had to give up selling books by auction, but restarted as a bookseller in Bond Street, with his two sons as partners; but his day was over, and here failure again followed him. He died in Edwards Street, Hampstead Road, April 25, 1857, aged eighty.
A few other firms of book-auctioneers, although, with one exception, they have ceased to exist, call for mention. Sam Paterson, than whom no more popular an auctioneer ever wielded a hammer, was, as we have already seen, first a bookseller. Sam—we employ the little familiarity by which he was universally known—was born in 1728 in the parish of St. Paul, Covent Garden, and lived on till 1802, his death being the result of an accident. He was not only a bookseller, but an author and a traveller, and it was during a tour in Holland and Flanders that he brought home a large collection of books, which he sold at auction. In 1757, Sam prevented the valuable collection of MSS. once belonging to Sir Julius Cæsar from being destroyed; they had actually been sold to a cheesemonger as waste-paper for £10. He rescued the whole collection, and drew up a masterly catalogue of it, and when sold by auction the result was £356. For some years he was librarian to the Earl of Shelburne, afterwards first Marquis of Lansdowne. Sam's great talents at 'cataloguizing' were unrivalled: he compiled those of James West, P.R.S. (whose library he sold at Langford's), 1773, the sale lasting twenty-four days, and including a fine series of books printed by Caxton, Wynkyn de Worde, and on Old English literature and history, voyages and travels; the Rev. Thomas Crofts, forty-three days, in 1783; Topham Beauclerk, April 8, 1781, and following forty-nine days (the collection was dispersed by Sam himself 'opposite Beaufort Buildings, Strand'); of the Fagel Collection, now in Trinity College, Dublin, 1802, and others. Nichols states that the catalogues of the libraries of Maffei Pinelli, sold in London in fifty-four days, 1789-90; of Samuel Tyssen, 1801, thirteen days; and of John Strange, fifty-six days, 1801, were compiled by the versatile Sam. The Pinelli catalogue most certainly was not his work, for although he commenced it, he threw it up at a very early stage. The Tyssen and Strange libraries were sold at Sotheby's, for whom Sam 'catalogued' for some time. The book-hunter in London will occasionally meet with a copy of the 'Bibliotheca Universalis Selecta' on the stalls for a few pence, and he is strongly recommended to buy this very admirable volume. It is a model catalogue in its way; the contents of this sale (which took place at Sam's Great Room in King Street, Covent Garden, on Monday, May 8, 1786, and the thirty-five following days) are carefully classified, whilst the index extends to nearly seventy pages. The volume is well interspersed with Sam's annotations, and the published price of it is 5s. 6d. The second condition of sale is extremely interesting; it says, 'No bidder shall advance less than threepence under ten shillings; above ten shillings, sixpence; above one pound, one shilling.'
The chief rival of Leigh and Paterson was Thomas King, who from 1780 to 1796 had a shop in Lower Moorfields, but who towards the end of 1796 moved to King Street, Covent Garden, and set up as an auctioneer. At first it was King and Son, but the son, early in the present century, started for himself in Tavistock Street, when the elder King's son-in-law, Lochée, became a partner. The firm existed into the second decade of the present century, and sold many important libraries, notably Isaac Reed's, in 1807, which lasted thirty-nine days, and included a very extraordinary collection of works relating to the English drama and poetry; Dr. Richard Farmer's, in 1798, lasting thirty-six days; John Maddison's, of the Foreign Department in the Post Office, 1802, twenty-two days; George Steevens's, May 13, 1800, eleven days; and John Horne Tooke's, May 26, 1813, four days. It is scarcely necessary to point out that either of the foregoing remarkable libraries would give 'tone' to the annals of any book-auction house. The collection of the Rev. John Brand, of the Society of Antiquaries, was sold by Stewart, the founder of Puttick's, of Piccadilly, in 1807-8, when 4,064 lots realized a total of £6,151 15s.; he also sold the libraries of Lord Thurlow, of W. Bryant, etc. Other auctioneers who occasionally sold books during the earlier part of the present century were Jeffrey, of Pall Mall, who in 1810 sold Dr. Benjamin Heath's library in thirty-two days, the 4,786 lots realizing £8,899; Cochrane, of Catherine Street, who in 1816 (twelve days) dispersed an exceedingly interesting library originally formed between 1610 and 1650 by Sir Robert Gordon, of Gordonstoun, one of the Gentlemen of the Bedchamber of James I. and Charles I.; Compton, of Conduit Street, who in 1783-84 (fifteen days) sold Joseph Gulston's library; Robins, of Warwick Street; and T. and J. Egerton, of Scotland Yard.
Mention may be here made of one who for many years occupied an important position in the fraternity. John Walker, brother-in-law of the elder George Robinson, was the book-auctioneer to the trade, and frequently knocked down from £10,000 to £40,000 worth of books in the course of an afternoon. In 1776 Walker was in partnership with J. Fielding, and in early life combined with the book-trade the office of one of the coal-meters of the City of London. He resigned the hammer to William Hone about 1812, and died at Camberwell in February, 1817. A sketch of his life and a portrait of him appear in the fifth volume of the Wonderful Magazine.
After Sotheby's, the most important of the book-auctioneers of to-day are Messrs. Puttick and Simpson; Christie, Manson and Woods; and Hodgson and Co. The first-named have since December, 1858, occupied the greater portion of the house in Leicester Square in which Sir Joshua Reynolds lived throughout his brilliant career, and where he died in 1792. The auction-room was formerly the artist's studio; the office was his dining-room; the upper portion of the house is occupied by Mr. H. Gray, the topographical bookseller. The place has been altered since the distinguished painter resided there, but in this age of iconoclasm it is pleasant to wander in the passages and rooms where all the wit, beauty, and intellect of the latter part of the last century congregated—where Johnson and Boswell, Burke, Garrick, Goldsmith and Malone met in good fellowship. The founder of the firm was a Mr. Stewart, who started in Piccadilly in 1794, and who continued here until about 1825, when he took into partnership Benjamin Wheatley, who had been at Sotheby's, and a son of the printer, Adlard; for a while the firm was John and James Fletcher, but early in 1846, the two and only partners were Mr. Puttick and the present Mr. William Simpson; the former died in 1873, and the business is now in the hands of Mr. Simpson and his son. The most important sale held at Puttick's was that of the Sunderland Library from Blenheim Palace, which, commencing on December 1, 1881, occupied from that date up to March 22, 1883, fifty-one days, the 13,858 lots realizing the gross total of £56,581 6s. On April 21, 1884, and ten following days, the exceedingly fine topographical library of the Earl of Gosford was sold at Puttick's, the total of the sale being £11,318 5s. 6d.; the most remarkable item in the sale was a fine large copy of the first volume of the Mazarin Bible in the original binding, which was knocked down to Mr. Toovey for £500; and next in interest to this was a copy of the First Folio Shakespeare, 1623, measuring 12-7/8 inches by 8-3/8 inches, quite perfect, but with the title and verses mounted, and the margins of two leaves slightly mended, and this sold for £470. The extensive library of L. L. Hartley was also disposed of at Puttick's, 1885-87, and realized the total of £16,530; and other important libraries dispersed there during the last half-century include the Donnadieu books and MSS., 1847-58, £3,923; a portion of the Libri Collection, 1850-68, £8,929; Dawson Turner's books and MSS., 1859, £9,453; Edward Crowinshield's (of Boston, N.E.) books and MSS., 1860, £4,826; Sir Edward Dering's books and MSS., 1861, £7,259; the Emperor Maximilian's Mexican Library, 1869, £3,985; John Camden Hotten's stock, 1873, £3,751; Sir Edward Nichols' (Secretary to Charles I., whose state papers were sold privately to the British Museum) books, 1877, £977; the library of J. Duerdin, consigned from Australia, 1884, £1,140; books from William Penn's Library, 1872, £1,350; the library of Señor Don Jose Fernando Ramirez, 1880, £6,957; and many others. Literary property forms a comparatively small portion of Messrs. Puttick and Simpson's business, a very important part of which consists in the sale and private dispersal of musical property of every description, as well as pictures, prints, porcelain and jewels.
The firm of Hodgson and Co. dates its origin from the twenties of the present century, the late Edmund Hodgson (who died in May, 1875, aged 81) starting in partnership with Robert Saunders at 39, Fleet Street, as an auctioneer of literary property, the premises having been originally the Mitre Tavern. In the interval the place had been christened the 'Poets' Gallery.' When the property passed into the hands of Messrs. Hoare, the partnership between Saunders and Hodgson terminated, and the latter removed to 192, Fleet Street, at the corner of Chancery Lane (on the site now occupied by Partridge and Cooper), where Mr. Hodgson remained for many years. The march of improvement again overtook him, and the business was once more removed, this time to its present site at 115, Chancery Lane, which was specially erected for the peculiar requirements of a book-auction house. The late Mr. Hodgson for many years officiated in the rostrum of nearly all the chief trade dinner sales, and literary property to the value of some £50,000 would frequently be disposed of by him during an evening. His son, the present head of the firm, officiated in a similar capacity for some years, until, in fact, the pleasant custom of trade dinners became almost obsolete. The firm has dispersed, in its time, many important libraries and stocks of books, among which we may specially mention the valuable collection of books of the College of Advocates, Doctors' Commons, London, Monday, April 22, 1861, and seven following days (2,456 lots); the stocks or superfluous stocks of books of Charles Knight, Owen Jones, G. Cox, R. Bentley, 'Standard Novels'; Bradbury and Evans's, April, 1862 (eight days); Arthur Hall, Virtue and Co., November, 1862; Darton and Hodge, 1863, 1866, and 1867; Lionel Booth, May, 1866; Day and Son, 1865, 1867, and 1868; Sampson Low and Co., in consequence of the death of Sampson Low, jun., 1871; Moxon and Co., October, 1871, when a four days' sale resulted in over £12,000; Cassell and Co., in consequence of the removal to Belle Sauvage Yard, September, 1875, five days' sale (4,400 lots); and very many others.
The firm of Christie, Manson and Woods dates its establishment from 1762, but its fame is almost exclusively built upon its picture-sales. During its existence, however, the firm has sold several more or less important libraries, such as those of James Edwards, the bookseller, 'the library of a gentleman of distinguished taste,' April, 1804; Rev. L. Dutens (four days), February, 1813; the Earl of Gainsborough, March, 1813; the Hon. C. F. Greville, 1809; Sir William Hamilton, C.B., and Viscount Nelson, 1809; Sir James Pulteney (eight days), February, 1812; the Earl of Aylesford, 1879; Earl of Clarendon, 1877; C. Beckett-Denison, 1885; Dr. Samuel Johnson, 1785; J. P. Knight, R.A., 1881; Earl of Liverpool, 1829; W. Macready, 1873; Rev. W. Bentinck L. Hawkins, in three parts, 1895, and others.
The step from book-auctioneers to book-prices is a very easy one to take, but the subject is far less easily disposed of. A book is worth just as much as its vendor can get for it, and no more. Rarity is not synonymous with high commercial value. There may be only four copies of a particular book in existence, but if the only three people in the world who want it have provided themselves with a copy each, the fourth example is not worth twopence. We have seen this kind of thing illustrated within the past few years. Very small poets are published in very small editions, but nobody buys them, and the books therefore have no market value—in fact, they are superfluous. Hundreds of rare books are superfluous. The auction-room is the great leveller of all manner of unmerited fame, and it may be taken, as a general rule, to be an infallible guide.
We have but little information concerning the prices paid for second-hand books during the seventeenth century. The retailer's safest possible guide, of course, would be the price at which he acquired a particular book, or, if more than one, by the very simple process of averaging. One of the earliest and fullest illustrations we can cite occurs in connection with some of the prices paid for books for the Chetham Library of Manchester in 1663, and these are curious as well as interesting. Thus, Holland's 'Heröologia,' 1620, a good copy of which now realizes from £20 to £30, was purchased for 14s. Purchas's 'His Pilgrimes,' 1625-26, which now sells at auction, if in good condition, at about £50, was obtained for £3 15s. Dugdale's 'History of St. Paul's' cost 12s., and the same author's 'Antiquities of Worcestershire,' 1656, £1 7s. 6d.; the former now sells at prices varying from £5 to £10, and the latter, when in good condition, is not expensive at 18 guineas. In and about 1740 several book-sales occurred at or near Manchester, when a large number of rare items realized painfully small prices. For instance, the 'Treatise concernynge the fruytfull saynges of Davyd the Kynge and Prophete in the seven Penytencyall Psalms,' 1508, by Fisher, Bishop of Rochester; the 'Nova Legenda Sanctorum Angliæ,' 1516, both printed by Wynkyn de Worde, were purchased together for 5s. 6d.! Parsons' 'Conference about the next succession to the Crowne of England,' 1594, cost 1s.; and the same Jesuit's 'Treatise of Three Conversions of England,' 1603-4, 15s. A few months ago these two publications realized close on £10 at auction. Tyndale's 'Practyse of Prelates,' 1530, was obtained for 1s. 6d.; and his 'Briefe Declaration of the Sacraments,' 1550, for 1s. 7d.; the former is now valued at 9 guineas, and the latter at 4 guineas. The English edition of Erasmus' 'Enchiridion Militis Christiani,' 1544, cost 6d., and is now worth perhaps as many pounds. The bargain of the period, however, occurred in connection with Sir Thomas Smyth's treatise 'De Republica et administratione Anglorum,' 1610; Raleigh's 'Prerogative of Parliaments' (?) 1628; and Burton's 'Protestation Protested,' which, together, realized 4d.! Each of these books is now extremely rare.
Thirteen years after the above-mentioned books changed hands at prices which can now only be described as heartbreaking, the first auction-sale took place. It is noteworthy—as Mr. Lawler has pointed out—that 'the first libraries which were sold by auction were those of Puritan divines who had lived and worked under the Commonwealth Government; these libraries were consequently composed of books suited to their calling, consisting almost entirely of theological and historical books.' Life was too awful a thing with them to indulge in a 'roguish' French novel, a Shakespearian play, or one of the many dramatic works which seemed for a time to kill all religious activity. A few of the items dispersed in the first sales will not be without interest. Dr. Seaman's copy of the editio princeps Homer in Greek, 1488, sold for 9s.; the Crawford copy realized £135—true, the latter was bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. In the former sale a copy of Dr. Eliot's Indian Bible sold for 19s.; if it occurred at auction now it might realize anything from £100 to £600. At the Restoration everything in the way of books of prayers was discarded, and sold for a few pence; they would now readily sell almost for their weight in gold. There is a startling uniformity about the prices realized for books at the early book-sales, and one feels almost inclined to suppose that our forbears were influenced chiefly by the size of the volumes. It is interesting to note that the great folio editions of the Fathers realized in the end of the seventeenth century pretty much the same prices as at the end of the nineteenth, and these, it need hardly be said, are very small indeed.
From the sale of the library of Sir Kenelm Digby at the Golden Lion, in Paternoster Row, in April, 1680, we get a few highly interesting facts. This sale comprised 3,878 lots, and realized the total of £908 4s. Here are a few of the items:
|Æschylus, Stanley, London, 1664||1||0||0|
|Ascham's 'Toxophilus,' 1545||0||1||4|
|Barclay's 'Ship of Fools,' 1570||0||4||4|
|Bible of the Douay Translation, with the Rhenish Testament, 3 vols., 4to., 1633||1||5||0|
|Chaucer's Works, folio, 1597||0||12||8|
|Dugdale's 'Monasticon Anglicanum,' 3 vols., 1655, etc.||6||6||0|
|Fabyan's 'Chronicle,' London, 1559||0||7||4|
|Hollinshed's 'Chronicle,' London, 1577||0||8||0|
Homerus cum comment. Eustathii, 4 vols., folio, corio turcico et folio deaur. Romæ, 1542
|Milton's 'Paradise Lost,' London, 1668||0||2||1|
|'P. Plowman's Vision,' London, 1550||0||1||7|
|Purchas's 'Pilgrims and Pilgrimage,' 5 vols., 1625-66||3||5||6|
|Shakespeare's Works, London, 1632 (second edition)||0||14||0|
A comparison of the foregoing prices with those which the books would realize to-day will suggest some interesting conclusions; but as the means of doing this are in the hands of everyone, it is not necessary to discuss them here. In the Bodleian Library there is an exceedingly interesting letter from R. Scott, the bookseller, to Samuel Pepys, dated June 30, 1688. Scott writes: 'Having at length procured Campion, Hanmer and Spencer's Hist. of Ireland, fol. (which I think you formerly desired), I here send itt you, with 2 very scarce bookes besides, viz. Pricæi Defensio Hist. Britt. 4o and old Harding's Chronicle, as alsoe the Old Ship of Fooles in verse by Alex. Berkley, priest; which last, though nott scarce, yet so very fayre and perfect, that seldome comes such another; the Priceus you will find deare, yett I never sold it under 10s., and att this tyme can have it of a person of quality; butt without flattery, I love to find a rare book for you, and hope shortly to procure for you a perfect's Hall's Chronicle.' With the books Scott sent his statement of account as follows:
|Campion, Hanmer and Spenser, fol.||0||12||0|
|Harding's 'Chronicle,' 4to.||0||6||0|
|'Pricæi Defens. Hist. Brit.'||0||8||0|
|'Shipp of Fooles,' fol.||0||8||0|
Whether Scott obtained these items at the Digby sale or not, we cannot say; it is by no means unlikely, and if so, his desire to do Mr. Pepys a good turn may be estimated by the fact that he made a profit of 3s. 8d. over the last item in the bill, and the profit on the others would doubtless be arranged on a similar scale. The second and the fourth items, however, would be now worth from 15 to 20 guineas. Both Sir John Price's 'Historiæ Britannicæ,' 1573, and the histories of Ireland by Hanmer, Campion and Spenser, 1633, are very rare and very important books, and would not be dear now at as many guineas as Scott has charged shillings.
Book-auctions were not, however, unmixed blessings, and, as a fact, they provoked a good many curses from the poorer collectors. Here is one phase which concerns the sale of the library of John Bridges, the Northamptonshire historian, in 1726. This auction is interesting, not so much on account of the books which were knocked down, or of the prices which they realized, but as being the genesis of the knock-out system. We have, fortunately, a very vivid picture of this sale from the pen of Humfrey Wanley, who wished to obtain some of the items for the library of Lord Oxford. In his 'Diary,' under date February, 1726, we read: 'Went to Mr. Bridges' Chamber [No. 6, Lincoln's Inn] to see the three fine MSS. again, the doctor, his brother, having locked them up. He openly bids for his own books, merely to enhance their price, and the auction proves to be, what I thought it would become, very knavish.' And again: 'Yesterday, at five, I met Mr. Noel, and tarried long with him; we settled then the whole affair touching his bidding for my Lord at the roguish sale of Mr. Bridges' books. The Rev. Doctor, one of the brothers, hath already displayed himself so remarkably as to be both hated and despised; and a combination amongst the booksellers will soon be against him and his brother the lawyer. They are men of the keenest avarice, and their very looks (according to what I am told) dart out harping irons. I have ordered Mr. Noel to drop every article in my Lord's Commission when they shall be hoisted up to too high a price.'
We get another interesting view of the subject a year later. Hearne, the antiquary, writing to Dr. R. Rawlinson, the well-known book-collector, November 27, 1727, observes: 'I wanted much to hear from yourself how matters went in your auctions, and was glad at last to have one [letter], though I am very sorry to find you have had such bad usage, when you act so honourably. But I am too sensible, that booksellers and others are in a combination against you. Booksellers have the least pretence of any to act so. Your brother (whom I shall always call my friend) did them unspeakable kindness. By his generous way of bidding, and by his constant buying, he raised the value of books incredibly, and there is hardly such another left. The booksellers (who go so much by him) owe him a statue, the least they can do. But instead of that, they neither speak well of him, nor do you (as I verily believe) common justice.' In a letter from Benjamin Heath, the well-known book-collector, to 'Mr. John Mann, at the Hand in Hand Fire Office in Angel Court, on Snow Hill,' dated March 21, 1738, we get yet another glimpse of some phases of book-auctions in the earlier part of the last century. Fletcher Gyles, a bookseller of Holborn, published a catalogue of a book-auction which he purposed holding at his own place of business. 'Mr. Gyles,' writes Heath, 'has offered himself to act for me, but as I think 'tis too great a Trial to his Honesty to make him at the same time Buyer and Seller . . . I have been able to think of no Friend I could throw this trouble [of buying certain books] upon but you.' For this service, the collector 'would willingly allow 3 guineas, which, the Auction continuing 24 Days, is 3 shillings over and above half a Crown a Day.' The 'Auction requires the Attendance of the whole day, beginning at Eleven in the Morning, and Ending at two, and at five in the Afternoon, and Ending at Eight.'
A chronological account of the book-sales of London would be an important as well as an interesting contribution to the history of literature. But our space is limited, and only the chief features of such a history can be dealt with in this place. If one were asked to name the most famous book in the annals of book-sales, the answer would be at once forthcoming and emphatic—the Valdarfer Boccaccio, otherwise 'Il Decamerone di Messer Giovanni Boccaccio,' printed at Venice by Christopher Valdarfer in 1471, and published, it is thought, at about 10s. In stating that this book is the most famous one, it is almost unnecessary to explain that the Roxburghe copy is understood. By what means it got into the hands of a London bookseller (about the middle of the last century) is not known. It is certain, however, that even at that period he knew of its excessive rarity, for he offered it to the two great contemporary book-collectors, Lord Oxford and Lord Sunderland, for 100 guineas, an amount which at that time must have 'appeared enormously extravagant.' Whilst these two collectors were deliberating, an ancestor of the Duke of Roxburghe saw and purchased it. Shortly after this event the two noble collectors were dining with the Duke, and the subject of Boccaccio was purposely broached. Both Lord Oxford and Lord Sunderland began to talk of the particular copy which had been offered them. The Duke of Roxburghe told them that he thought he could show them a copy of this edition, which they doubted, but, to their mortification, the Duke produced the identical copy, over which both realized that he who hesitates is lost. Beloe, in relating this anecdote, which was told him by G. Nicol, the royal bookseller, predicted that if this copy came under the hammer it would produce 'not much less than £500.' As a matter of fact and of history, at the Roxburghe sale in 1812 it realized the then huge sum of £2,260, the buyer being the Marquis of Blandford, who, it is said, was prepared to go to £5,000. There were three noble candidates for this choice book, the Duke of Devonshire, Earl Spencer, and the Marquis of Blandford, whilst an agent of Bonaparte was known to be present. The Rev. Mr. Dibdin has given a very highly-coloured and vivid account of this famous incident in his 'Bibliographical Decameron,' and we need do no more than refer to the fact that 'the honour of making the first bid was due to a gentleman from Shropshire, who seemed almost surprised at his own temerity in offering 100 guineas.' It is a curious commentary on even the fame of rare books that this copy of the Valdarfer Boccaccio came again into the sale-room in 1819, when the Blandford library was sold, and when it became the property of Earl Spencer for £918. 'I will have it when you are dead,' was the savage retort of a defeated book-lover at an auction sale, and such perhaps was Earl Spencer's mental determination when his rival carried off the bargain—by waiting seven years he saved £1,242, as well as possessing himself of one of the greatest of bibliographical rarities.
Although far before the Valdarfer Boccaccio in every point except that of sensationalism, the first printed Bible, the Biblia Latina of Gutenberg, 1455, commonly known as the Mazarin, has had an exciting history in the way of prices. It is not only the first, but one of the most magnificent books which ever issued from the press. It is not at all a rare book in the usual sense of the word, for there are in existence nineteen copies on paper, and five on vellum, the majority of which are in this country. The most celebrated example of this splendid book is now in the British Museum. The earliest record of this is its possession by M. L. J. Gaignat, at whose sale in 1768 it became the property of Count McCarthy for 1,200 francs; and from his sale, in Paris, in 1815, it passed into Mr. Grenville's library for 6,260 francs—in other words, it had advanced in value in forty-six years from £48 to close on £250. It subsequently passed into the British Museum. Early in the present century, Nicol, the King's bookseller, obtained the copy on vellum, formerly in the University of Mentz; at his sale in 1825 it was bought by H. Perkins, the book-collecting brewer (Barclay, Perkins and Co.), for £504, and at the sale of his library it fetched £3,400, Mr. Ellis purchasing it for Lord Ashburnham. In 1824 Mr. Perkins bought Sir M. M. Sykes' copy of the same book on paper for £199 10s., and this copy in 1873 fetched £2,960. James Perry, of the Morning Chronicle, had a copy on paper, which, at his sale in 1822, the Duke of Sussex purchased for 160 guineas; and this copy, at the Duke's sale in 1844, brought £190. The record price for the 'Mazarin' Bible was not reached until December, 1884, when the Syston Park library of Sir John Thorold came under the hammer at Sotheby's, and this particular Bible on paper sold for £3,900 to Mr. Quaritch, or £500 more than the practically unique one on vellum. In June, 1887, the Earl of Crawford's copy, which was not a particularly good one, realized £2,000, Mr. Quaritch having purchased it about thirty years previously for rather more than a quarter of the amount. In 1889 yet another copy turned up at Sotheby's—it came from the Earl of Hopetoun's library—and this sold at the same figure. We may also refer here to the second edition of the Bible, 1462, but the first printed book with a date. The Edwards copy on vellum of this sold in 1815 for £175; in 1823 a very fine example was sold for £215; in 1873 the Perkins copy, which had cost its owner £173, sold for £780; and eight years later the Sunderland example on vellum for £1,600.
The palm of the highest price ever paid for a single book must be awarded to the 'Psalmorum Codex,' printed, like the last, by Fust and Schœffer in 1459. By the side of this the Gutenberg Bible is a common book, and Sir John Thorold's example is the only one which has occurred in the market for almost a century. This particular copy realized 3,350 francs in the McCarthy sale, and 130 guineas in that of Sir M. M. Sykes; but at the Thorold sale, in 1884, it fetched £4,950. Of the 'Codex' there are only nine copies known, all of which slightly differ from one another. We may also include here a mention of a copy of the Balbi 'Catholicon'—'Summa Quæ vocatur Catholicon, sive Grammatica et Linguæ Latina'—1460, for which Sir John Thorold paid £65 2s., and which at his sale fetched £400. The British Museum copy of this book belonged to Dr. Mead, at whose sale it was purchased for £25 for the French King; the copy subsequently became the property of West, at whose sale it became George III.'s for £35 3s. 6d. The Balbi 'Catholicon,' of 1460, is the fourth book printed with a date, and is one of the few indubitable productions of Gutenberg's press. It is an indispensable volume in a collection of books printed in the fifteenth century. Its literary merit is very considerable, and the London editor of 'Stephani Thesaurus Latinus' has pronounced it the best Dictionary for the Latin Fathers and Schoolmen. In addition to the copies just mentioned, a fine example, bound in russia-extra by Roger Payne, occurred in the Wodhull sale, January 12, 1886, and realized £310. This or a similar copy was priced in Quaritch's 'Catalogue of the Monuments of the Early Printers,' at £420.
The decline in the value of what may be termed ordinary editions of the classics during the present century has unquestionably been very great. Even the editiones principes have scarcely maintained their former values; whilst their appearance in the book-market does not call forth anything like the enthusiasm and excitement which at one time prevailed. The Askew sale in 1775 was the first at which really sensational prices were reached throughout for the first editions of the Greek and Latin classics. Although some of these prices have been exceeded in many cases since that period, it is tantamount to a confession that they have gone down in value when it is stated that the Askew prices are as nearly as possible the same at which identical copies are now to be had. As we shall see presently, there are several exceptions to this rule; but these exceptions occur, not because they are the editiones principes of Homer or Virgil, as the case may be, but because they are the works of some eminent printer. And herein the change is a very striking one. The first edition of every classic has a literary or technical value almost equal to a manuscript, from which, of course, it is directly printed; but the first editions of the classics are not now collected because of their textual value, and not at all unless they are fine examples of typographical skill. The curious vicissitudes of these editions would alone occupy a fairly large volume; but we propose dealing briefly with the subject by comparing the prices at which good copies were sold in and about 1775, when Dr. Harwood published his useful little 'View of the Various Editions of the Greek and Roman Classics,' with those at which they may be now acquired.
Beginning with the editio princeps Homer, 1488, the fine copy of this edition in the British Museum was purchased, Dr. Harwood tells us, for £17. A 'large, pure, and fine' copy of this exceedingly rare work is now priced at £150, whilst the Wodhull copy sold in 1886 for £200. But whilst this edition has increased enormously in pecuniary value, 'one of the most splendid editions of Homer ever delivered to the world'—namely, that of the Foulis brothers, Glasgow, 1756-58—has only doubled its price, or has increased in value from two to four guineas. The very beautifully-printed editio princeps of Anacreon, printed in Paris by Henri Stephan, 1554, remains stationary, for its value then, as now, is one guinea. Of the Aldine first edition of Sophocles, 1502, Lord Lisburne purchased 'a beautiful copy' in 1775 for 1-1/2 guineas; the present value of a similar example would range from 8 to 20 guineas, whilst a slightly imperfect copy sells for about £1. The first edition of Euripides, 1503, also printed at the Aldine Press, has advanced from £1 16s. to £3 10s. to 6 guineas, according to the eminence of the binder. A 'most beautiful' copy of the first Herodotus, Aldus, 1502, realized £2 15s. in 1775, but cannot now be had for less than twice that amount; whilst an example in a fine Derome binding of red morocco extra is priced at 12 guineas. The first Aristophanes, likewise from the press of Aldus, 1498, shows a slight advance from £4 to 5 guineas. The earliest issue of Isocrates, 1493, is one of the rarest of the incunabula, as it is one of the most beautiful when in perfect condition. The exceedingly fine example in the British Museum was bought by the authorities in 1775 for £11; copies may now be had for £15.
The first (Aldine) edition of Plato has advanced in value from 5 guineas to just twice that sum. The very beautiful copy of this editio princeps on vellum, and now in the British Museum, was purchased by the Museum authorities at Dr. Askew's sale in 1775 for 53 guineas. The commercial value of the very scarce and splendid first edition, in six volumes (Aldus, 1495-98), of Aristotle, shows a depreciation—from 17 to 15 guineas—although it has realized in comparatively recent years as much as £51. Dr. Harwood adds to his entry of this book: 'The finest copy of this first edition of Aristotle's works, perhaps in Europe, is in Dr. Hunter's Museum.' Dr. Hunter gave £4 6s. for a 'most beautiful copy of the first edition of Theocritus,' Aldus, 1495—an edition which also includes Hesiod, Theognis, Phocylides, etc.,—the value of which is now placed at £10. A much more considerable advance is seen in connection with the editio princeps of Musæus, 1494, a choice and beautiful book, which is at once the first and rarest production of the Aldine Press. George III. gave in 1775 17 guineas for a fine copy, which would now realize twice that amount. An almost equally emphatic advance may be chronicled in connection with the 'Anthologia Græca,' Florence, 1494, printed throughout in capital letters, which, selling for 15 guineas a century and a quarter ago, is now worth nearly double; whilst the Sunderland copy in 1881 brought £51. The first impressions of Diodorus Siculus, 1539, and Stephanus Byzantius, Aldus, 1502, are stationary at about £2 each, and Lucian, Florence, 1496, now, as in 1776, sells for £20.
Passing over a whole host of minor names in the list of Greek authors, we may venture upon a few facts in connection with the Latin writers. Virgil would, of course, come at the head of this list; but the examples which came under Dr. Harwood's notice have no commercial value indicated. George III. gave £17 6s. 6d. for the very fine copy of the first Horace (about 1472) in Dr. Askew's sale—a fairly good example is now priced at £50—whilst the first commentated edition of this author, Milan, 1474, has advanced from 9-1/2 guineas to 30 guineas; it is exceedingly rare, particularly the first of the two volumes. The first Aldine Horace (1501) has gone up from £2 5s. to £15, and other editions from the same press have about quadrupled in value. Of the first edition of Ovid's 'Opera' (1471) only one copy is known, and the second, Bologna, 1480, is scarcely less rare, and certainly not less valuable, than the first. Dr. Harwood prices a very fine copy at £10 5s., or about a third of its present value. The first dated edition of Valerius Maximus was printed by Schöffer at Mentz in 1471, but is apparently not a very popular book with collectors, for whereas in 1775 a beautiful copy was valued at £26, its present price is only £28. A much more popular book, Seneca's 'Tragœdiæ,' printed about 1475, has advanced from 4-1/2 guineas to £18, or, an exceptionally good copy bound by Bedford, £25.
Although for several centuries one of the most popular of books, some of the earlier editions of Pliny's 'Historia Naturalis' do not keep up their price. The second edition, Rome, 1470, which is rarer than the first—issued at Venice the year before—may now be had for 12 guineas. The British Museum copy of the first edition cost the nation £43 in 1775. The edition printed by Jenson at Venice in 1472 is, however, much sought after, for it is a very beautiful book, with a splendidly illuminated border on the first page of the text. The British Museum copy cost at Dr. Askew's sale £23, whilst Mr. Quaritch quotes an example at £140; but, then, the latter copy is printed on vellum, which makes all the difference. Silius Italicus is not by any means an author whose work is at present much studied, but the first edition of his 'Opera' (1471) is a book worth mentioning, because for beauty and grace it is unsurpassed by any of the works ever published by the first Italian printers, Sweynheim and Pannartz. The British Museum copy cost in 1775 £13 2s. 6d., whilst it is now worth about £25. The superb copy in the British Museum of the editio princeps Juvenal and Persius (printed at Rome about the year 1469) cost the country 13 guineas; a first-class example is now valued at £12. On the other hand, the Aldine edition of Martial's 'Epigrammata' (1501) has gone up in value from 2 guineas to £10, or even £17 10s., according to condition. The first edition of Justin (printed at Venice, 1470) has declined, for the British Museum copy cost 13 guineas in 1775, whilst a fine copy may now be had for 10 guineas.
A very different story has to be told with reference to the books and pamphlets produced by the early English printers. Until the latter part of the last century, these items were the despised of the scholarly and aristocratic collector. A few antiquaries found them not without interest, but they had only a nominal commercial value. At the sale of Dr. Francis Bernard, at his 'late dwelling house in Little Britain,' in October, 1698, thirteen Caxtons were sold, as follows:
|'The Boke called Cathon,' 1483||0||3||0|
|Chastising of Goddes Chyldern'||0||1||10|
|'Doctrinal of Sapience,' 1489
'Chastising of Goddes Chyldern'
|'Chronicle of England,' very old||0||4||0|
|'Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers,' 1477||0||5||4|
|'Game and Playe of the Chesse,' 1474||0||1||6|
|'Godefroy of Boloyne,' 1481||0||4||0|
|'Historyes of Troy,' 1500||0||3||0|
|'Jason and the Golden Fleece'||0||3||6|
|'Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye,' 1502||0||3||0|
|'Tullius of Olde Age'||0||4||2|
Eighty years later, when the library of John Ratcliffe was sold at Christie's (March 27, 1776), a collection of upwards of thirty Caxtons came under the hammer, and of these we will only quote seven examples:
|'Chronicles of Englande,' fine copy, 1480||5||5||0|
|'Doctrinal of Sapience,' 1489||8||8||0|
|'The Boke called Cathon,' 1483||5||5||0|
|'The Polytique Book, named Tullius de Senectute,' 1481||14||0||0|
|'The Game and Playe of Chesse'||16||0||0|
|'The Boke of Jason'||5||10||0|
|'Legenda Aurea,' 1483||9||15||0|
At the Watson Taylor and Perry sales in 1823, four examples, nearly all fine copies, of Caxton's books realized a total of £239 5s., as follows:
|'The Life of Jason,' 1476-77||95||11||0|
|'The Boke called Cathon,' 1483||30||19||6|
|'Troylus and Creside,' 1484||66||0||0|
|Virgil's 'Eneidos,' 1490, very fine and perfect||46||14||6|
We do not think that the foregoing sets of figures call for any elaborate comment. The present value of each item may be averaged at from £250 to £300, but the majority are absolutely unprocurable at any price. The highest sum ever paid for a Caxton is £1,950, at which amount the only perfect copy known of 'King Arthur,' 1485, was knocked down at the sale of the Earl of Jersey's books in 1885. At the same sale the 'Histoires of Troy,' circa 1474, realized £1,820. In 1812 the Duke of Devonshire gave £1,060 12s. for a copy of this book, for which the Duke of Roxburghe had paid £50 a few years previously. The Syston Park copy of the 'Mirrour of the World,' 1481, sold in 1884 for £335; Higden's 'Polychronicon, 1482, is valued at £500; Lord Selsey's copy of Gower's 'Confessio Amantis,' 1483, sold in 1872 for £670; and Lord Jersey's, in 1885, for £810. The 'Hystorye of Kynge Blanchardyn and Princes Eglantyne,' 1485, imperfect, but one of the rarest of this press, realized £21 at the Mason sale, 1798-99, the purchaser being John, Duke of Roxburghe, at whose sale in June, 1812, Lord Spencer gave £215 5s. for it. According to the latter's note in the copy, 'The Duke and I had agreed not to oppose one another at the [Mason] sale; but after the book was bought, to toss up who should win it; when I lost.' A tract of five leaves, by John Russell, 'Propositio ad illustriss. principem Karoleum ducem Burgundie,' etc. (printed probably at Bruges, 1475), of which no other copy is known, was purchased by a bookseller in the West End of London for £2 5s. He sold it to the Duke of Marlborough for 50 guineas, and at his sale in 1819 Earl Spencer purchased it for 120 guineas. There are about 560 examples of Caxton's books in existence. Of these, about one half are in the British Museum, the Althorp or Rylands library (57), at Cambridge, in the Bodleian, and in the Duke of Devonshire's library. Of this total thirty-one are unique, and seven exist only in a fragmentary form. The greater number are safely locked up in public or private libraries, and are not likely, under ordinary circumstances, to come into the market. A great quantity of romance has been written respecting Caxtons. In Scott's 'Antiquary,' 'Snuffy Davy' is stated to have bought a perfect copy of the 'Game of Chess,' the first book printed in England, for about two groschen, or twopence of our money. This he sold to Osborne for £20; it became Dr. Askew's property for 60 guineas, and at the Askew sale it realized £170, the purchaser being George III. '"Could a copy now occur, Lord only knows," ejaculated Monkbarns, with a deep sigh and lifted-up hands—"Lord only knows what would be its ransom"; and yet it was originally secured, by skill and research, for the easy equivalent of twopence sterling.' It has been repeatedly stated that there is no foundation whatever for this anecdote; but Scott himself expressly states in a note that it is literally true, and that David Wilson 'was a real personage.' 'Snuffy Davy' has been identified with Clarke, the bookseller of New Bond Street, whose 'Repertorium Bibliographicum' is a most valuable book. However that may be, it is certain that the King did not give any such price at any such sale. The King's copy was purchased at West's sale in 1773 for £32 0s. 6d. At the Askew sale the King's purchases did not exceed £300, and the items were almost exclusively editions of the classics. It is certain, however, that Caxton's books have experienced many ups and downs. Mr. Blades tells us of an incident in which he was personally concerned. He happened on a copy of the 'Canterbury Tales' in a dirty pigeon-hole close to the grate in the vestry of the French Protestant Church, St. Martin's-le-Grand; it was fearfully mutilated, and was being used leaf by leaf—a book originally worth £800.
Caxton's immediate successors met with a fate similar to his own. The most remarkable feature of Richard Rawlinson's library (sold by Samuel Leigh in 1756), which contained nearly 25,000 volumes, consisted in the large quantity of Old English black-letter books, and these, of course, realized absurdly low figures, as the following list testifies:
|'The Newe Testament in English,' 1500||0||2||9|
|'The Ymage of both Churches, after the Revelation of St. John,' by Bale, 1550||0||1||6|
|'The Boke called the Pype or Toune of Perfection,' by Richard Whytforde, 1532||0||1||9|
|'The Visions of Pierce Plowman,' 1561||0||2||0|
|'The Creede of Pierce Plowman,' 1553||0||1||6|
|'The Booke of Moses in English,' 1530||0||3||9|
|'Bale's Actes of English Votaryes,' 1550||0||1||3|
|'The Boke of Chivalrie,' by Caxton||0||11||0|
|'The Boke of St. Albans,' by W. de Worde||1||1||0|
The very high price paid for the 'Boke of St. Albans' is noteworthy, for nearly all the other items are equally rare. In 1844, a copy of this 'boke' was sold as waste-paper for 9d., and almost immediately passed into the possession of Mr. Grenville for £70 or guineas. Dr. Mead's copy—one of the only two known—of 'Rhetorica Nova Fratris Laurentii Gulielmi de Sacra,' printed at St. Albans, 1480, sold for 2s. At the Willett sale, in 1813, it brought £79 16s.
The rarity of the English translations of the Bible and New Testament arises from just the opposite cause which has operated in making the early productions of the English press so scarce. The latter were for the most part neglected out of existence, whilst the former were literally read out of it. A complete copy of the editio princeps Coverdale, 1535, is, we believe, unknown. One illustration will sufficiently indicate the enhanced value of this book, and the illustration may be taken as a general one in respect to this class of book: The Perkins copy, which realized £400 in 1873, was purchased at the Dent sale in 1827 for £89 5s. The more perfect of the only two copies known of Tyndale's New Testament, first edition, 1526, in the Baptists' Library at Bristol, is of great interest, and well deserving of a mention in this place. It has no title-page. Underneath a portrait, pasted to the first leaf, is this inscription:
On the opposite leaf is a printed statement to this effect: 'On Tuesday evening (13 May, 1760) at Mr. Langford's sale of Mr. Ames's books, a copy of the translation of the New Testament by Tindall, and supposed to be the only one remaining which escaped the flames, was sold for fourteen guineas and a half. This very book was picked up by one of the late Lord Oxford's collectors ['John Murray' written in the margin], and was esteemed so valuable a purchase by his lordship, that he settled £20 a year for life upon the person who procured it. His Lordship's library being afterwards purchased by Mr. Osborne, of Gray's Inn, he marked it at fifteen shillings, for which price Mr. Ames bought it.' (John Murray died in 1748.) On the other side of the leaf is another note, in manuscript: 'N.B. This choice book was purchased at Mr. Langford's sale, 13th May, 1760, by me John White [for £15 14s. 6d.], and on the 13th day of May, 1776, I sold it to the Rev. Dr. Gifford for 20 guineas.' Dr. Gifford was an assistant librarian at the British Museum, and left his library to the use of the Baptist Society at Bristol.
Before leaving the subject of Bibles, we may refer to one of the most interesting events of the book-sale season of 1836, when, at Evans's on April 27, the superb copy of St. Jerome's Bible, executed by Alcuin for Charlemagne, came up for sale. Commenced about the year 778, it was not completed till 800. When it was finished it was sent to Rome by his friend and disciple, Nathaniel, who presented it to Charlemagne on the day of his coronation; it was preserved by that monarch until his death. Its subsequent history is full of interest, and would form an entertaining chapter in the Adventures of Books. After its first owner's death, it is supposed to have been given to the monastery of Prum in Lorraine by Lothaire, the grandson of Charlemagne, who became a monk of that monastery. In 1576, this religious house was dissolved, but the monks preserved the manuscript, and carried it to Switzerland to the abbey of Grandis Vallis, near Basle, where it reposed till the year 1793, when, on the occupation of the episcopal territory of Basle by the French, all the property of the abbey was confiscated and sold, and the manuscript in question came into the possession of M. Bennot, from whom, in 1822, it was purchased by M. Speyr Passavant, who brought it into general notice, and offered it for sale to the French Government at the price of 60,000 francs; this was declined, when the proprietor knocked off nearly 20,000 francs from the original demand, but still without effecting a sale. M. Passavant subsequently brought it to England, and offered it to the Duke of Sussex, who, however, declined it. It was then offered to the British Museum for £12,000, then for £8,000, and at last for £6,500, which he declared an 'immense sacrifice.' Unsuccessful at every turn, he resolved to submit it to auction, and the precious volume was entrusted to Evans. It was knocked down for £1,500, but to the proprietor himself. After a further lapse of time, Passavant sold the volume to the British Museum for £750. This splendid manuscript is a large folio in delicate and beautifully formed minuscule characters, with the beginnings of chapters in fine uncials, written in two columns on the purest vellum. If this magnificent manuscript were now offered for sale, it would probably realize at least £3,000.
The rise in the value of the First Folio Shakespeare only dates back for about a century. Beloe, writing in 1806, states that he remembers the time when a very fine copy could be purchased for five guineas. He further observes, 'I could once have purchased a superb one for 9 guineas'; and (apparently) this 'superb' example realized 13 guineas at Dr. Monro's sale in 1792. At the end of the last century it was thought to have realized the 'top' price with 36 guineas. Dr. Askew had a fine copy of the Second Folio, which realized at his sale, in 1775, £5 10s.—it had cost 2-1/2 guineas at Dr. Mead's sale—the purchaser being George Steevens. In this book Charles I. had written these words: 'Dum Spiro, Spero, C. R.,' and Sir Thomas Herbert, to whom the King presented it the night before his execution, had also written: 'Ex dono serenissimi Regis Car. servo suo Humiliss. T. Herbert.' Steevens regarded the amount which he paid for it as 'enormous,' but at his sale it realized 18 guineas, and was purchased for the King's library, and is now, with some other books bought by George III., at Windsor. Steevens supposes that the original edition could not have exceeded 250 copies, and that £1 was the selling price. Its rarity ten or a dozen years after its first appearance may be gauged by the fact that Charles I. was obliged to content himself with a copy of the Second Folio; its rarity at the present moment will be readily comprehended when it is stated that during the past ninety years only five or six irreproachable examples have occurred for sale. The copy for which the Duke of Roxburghe gave 34 guineas, realized at his sale £100, and passed into the library of the Duke of Devonshire. The example in the possession of the Baroness Burdett-Coutts is a very fine one; it was formerly George Daniel's copy, and realized 682 guineas at his sale in 1864. Height makes a great difference in the price of a book of this sort. For example, a good sound example measuring 12-1/4 inches by 8 inches is worth about £136; another one measuring 13-1/8 by 8-3/8 inches would be worth £300, and perhaps more. Dibdin, with his usual prophetic inaccuracy, described the amount (£121 6s.) at which Mr. Grenville obtained his copy as 'the highest price ever given, or likely to be given, for the volume.' As a matter of fact, the time must come when it will be no longer possible to obtain a perfect copy of this volume, which to English people is a thousand times more important than the Gutenberg Bible or the Psalmorum Codex.
The following list is believed to contain all the finest examples known at present:
|FIRST FOLIO EDITIONS OF SHAKESPEARE, 1623.|
|Gardner||12-3/8||× 8||Mr. Huth.|
|Ellis||12-5/8||× 8-1/8||Earl of Crawford.|
|Quaritch's Catalogue||12-11/12||× 8|
|Thomas Grenville||12-7/8||× 8-3/8||British Museum.|
|Duke of Devonshire||13-1/8||× 8-1/8||Chatsworth.|
|George Daniel||13-1/8||× 8-1/4||Baroness Burdett-Coutts.|
|Beaufoy Library||13||× 8-3/8|
|Locker-Lampson||13||× 8-3/8||Rowfant Library.|
|Gosford (Earl of)||12-7/8||× 8-3/8|
|Lord Vernon||13-1/16||× 8-3/8||America.|
|John Murray||13||× 8-1/2||Albemarle Street.|
Sydney, Earl of Leicester,
with his arms on sides; original old
calf, with lettering, full of rough leaves
|13-3/8||× 8-3/4||Mr. C. J. Toovey.|
The Second, 1632, Third, 1664, and Fourth, 1685, Folios have considerably advanced in value—the Second has risen from £15, at which the Roxburghe copy was sold in 1812, to nearly £200; George Daniel's copy, of the purest quality from beginning to end, and one of the largest known, sold for £148, but fairly good copies may be had for half that amount. The Third Folio, which is really the rarest, as most of the impression was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, has gone up from £20 or £30 to £200, or even more when the seven doubtful plays have the separate title-page; and the Fourth Folio from £5 to about ten times that amount. But the most remarkable feature in connection with Shakespeare, so far as we are just now concerned, is the change which has taken place in the value of the quartos. We give below a tabulated list of first editions, in which this change will be seen at a glance:
|Former Price.||Recent Price.|
|'The Merry Wives of Windsor,' 1818||18||0||0||385||0||0|
|'Much Ado About Nothing,'||
|'Love's Labour Lost,' 1818||40||10||0||316||10||0|
|'A Midsummer Night's Dream'||
|'The Merchant of Venice'||
|'King Richard II.,' 1598, 1800||4||14||6||108||3||0|
|'2 Henry IV.,' 1797 (one leaf MS.)||8||8||0||225||0||0|
|'Henry V.,' 1818||5||7||6||211||0||0|
|'1 Henry VI.,' 1801||38||7||0||50||0||0|
|'Richard III.,' 1818||33||0||0||351||15||0|
|'Troilus and Cressida,' 1800||5||10||0||110||0||0|
|'Romeo and Juliet,' 1800||6||0||0||160||0||0|
|'King Lear,' 1800||28||0||0||70||0||0|
|'Othello' (1622), 1818||56||14||0||155||0||0|
|'Venus and Adonis' (Malone's copy)||25||0||0||315||0||0|
What is true of the Shakespeare quartos and folios is also true in a slightly less accentuated degree of the first editions of the sixteenth and seventeenth century poets and dramatists. Dibdin describes a Mr. Byng as having purchased the only known copy of Clement Robinson's 'Handefull of Pleasant Delites,' 1584, at a bookstall for 4d.; at his sale this 'Handefull' was sold for 25 guineas to the Duke of Marlborough, at whose sale, in 1819, it fetched £26 15s.
Puttenham's 'Art of English Poesie,' 1589, and Gascoigne's 'Works,' are two other striking illustrations of the increase in the value of old English poetry, although the books themselves are of comparatively minor importance from a literary point of view. Isaac Reed well remembered when a good copy of either might have been had for 5s. In the first and second decades of this century the prices had gone up to about £5, but the present values would be nearer £20. Spenser's 'Faerie Queene,' 1590-96, early in the century could have been had for £3 12s.; it now realizes ten times that amount if in fine condition. Milton's 'Paradise Lost' has increased in the same ratio. Lovelace's 'Lucasta' has risen from 11 guineas to nearly £50. The market value of a first edition of Walton's 'Compleat Angler,' 1653, in 1816 was 4 guineas; in 1879 this book fetched £52; it has since realized £310. Rarer even than the first Walton is the first edition of Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress,' 1678; Southey, writing in 1830, declared that the date of the first publication of this work was at that time unknown, since no copy could be traced. Not long after this an example—still in possession of Capt. Holford, of Park Lane—turned up, and was valued at £50; during the last few years four more have been unearthed: three of these are in England, and the other is among the treasures of the Lenox Library, New York. The commercial value of a copy is probably not much less than of a first Walton. Although the first edition of the first part of the 'Pilgrim's Progress' has always been considered so rare, the second part is even rarer; indeed, only three copies are known to exist: one (very imperfect) in the Astor Library in New York, one in the Rylands Library, and the other in the hands of a collector in London. Till some ten years since the two English copies were not known to exist; they were both bought in one bundle for a few shillings in Sotheby's sale-room. The imperfect American one was supposed to be unique till these came to light.
Goldsmith's 'Vicar of Wakefield' sixty years ago was 'uncollected'; a quarter of a century ago it sold for £5; ten years ago it was worth £10; in 1891 a remarkably tall and clean copy, in the original calf as issued, sold at Sotheby's for £94. Gray's 'Elegy,' 1751, sold for £1 16s. in 1888, and for £70 since then. Apropos of this 'Elegy,' there are only three uncut copies known, and one of these was obtained by Mr. Augustine Birrell, Q.C., a few years ago by a stroke of great good luck. He happened to be passing through Chancery Lane one day, and, having a little time at his disposal, dropped into Messrs. Hodgson's rooms, where a sale of books was in progress. At the moment of his entry some volumes of quarto tracts were being offered, and taking one of them in his hand, he opened it at random, and saw—a fine uncut copy of the famous 'Elegy'! He bought the lot for a few shillings. It may be mentioned that the original manuscript of Gray's 'Elegy' sold for £130 in 1854.
Such are a few of the excessively rare books, whose appearance in the market is at all times an event in the book-collecting world. Partly as an illustration of our forbears' wit, and partly as a list of curious and highly imaginary titles, the following article from the London Magazine of September, 1759, is well worth quoting here:
'BOOKS selling by Auction, at the Britannia, near the Royal Exchange.
By L. Funnibus, Auctioneer.
'"Gratitude," a Poem, in twenty-four cantos, from the original German of Lady Mary Hapsburgh, published at Vienna in the year 1756.—"Machiavel the Second, or Murder no Sin," from the French of Monsieur le Diable, printed at Paris for le Sieur Dæmon, in la Rue d'Enfer, near the Louvre.—"Cruelty a Virtue," a Political Tract, in two volumes, fine imperial paper, by Count Soltikoff.—"The Joys of Sodom," a Sermon, preached in the Royal Chapel at Warsaw, by W. Hellsatanatius, Chaplain to his Excellency Count Bruhl.—"The Art of Trimming," a Political Treatise, by the learned Van-Self, of Amsterdam.—"Self-Preservation," a Soliloquy, wrote extempore on an Aspen Leaf on the Plains of Minden; found in the pocket of an Officer who fell on the First of August.—"The Art of Flying," by Monsieur Contades; with a curious Frontispiece, representing Dismay with Eagle's Wings, and Glory with a pair of Crutches, following the French Army.—"The Reveries of a Superannuated Genius, on the Banks of Lake Liman, near Geneva, by M. Voltaire.—"The Spirit of Lying," from "L'Esprit Menteur" of Monsieur Maubert.—"Political Arithmetic," by the same Author; in which is proved to Demonstration that Two is more than Five, and that Three is less than One.—"The Knotty Question Discussed," wherein is proved that under certain circumstances, Wrong is Right, and Right is Wrong, by a Casuist of the Sorbonne.—"A New Plan of the English Possessions in America," with the Limits properly settled, by Jeffery Amherst, Geographer to his Britannick Majesty.—"The Theory of Sea-fighting reduced to Practice," by E. Boscawen, Mariner.—"A Treatise on the Construction of Bridges," by I. Will, and I. Willnot, Architects, near the Black-Friars, at Louvain.—"The Spirit of Treaties," a very Curious Tract, in which is fairly proved, that absolute Monarchs have a right to explain them in their own sense, and that limited Princes are tied down to a strict observance of the letter.—"The Conquest of Hanover by the French, in the year 1759," a tragi-comic Farce, by a French officer.—"A Letter of Consolation from the Jesuits in the Shades, to their afflicted brethren at Lisbon," the second edition.—"The Fall of Fisher," an excellent new Ballad, by —— Harvey, Esq.—"The Travels of a Marshal of France, from the Weser to the Mayne"; shewing how he and 10,000 of his companions miraculously escaped from the hands of the savage Germans and English; and how, after inexpressible difficulties, several hundreds of them got safe to their own country. Interspersed with several Curious Anecdotes of Rapes, Murders, and other French Gallantries; by P. L. C., a Benedictine Monk, of the Order of Saint Bartholomew.'
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