So somebody gave us a $10,000 book first thing Monday morning, which is really the way to start a week. The fickle finger of Book Fair fortune, mocking me as usual, made sure it was a book out of someone’s cottage. Yes, one of those cottage collections I was laughing about turned out to include a Jane Austen first edition. It’s the kind of gift you can receive more than once without ever feeling bored. If anyone else out there would like to give me a Jane Austen first edition, I will be as happy about it as the first time.
I’d tell you more about the book, but you won’t be seeing it at the Book Fair. You do remember that on the floors above the one where I reside there’s a lot of library and stuff. And they have dibs on whatever comes in through the Receiving Room door. Jane Austen is absolutely one of their interests, and this is not the kind of book that even they get offered every day. So if I do not have a $4,000 book to sell you, at least I have the distinction of having pushed a $4,000 book into the collection.
What was that, cranberry trifle? I said $10,000 in one paragraph and $4,000 in the next? How clever of you to notice! Why, that gives me something to blog about, when I was going to spend the rest of my morning twiddling my thumbs and humming old campfire songs.
See, the book in question runs in value somewhere between $9,000 and $12,000, depending on what reference you’re checking. But those prices are for copies in beautiful shape. Let’s look at some of the pluses and minuses to keep in mind when pricing rare books.
CONTEMPORARY CLOTH: This is often a plus; it means the book is bound in a cloth binding dating roughly from when the book was issued. A lot of Jane Austen books were rebound in Morocco (leather, if you’ve forgotten our previous lessons) but in the case of hghly important authors, many collectors want the book to look as it did when issued. Our copy is in contemporary clorth.
COVERS DETACHED: This is a minus. Books with leather spines and hinges like these often lose their covers completely. In the case of this multi-volume Jane Austen novel, only two covers were detached. For a book this old, that’s not TOO bad, but it does knock down the asking price.. By the way, “covers detached” always indicates that the covers are still present; otherwise the correct description is “covers lacking”.
FOXED: The beautiful white paper used in books before the 1860s had a high iron content which would, on occasion, begin to rust, resulting in little red or brown dots. Some of these can be charming; it’s a sign that the book really is a couple of centuries old. A lot of them, or really big brown spots, can be tedious. Most of the pages in our Jane Austen were nicely foxed in a quaint Regency way. A few were obnoxious, though.
LACKS HALF TITLES: A half-title is that page before the title page which has the title on it. The title page has the title, author, date, place of publication, etc., but the page which contains the title only is the half-title. Is that clear? Well, it isn’t to me either, prune popover. When a book is rebound, the binder will occasionally toss away pages he feels are unnecessary, lowering the value of the book. Ours was bound by someone who apparently bound a lot of copies in the early 19th century, so we lack those rare pages.
INCLUDES BLANK LEAVES AT END OF II, IV: This has nothing to do with those cottage collections with flowers pressed in them. In this dictionary, a leaf is a page. Sometimes a writer failed to write enough to make for the right number of pages with lettering on them, so the gathering of pages would include blank ones at the end, for the binder to leave out. Our binder failed to do so, so this is a plus, because we have four rare blank piece of paper which were part o the original book.
SPINE LABELS LACKING: A spine label is a small piece of paper or leather on which the title or other information was printed, so it could be glued to the nice leather spine. These are really easy to damage; I think binders do this to make sure that a good copy is hard to find rare two centuries later. Two of our spine labels are missing.
So let’s recap. Our copy has some of the spine labels, has only two detached covers, is modestly foxed but seriously so on one or two pages, lacks the half titles, has the blank pages, and does not smell of bait cans or leaf baskets stored in the basement of the lakeside cottage. For those reasons, and because I don’t like to be scowled at TOO much by customers, I was going to ask $4,000 or so for this dainty at the Book Fair. (Other booksellers would have picked another number. They would have told me about it, too. Loud and long.) I suppose, just between thee and me, that I’m relieved I will not be showing it to the passing throng this July. The first person who dropped a volume and knocked off another cover would have gotten knocked off himself.
Whereas you can drop as many copies of the daVinci Code as you like, as long as you keep ‘em away from my toes, and I won’t even tell people you’re foxed.