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Old Embellished Books
( Originally Published 1913 )
By " embellished books " I do not mean books grangerised, but books which, at the time of their publication, were adorned by illustrations or embellished by headpieces, tailpieces, fine initials, and so forth. For such combinations of literature and art there must always be a steady demand. But during a particular period the said books were produced with great daintiness and finish, and in this article I am dealing with bellished books of the eighteenth century only.
Eighteenth-Century Books.-Books of this class, published in France, or in England, during the eighteenth century, form quite a bibliographical and collecting study to themselves. Some French books of this kind lie perdu on the shelves of the smaller oldbook shops, and go unrecognised, uncatalogued, and unsold over here ; yet such books are greatly sought after in Paris. I do not doubt that an instructed and energetic collector of books and other curios could acquire quite a little fortune by a few years' work at collecting French curios here and selling them in Paris, and collecting English curios in France and selling them here. And in this I do not refer to the great prizes and rarities only ; I refer to the smaller treasures and the smaller prices as well.
Take the books now in question for an example. Few English people know anything of their auction value at the Hotel Drouot, `that wonderful place-a nest of auction-rooms-which lies at the back of the Boulevard, on the flat, before the streets begin to mount towards Montmartre. The great second-hand booksellers here know the value of the great rarities, but the smaller prizes go neglected, fall into the "bundle lots," become the property of the "small men," who put the most arbitrary prices on them, sometimes prices much too high, but often prices much too low.
The reason for this is that a bibliography of books of the sort and period now in question has not been well diffused. Practically all that can be known is known, bibliographically, about Early English and Elizabethan books, black-letter books, first editions (of all dates) of famous books, excessively rare books, and old books about America ; the various periodical publications about book-prices inform the sellers and purchasers of books to that extent, and a large and learned extent it is.Varying Values Explained.-Again, booksellers' catalogues and records of prices at book sales, unless very carefully compiled and as carefully read, may mislead a purchaser quite easily. It is on record that a copy of the " Suite d'Estampes, gravees par Mme. de Pompadour " has sold for 315 francs, but that was the edition of 1782, which contained 70 plates, six added portraits of Madame de Pompadour, and Derome the binder's ticket. A copy of the 1775 edition, containing frontispieces and sixty-two plates only, is not worth anything like 315 francs ; it is worth 75 francs at most.
A copy of Baskerville's edition of " Orlando Furioso " has sold at an auction for L120, but terribly disappointed would a book-hunter be who, on the strength of that, gave more than £2 for an ordinary copy. Why? How shall one learn why? The "why" in this particular case is this, that the £120 copy had a binding by the celebrated old French binder Derome ; it was the binding which fetched the huge price, not the book proper. The book itself is beautiful, and not common, but not very valuable in the market, unless it be one of the copies which were sent to Paris by Baskerville, to be bound by Derome.