Prices Of Books - Introduction
( Originally Published 1898 )
THE treatment of such a subject as the Prices of Books necessarily obliges us to range over a wide field, for books have been bought and sold far back in the historical period, and to books, both manuscript and printed, we have to refer largely for records of the past. It is, however, only possible in the space at our disposal to take a very general view of the subject ; and it is to be hoped that, in recording the main points in the vicissitudes of prices, the information may not be deemed too desultory to be serviceable.
We might go back to the earliest times, even to Job's famous exclamation, but for our present purpose there would not be much advantage in roaming in this early period, as the results to be recorded would partake more of an archaeological, than of a practical character. There is very little chance of a copy of the first book of Martial's Epigrams (which, when first composed by the author, cost at Rome about three shillings and sixpence of our money) coming to auction, so that we are not likely to be able to record its present value.
A consideration of the subject opens up a large number of interesting subjects, which can only casually be alluded to, such as the position of authors, and their remuneration.
For several centuries monasteries were the chief producers of literature, and it seems probable that it was worth the while of the chiefs of some of these literary manufactories to pay a poet such as Chaucer something for a new Canterbury Tale, which they could copy and distribute over the country. We know by the number of manuscripts, and the different order in these, that several establishments were employed in the production of the manuscripts, and we may guess that there would probably be competition among them, which would naturally result in a settlement of some terms of payment.
In the early times it was only rich men who could afford to collect books. Amongst these, one of the most distinguished was Richard de Bury, Bishop of Durham, Treasurer and Chancellor of Edward III., who collected everything, and spared no cost in the maintenance of a staff of copyists and illuminators in his own household. Not only was he a collector (whose books, however, have been dispersed), but he was the author of an interesting relic of that devotion to an ennobling pursuit, the famous Plzilobiblon. This book had never been satisfactorily produced until the late Mr. Ernest Thomas issued in 1888 an admirable edition, founded on a collation of many manuscripts, and a spirited translation.' This work occupied Mr. Thomas several years, and before lie completed it he saw reason to doubt the high literary position which had been universally accorded to the author ; and his opinion was confirmed by an unpublished pas-sage in a manuscript of the Chronic-on sui temporis of Adam de Murimuth, to which he was referred by Sir Edward Mauncle Thompson, where Adam characterised the bishop in very harsh terms. Mr. Thomas published in "The Library" (vol. i. p. 335) an article entitled, " Was Richard de Bury an Impostor ?" In this he expressed the opinion that Richard Aungerville
(1) Was not an excellent bishop, but an ambitious self-seeker, who bought his way to preferment.
(2) Was not a scholar and patron of scholars, but merely a collector of books, that he might appear as a scholar.
(3) Did not bestow his collections on Durham College, Oxford, as he expressed his intention of doing ; but that these collections were sold to pay debts incurred by his ostentatious extravagance.
(4) Did not write Pitilobiblon. The authorship was claimed for Robert Holkot, a Dominican, who for some time was a member of the bishop's house-hold.
A still more elaborate edition was published by the Grolier Club in 1889. This was edited by Professor A. F. West, and printed in three volumes small quarto. It was issued in a small edition, and a sight of it is therefore difficult to obtain.
It is certain that the evidence is such as to force us to lower our estimate of the prelate's merits, but these four charges are certainly not all proved. He may not have been so learned and so unselfish a lover of books as was supposed, but there is no satisfactory reason for depriving him of the credit of being the author of the Plzilobiblon.
Mr. Thomas shows that Richard de Bury was born on 24th January 1287, and not 1281, as stated in the " Dictionary of National Biography." He completed the Philobiblon, and on the 14th April of the same year Dominus Ricardus de Bury miagravit ad Dominum.
A singularly appropriate chapter from the earliest " book about books " may here be quoted :
"WHAT WE ARE TO THINK OF THE PRICE IN THE BUYING OF BOOKS.
(Chapter III. of the Philobiblon of Richard de Bury.')
"From what has been said we draw this corollary, welcome to us, but (as we believe) acceptable to few; namely, that no dearness of price ought to hinder a man from the buying of books, if he has the money that is demanded for them, unless it be to withstand the malice of the seller, or to await a more favourable opportunity of buying. For if it is wisdom only that makes the price of books, which is an infinite treasure to mankind, and if the value of books is unspeakable, as the premises show, how shall the bargain be shown to be dear where an infinite good is being bought? Wherefore that books are to be gladly bought and unwillingly sold, Solomon, the sun of men, exhorts in the Proverbs : Buy the truth, he says, and sell not wisdom. But what we are trying to show by rhetoric or logic, let us prove by examples from history. The arch-philosopher Aristotle, whom Averroes regards as the law of Nature, bought a few books of Speusippus straightway after his death for seventy two thousand sesterces. Plato, before him in time, but after him in learning, bought the book of Philolaus the Pythagorean, from which he is said to have taken the Timaeus, for ten thousand denaries, as Aulus Gellius relates in the Noctes Attica. Now Aulus Gellius relates this that the foolish may consider how wise men despise money in comparison with books. And on the other hand, that we may know that folly and pride go together, let us here relate the folly of Tarquin the Proud in despising books, as also related by Aulus Gellius. An old woman, utterly unknown, is said to have come to Tarquin the Proud, the seventh King of Rome, offering to sell nine books in which (as she declared) sacred oracles were contained ; but she asked an immense sum for them, insomuch that the king said she was mad. In anger she flung three books into the fire, and still asked the same price for the rest. When the king refused it, again she flung three others into the fire, and still asked the same price for the three that were left. At last, astonished beyond measure, Tarquin was glad to pay for three books the same price for which he might have bought nine. The old woman straightway disappeared, and was never seen before or after. These were the Sibyl-line books. . . ."
The destruction of libraries, which was common in the Middle Ages, naturally caused an increase in the value of those which remained.
These libraries passed away may be seen by the instance of that which was once preserved in St. Paul's Cathedral, and is noticed by the late Dr. Sparrow Simpson in his " St. Paul's Cathedral Library " (1893). Walter Shiryngton Clerk founded the library, the catalogue of which (1458) fills eight folio pages in the first edition of Dugdale's "History of St. Paul's." Of all the manuscripts in this catalogue, only three are now known to exist : one is still at St. Paul's, the second is at Aberdeen, and the third at Lambeth.
The British Museum is fortunate in possessing the beautiful library of the Kings and Queens of England since Henry VII., which is full of the most splendid specimens of artistic bindings. What the market value of such literary gems as these may be can scarcely he estimated, and fortunately they are safe from the arising of any occasion which might afford a test of their value. From this library we are able to appreciate the good taste of James I., who, whatever his faults may have been, was certainly a true bibliophile, and to him we owe some of the finest books in the collection.
It may be safely said that few collections of books have been formed under such difficult and trying circumstances as the invaluable Thomason Collection of Civil War Tracts, now happily preserved in the British Museum. Mr. F. Madan has contriable article on the labours of the worthy Royalist bookseller, George Thomason. Thomason commenced in November 164o, when the " Long or Rebel Parliament" began, his great undertaking of collecting all the pamphlets published in England, and he continued it until May 166r. Many of these were printed surreptitiously, and were obtained with the greatest difficulty ; in fact, seventy-three of these were in manuscript, "which no man durst then venture to publish without endangering his ruine." The King and the Cavalier party knew of the existence of the collection, but every endeavour was made to keep the knowledge from the other party. If it were difficult to form the collection, it was still more difficult to preserve it. We are told that, "to prevent the discovery of them, when the army was Northwards, he packed them in several trunks, and, by one or two in a week, sent them to a trusty friend in Surrey, who safely pre-served them, and when the army was Westward, and fearing their return that way, they were sent to London again ; but the collector durst not keep them, but sent them into Essex, and so according as they lay near danger, still by timely removing them at a great charge, secured them, but continued perfecting the work." Afterwards, for greater security, they were lodged in the Bodleian Library, and a pretended bargain was made, and a receipt for £i000 given to the University of Oxford, so that "if the Usurper had found them out the University should claim them, who had greater power to struggle for them than a private man."
On one occasion Charles I. wished to consult a particular pamphlet, and applied to Thomason for the loan of it. In small quarto vol.
"Memorandum that Col. Will Legg and Mr. Arthur Treavors were employed by his Antic K. Charles to gett for his present use, a pamphlet which his Matie had then occasion to make use of, and not meeting with it, they both came to me, having heard that I did employ my selfe to take up all such things, from the beginning of that Parlement, and finding it with me, tould me it was for the King's owne use, I tould them all I had were at his Maties command and service, and withall tould them if I should part with it and loose it, presuming that when his Matie had done with it, that little account would be made of it, and so I should loose by that losse a limbe of my collection, which I should be very loth to do, well knowing it would be impossible to supplie it if it should happen to be lost, with which answer they returned to his Matie at Hampton Court (as I take it) and tould him they had found that peece he so much desired and withall how loath he that had it, was to part with, he much fearing its losse; where-upon they were both sent to me againe by his Matie to tell me that upon the worde of a Kinge (to use their own expressions) he would safely returne it, thereuppon immediately by them I sent it to his Matie, who having done with it, and having it with him when he was going towards the Isle of 'Wight, let it fall in the durt, and then callinge for the two persons before mentioned (who attended him) delivered it to them, with a charge, as they would answer it another day, that they should both speedily and safely return it to him, from whom they had received it, and withall to desire the partie to goe on and continue what had begun, which book together with his Maties signification to me by these worthy and faithfull gentlemen I received both speedily and safely. Which volume hath the marke of honor upon it, which no other volume in my collection hath, and very diligently and carefully I continued the same, until the most hapie restoration and coronation of his most gratious matie Kinge Charles the second whom God long preserve.
Here we have surely an interesting instance of the poetry of bibliography.
According to Mr. Madan's calculation, there are 22,834 pamphlets in about 1983 volumes, and apparently some hundred or so pieces have been lost from the original set. The collection of these pamphlets was made at very considerable expense, and Thomason is said to have refused £4000 for them, "supposing that sum not sufficient to reimburse him." On his death in 1666 a special trust was appointed under his will to take charge of the collection, and Dr. Thomas Barlow (Bodley's librarian, 1652 to 1660 was one of the trustees. In 1675 Barlow was appointed Bishop of Lincoln, and in the following year re-quested the Rev. George Thomason (son of the bookseller) to take over the charge. After many vicissitudes the books were bought for the absurdly small sum of £300 for George III., who presented the collection to the British Museum. It is impossible to guess at the present price of what is practically invaluable.
The famous antiquary Elias Ashmole, whose treasures are now preserved at Oxford in the Ashmolean Museum, records in his Diary some of his purchases, as, on May 1667, " I bought Mr. John Booker's study of books, and gave £14o for them" ; and again, on June 12, 1681, " I bought Mr. Lilly's library of books of his widow for £5o."' We can judge of the character of his library by these purchases of the collections of two of his famous astrological friends.
Even in the seventeenth century men began to he frightened at the increase of books, and Sir Thomas Browne in his Religio Medici suggested a system of destruction : "'Tis not a melancholy utinam of my own, but the desires of better heads, that there were a general synod not to unite the incompatible difference of religion, but for the benefit of learning, to reduce it, as it lay at first, in a few and solid authors ; and to condemn to the fire those swarms and millions of rhapsodies, be-gotten only to distract and abuse the weaker judgments of scholars, and to maintain the trade and mystery of typographers." If there was reason for this complaint two centuries ago, how much more must there be now ! but the project is unworkable, and Time takes the matter in his own hand and destroys. Fortunately the destruction chiefly takes place among books not likely to be missed.
Three of the greatest book collectors of the eighteenth century were Bishop Moore, the Earl of Sunderland, and the Earl of Oxford. Bishop Moore's fine library, which consisted of about thirty thousand volumes, was offered in 1714 to Harley, Earl of Oxford, for £8000, but the latter did not accept the offer because the bishop insisted that the earl should pay the money at once, although he was not to receive the books till the collector's death. He would not really have had long to wait, for the bishop died on July 31st of the same year. The library, mainly through the influence of Lord Townshend, was purchased for 6000 by George I., who presented it to the University of Cambridge. This presentation gave rise to two well-known epigrams, which have been frequently misquoted. Dr. Trapp, the first Professor of Poetry at Oxford, expressed the disgust of his University in these lines
" Contrary methods justly George applies
To govern his two Universities;
To Oxford sent a troop of horse ; for why?
That learned body wanted Loyalty.
To Cambridge he sent books, as well discerning
How much that loyal body wanted learning."
Sir William Browne, the physician, put the Cambridge case in a form which extorted praise from the Oxonian Samuel Johnson
" Contrary methods justly George applies
To govern his two Universities ;
And so to Oxford sent a troop of horse,
For Tories hold no argument but force.
To Cambridge Ely's learned troops are sent,
For Whigs admit no force but argument."
When Lord Treasurer Harley recommended Queen Anne to purchase Sir Symonds d'Ewes manuscripts as the richest collection in England after Sir Robert Cotton's, and to present them to a public library, the Queen answered, " It was no virtue for her, a woman, to prefer, as she did, arts to arms ; but while the blood and honour of a nation were at stake in her wars, she could not, till she had secured her living subjects an honourable peace, bestow their money upon dead letters." Thereupon the Lord Treasurer bought the collection himself for £6000? The whole collection of the Harleian MSS. (one of the greatest treasures of the British Museum Library), which consists of 7639 volumes, exclusive of 14,236 original rolls, charters, deeds, and other legal instruments, was purchased by Government for £r0,000, or only 14000 more than the Earl of Oxford gave for Sir Symonds d' Ewes manuscripts alone.
The Earl of Sunderland's fine library was for several years housed in the mansion which formerly stood on the site of the Albany in Piccadilly. It was removed to Blenheim in 1749, where it remained till the great sale of 1881-83. Oldys reports that the King of Denmark offered Lord Sunderland's heirs £30,000 for the library,2 and that the great Duchess Sarah of Marlborough was in favour of the offer being accepted, but it was not.
We learn from Hearne's " Remains" that £3000 was offered by the University of Oxford for the noble library of Isaac Vossius, the free-thinking Canon of Windsor, and refused. Hearne adds, "We should have purchased them, and not stood in such a case upon punctilio and niceties, when we are so lavish of our money upon trifles that bring dishonour on the University." The library was taken abroad, and soon afterwards sold to the University of Leyden for the same amount as that previously offered by Oxford (3000)1
Thomas Osborne, the chief bookseller of his time, bought the great Harley library, consisting of about 50,000 volumes of printed books, £41,000 prints, and about 350,000 pamphlets, for £13,000. This seems a small amount for so matchless a collection, but it is not certain that Osborne made a very profitable investment by his purchase. We shall have more to say of the bookseller and the library in the next chapter.
As an instance of the low price of books at this time, the anecdote of Mr. David Papillon's agreement with Osborne may be mentioned here. The contract was that the bookseller should supply Mr. Papillon (who died in 1762) with one hundred pounds' worth of books at threepence apiece, the only conditions being that they should be perfect, and that there should be no duplicates. Osborne was at first pleased with his bargain, and sent in a large number of books ; but he soon found that it would be impossible to carry out the agreement without great loss, as he was obliged to send in books worth shillings instead of pence. Long before he had supplied the eight thousand volumes required, he begged to be let off the contract.
Things were worse in Russia, where Klostermann, the bookseller to the Imperial Court, sold books by the yard (fifty to one hundred roubles, according to binding). Every courtier who had hopes of a visit from the Empress Catharine was expected to have a library, and as few of them had any literary taste, they bought them at this rate. Sometimes waste-paper books were lettered with the names of celebrated authors.
Authorship could hardly become a profession until after the invention of printing, and even then it was long before a living could be got out of books. Dr. Edward CasteIl laboured for seventeen years in the compilation of his immense undertaking the Lexicon Ileptaglotton, to accompany Walton's Polyglot Bible. During this time he maintained at his own cost as writers seven English-men and as many foreigners. All of them died before the work was completed. Besides expending £12,000 of his own money he was obliged to borrow £2000 more, and this not being sufficient, he petitioned Charles II. that a prison might not be the reward of so much labour. Notwithstanding a circular letter from the king recommending the purchase of this work the author ended his days in poverty, and a great part of the impression was thrown into garrets, where many of the copies were destroyed by damp or rats.
A similar case was that of Thomas Madox, the learned author of the " History of the Exchequer," who wrote to Dr. Charlett requesting him to get his book into the College Libraries at Oxford, and explaining that the cost of the impression was 400 for paper and print, and as only 481 copies were printed, " when all the books shall be sold I shall he just able to pay the charges with a trifling over-plus. . . . This affair," he adds, "has given me much perplexity, and perfectly cured me of scribbling."'
Thomas Hearne was more fortunate, and amassed a small fortune by his publications. One thousand guineas were found in gold in his rooms at St. Edmund Hall after his death. His books were soon out of print, and fetched large prices even in his own lifetime.
Lord Spencer bought the whole of the library of Count Revickzky, a catalogue of which had been privately printed by the original owner at Berlin in 1784. According to Dibdin, when the Count was in England he offered his whole collection to Lord Spencer for a certain round sum to be paid to him immediately, and for a yearly sum by way of annuity. The offer was accepted, and as the Count died soon afterwards, Lord Spencer obtained the library at a cheap rate. The same noble collector offered the Duke di Cassano Serra L500 for two books, viz., the Juvenal of UIric Han, and the Horace of Arnaldus de Bruxella, Naples, 1474, but the offer was not accepted. In 1820 Lord Spencer bought the whole collection.
The Duke of Devonshire purchased the valuable library of Dr. Thomas Dampier, Bishop of EIy, for nearly £10,000 after the bishop's death in 1812. Dr. Dibdin has printed in his "Reminiscences" (vol. i. p. 363) a list of prices at which Dr. Dampier valued the various classes of books in his library.
Little idea of the prices of books can be obtained from the amounts given for a whole library, but as in future chapters particulars will be printed of the great libraries that have been disposed of by auction, it seemed well to mention here a few instances of libraries that have been sold entire. The greatest of these is the magnificent library of Earl Spencer, which was sold in 1892 to Mrs. Rylands, and has been transferred from Althorpe to Manchester. The exact amount paid for this library has not been announced, but it is supposed to have been about a quarter of a million pounds.
In respect to the history of prices of books, there have been times of inflation and times of depression, just as in the history of prices generally, but it will be seen that in spite of these vicissitudes scarce books have gradually increased in value. The first signs of the growth of bibliomania are seen in the sales of Dr. Mead's and Dr. Askew's libraries in the middle of the last century, which aroused a great interest among book collectors.
During the great Napoleonic wars books became very scarce, because Englishmen were prevented from purchasing on the Continent, but upon the conclusion of the peace there was a steady flow of books into the country.
The Duke of Roaburghe's sale in 1812 was a great event, forming, as it did, an epoch in the history of book collecting, and the widespread fervour of bibliomaniacs may be dated from that period. Great sales followed, and then came the sale of the enormous Heber library, which let out too many books on the market at once. After this there followed a dull time, but a revival came with the Bright sale in 1 846 and Stowe sale in 1849, and the Daniel and Corser sales between 186o and 187o, and the Henry Perkins sale in 1873, were great events. The last few years have been marked by many great sales, those of the Sunderland, the Beckford, and Hamilton Libraries, and the Turner, Gaisford, Crawford, and Ashburnham collections being among the most remarkable. The greatly increased prices obtained for books have induced many proprietors to sell their literary treasures.
It is well to remember that the value of all hooks is not rising, but that whole classes have fallen in price. Greek and Roman Classics, and the Fathers and Theological Literature generally, have been most markedly depreciated in value.
Fashion guides alterations in the prices of books, just as she does in other less important matters. Thus we find at one time certain books quoted at high prices, which not many years afterwards have become drugs in the market. Still, a careful review of the subject will show that fashion is not nearly so potent as in some other departments, say, for instance, in the case of pictures, which certainly vary in price more than books. In spite, therefore, of signs of variableness, it will be seen that there is a continuous increase of price among certain classes of books which are sure to retain their value, and even to be still more esteemed as time passes.
It may be well to inquire what are some of the causes which lead to an increase in the price, and to distinguish between those which are permanent and those which are ephemeral. The growth of book-collecting in the United States has had a most potent influence, and large purchases made for many years in England have drained off a large number of books, low priced as well as high priced, which will never return to this country. Another cause is the increase of public libraries in Great Britain, and when books are bought for these libraries they are permanently removed from the open market, as they are not when sold to an individual, because his library will most probably eventually come to the hammer. These two causes would be sufficient in themselves to permanently increase the price of scarce books, but there are still others to be mentioned. There has been of late years a greatly increased interest felt in the history of books in printing, in binding and increased knowledge has shown the great claims of a large number of books to a higher appreciation than hitherto. Then again, the class of the wealthy who can afford to collect choice libraries has largely increased ; and lastly, the belief that the collecting of books is by no means a had investment has not been without effect. This last point opens up a very interesting question in ethics, Should a col-lector look upon his collections as an investment ? The late Mr. J. Hill Burton argues very strongly against this view in his " Book-Hunter." He writes--
" The mercenary spirit must not be admitted to a share in the enjoyments of the book-hunter. . . If [he] allows money-making, even for those he is to leave behind, to be combined with his pursuit, it loses its fresh relish, its exhilarating influence, and becomes the source of wretched cares and paltry anxieties. When money is the object, let a man speculate or become a miser." . .
This is quite true, but we must remember that, after all, increased price is only an outward manifestation of increased public estimation, and it is always satisfactory to know that our opinion has been accepted by the public. The real point seems to be that the collector should use his judgment in respect to price, and not trouble himself whether the market value of individual books goes up or down, for he may be sure that if he buys wisely, the ups and the clowns will balance each other. If a fair-sized library is purchased with judgment and knowledge, it cannot fail to become a profit-able investment, because good books increase in value by reason of their companionship. All worthless books should therefore be ruthlessly weeded out. For instance, a library of i000 choice books would probably sell for less with 500 books of little value added to them than if these were ruthlessly eliminated.
Mr. Andrew Lang writes in his pretty little book, "The Library."
"When Osborne sold the Harley collection, the scarcest old English books fetched but three or four shillings. If the Wandering Jew had been a collector in the last century, he might have turned a pretty profit by selling his old English books in this age!'
But Mr. Lang did not think of a calculation, by which Mr. A. W. Pollard, in an interesting article on " English Booksales, 1676–86 " (Bibliographic,
" It is perhaps in accordance with precedent to remark that, by the judicious expenditure of five-and-twenty pounds during the ten years we have reviewed, a library of about two hundred volumes might have been acquired, which would now be cheap at £10,000. But as the £25, if invested at compound interest at five per cent., would now have amounted to nearly a million, it is well for bookmen not to make too much of such mercenary considerations."
This question of price was formerly a delicate one. Thus William Beloe was censured by some collectors for drawing attention to the subject in his "Anecdotes of Literature" ; but that this objection is got over now may be seen from the great success of such a valuable annual as the "Book-Prices Current," notwithstanding the complaints of some second-hand booksellers of injury to their business from its revelation of the real value of their books !
Dibdin mentions a book-collector to whom he was pointed out at the Roxburghe sale, who exclaimed, " Hang him ! why did he not publish his book in 1810 ? My books would have brought double the prices."
Dibdin doubtless influenced the market ; and in later times two men have exerted a very special influence in raising the prices of books : these are the late Mr. Henry Stevens and Mr. Bernard Quaritch. The former drew his countrymen's attention to early books printed in and relating to America, and he caused a considerable increase in the price of Americana. But neither of these great book-buyers could have permanently raised the price of books if they had not devoted their attention to books which were well worth these advanced prices. When we deal with books of great beauty and value, and of rare occurrence, which are wanted by several rich book-collectors, it is difficult to say what price is too great for such treasures.
It becomes, therefore, an important matter for the book collector to consider what are the rules that guide the enhancement of price in books. It is not easy to codify these rules, for varying circumstances alter cases : thus new editions reduce the value of some high-priced books, but have no effect in the case of others; and time supersedes some books, while it enhances the value of others. There are, however, one or two points which may be mentioned as regulating price, for those persons who suppose prices to be altogether erratic are certainly wrong.
What, then, are the chief characteristics of a book which make it valuable ? " Uniquity," to use Horace Walpole's word, is one of these ; but this is not always sufficient to keep up the price.
Good condition is the grand enhancer of value, and dirty copies of even scarce works are seldom worth much. But nowadays much is done by the artist to improve these books, The leaves can be washed, torn pages can be mended, imperfections can be filled up by facsimiles, and then the whole can be handsomely hound in morocco, so that the owner scarcely knows his book again. Still, how-ever, one difficulty remains in the artistic make-up a short copy cannot be made into a tall one.
It is useless for the artist to spend his labour upon other than the best books, such as the productions of the early presses, original editions of masterpieces, and works of permanent value in their best possible form, with the authors' final corrections. The only high-priced books which can dispense with interesting contents are specimens of fine bindings ; while here again, if the historical binding covers a really valuable book, the two elements of value united will cause a remarkable enhancement of price.
Little need be said as to those books which fetch high prices for a time, and then when fashion alters sink to a much lower level, as it will usually be found that there was no intrinsic value attached to these books, and therefore they were not such as would be bought by the wise collector at a high price. The fictitious value has usually been attained by a system of limited editions and of judicious advertising. Success in these cases is attained among a class outside the experts in bibliography, and therefore there is no cause for wonder that mistakes are made. Sometimes the depression is caused by the unexpected appearance of several copies of a book, of which one or two copies only were believed to exist.
In considering the probability of high prices being sustained, it must always be borne in mind that the peaceful and prosperous condition of the country is taken for granted. In times of national calamity little money is available for luxuries. Two other important points must be remembered. (I) That it is of no use for a book to be scarce if nobody wants it. The money value of the phenomenally dull book mentioned by Sir Walter Scott is not recorded.
"We have heard of one work of fiction so unutterably stupid that the proprietor, diverted by the rarity of the incident, offered the book, which consisted of two volumes duodecimo, handsomely bound, to any person who would declare upon his honour that he had read the whole from beginning to end, But although this offer was made to the passengers on board an Indianian during a tedious outward-bound voyage, the " Memoirs of Clegg the Clergyman " (such was the title of this unhappy composition) completely baffled the most dull and determined student on board, when the love of glory prevailed with the boatswain, a man of strong and solid parts, to hazard the attempt, and he actually conquered and carried off the prize."
(2) That good books are still very cheap, particularly those which it is necessary to possess. So much is talked about the high prices which books fetch, that many are led to believe that he must be a rich man who commences to collect a library ; but this is not so, for many good books in good condition can be bought for a few shillings ; in fact, some of the best library books, well bound, do not range at more than ten shillings per octavo volume, and this cannot be called a high price. Ordinary collectors must make up their minds to do without Mazarin Bibles and first folios of Shakespeare, and they will find that life can be lived without these expensive luxuries.
In conclusion, it is necessary to strike a note of warning respecting the bad paper which is used for some books, and which render these books quite worthless in a few years. Old books were made to last ; the materials used paper and ink were of the very best, but many books of the present day are made of bad materials, and contain within them the elements of decay. Lately a German Commission investigated this subject, and for their purpose took out from the Berlin Library one hundred volumes. They classified the paper upon which these books were printed under the four headings of (1) good ; (2) medium ; (3) bad ; (4) very bad. About five books came under the first two classes, and the remainder were about equally divided between the third and fourth classes. Can we with any confidence claim a better average for English books ? If not, the future of our modern books is a dark one.