Rare Book Sale Monitor

Factsheet: Rare Books as an alternative investment:

  • Tangible assets, such as Rare Books, are by nature, illiquid.
  • Collectible books of interest have shown value appreciation over the years.
  • Many more collectible books of less interest have not appreciated or have declined in value.
  • Supply outstrips demand for all but the rarest books.
  • Tangible alternative investments have little if any correlation with stock market movements, offering a valuable diversification option.
  • Currently there are no investment funds, which invest in rare books and offer a high level of service and transparency.


In a nutshell, rare books, similar to any other type of investment can gain or lose considerable value and offer some diversification benefits, but have the disadvantage in that they cannot easily be converted into cash. Under normal circumstances, rare books change hands infrequently, with collectors predominantly setting a fair market value. Such conditions create large spreads between the seller’s asking price and the buyer’s offer price, and frequently vary considerably in comparable sale prices. Towards the end of the last century, the Internet has made book collecting more accessible, increased demand, and helped reduce the spread somewhat. However, it still remains an “imperfect market” primarily due to:

  1. The large spread between the buyer and the seller prices.
  2. Nonstandard reporting on the performance of rare books as an investment.

The Rare Book Sales Monitor (RBSM), is not by definition a rare book investment index. The RBSM is designed to capture trends in rare book sales on a quarterly basis by recording historic sales, learning and adjusting constantly in accordance to changes in supply. The two biggest challenges that the RBSM is confronted with are:

1. Availability of trades. A highly collectible rare book does reach a point when the number of its trades is reduced significantly and ultimately depleted.
2. Quantitative analysis of quality. No two rare books of the same title, which have the same author, publisher, year of publication, edition, imprint etc., are identical. The RBSM ranking mechanism compares near identical items after adjusting for the differences.

During the second quarter the RBSM’s comprehensive comparative engine has recorded the biggest jump for the genre of Art, Photography and Architecture during its existence. The demand for, and the value of rare editions with artistic content, particularly of collectible items from modern 20th Century artists containing original lithographs, has reached new highs. The ability to “drill down” on the performance of the specific genre in a granular way to review some of the details is quite a nice feature to have:

Art books

In the RBSM author breakdown we are implementing a change to the selection of the reporting. In particular, Harper Lee is being replaced by Aldous Huxley, who demonstrated an increase of interest while offering a wider selection of titles than Harper Lee for activity monitoring purposes. The last time an author was replaced in the configuration dates back to the 3rd quarter of 2012, when Jonathan Swift was replaced by Ian Fleming.

RBSM 2017-Q2 Genre

RBSM 2017-Q2 Author breakdown


The Vinegar Bible "B"

In 1709, John Baskett, purchased the exclusive, royal patent to print Bibles in England. His edition of the Bible is also his most important work and is described by Darlow/Moule as: “A magnificent edition, printed in large type. With many plates at the beginning and end of books, engraved on steel from the designs of various artists. Some of the initial letters are similarly engraved. Unfortunately the book contained many misprints and earned the nickname A Baskett-ful of Errors…. From the misprint The parable of the vinegar (for vineyard) in the headline above Luke XX, this edition is commonly known as the Vinegar Bible.” 1

Darlow/Moule identifies two varieties of the book:

A. The additional general title, engraved by Du-Bose, represents Moses writing the first words of Genesis; below is the imprint Printed by Jn. Baskett at the Clarendon Printing-house in Oxford. The other general title has a view of Oxford by G. Vander Gucht. The New Testament title bears an engraving of the Annunciation. 490 x 307 mm.

B. The additional general title, engraved by Sturt, represents a church interior, with figures of Moses and Aaron, etc.; and dated 1716. The other general title and New Testament title have small engravings. In the text the columns are separated by a double rule. The engravings differ significantly from those in A; many represent allegorical subjects, and others are merely ornamental pieces, and do not, as in A, generally illustrate Bible incidents. 503 x 305 mm. 2

While both scholars and collectors today esteem the Vinegar Bible as one of the most beautiful and legible editions of Scripture ever published, the distinctions between the two variants are harder to spot. The difference in the measurements, for example, is unreliable since most of the surviving copies were rebound and sometimes cut. Even the most important difference between the two variants, the copper-engraved artwork, is mixed up with some volumes containing engravings by du-Bose as well as Sturt, and others. This was the case with a copy of variant “A”, sold by book dealer Bauman Rare for $18,500. This copy, in addition to the general title depicting Moses’ writing of the first word of Genesis, includes the general title page engraved by Sturt, depicting a church interior with figures of Aaron and Moses, generally found in Variant “B”.

Another configuration of mixed volumes (Old Testament variant “A” and New Testament variant “B”) is much less desirable, despite Variant “B” being rarer. Such a copy, having the additional setback of separated covers and some loss to the gilt dentelle, was sold in May of 2014, by Liveauctioneers, for a mere $1,300.

Prior sales are primarily of  variant “A”. In November of 1997, Christie’s auctioned a fine copy of variant “A” in red morocco title-label binding, with hand-marbled endpapers for GBP 3,220 or USD 5,389. A year later, Christie’s sold, at the McKenna Library Sale Part II event, another copy with all of the characteristics of “A”; with contemporary dark blue morocco binding, and a few repaired tears, for GBP 4,600 or USD 7,608. In July of 2000, Christie’s sold yet another copy of the ‘A’ variant in a contemporary Oxford black goatskin binding. This copy, which was in average condition with the lower corner torn from title, occasional heavy browning, tears and some holes, sold for GBP 4,112 or USD 6,185.  A much less desirable copy, in a contemporary red morocco, featuring the engraved view of Oxford, by G. Vander Gucht, and having the top edge of the title trimmed, browning and spotting throughout, with small stains, marginal repairs, joints splitting and detachment, sold in 2013, for GBP 1,875 or USD 3,015.

John Baskett’s Bibles with the mistakes corrected are not very exciting to collectors. At the end of 2016, a later edition in below average condition with internal tears and holes, some leaves missing, but with the correct wording of “vineyard” after a press change, sold at Sotheby’s for $2,750. During the same time, Doyle Rare Books, Autographs & Photographs, auctioned the two volumes of variant “A”, bound in contemporary dark-blue goatskin with joints discreetly repaired at the head and foot, with the bookplates of Sir John Hynde for $12,500 (including buyer’s premium).

The scarcity of variant “B” relative to variant “A” is not necessarily attributed to differences in production sizes. Demand for the artistic ornamentation of John Sturt, who also illustrated The Pilgrim’s Progress, was quite high at the time. Another well known contributor to the artwork in “B” was artist engraver, James Thornhill, one of the most important English exponents of Baroque decorative painting, and the first English-born artist to be knighted. The Vinegar Bible was a true landmark in English graphic art, celebrated by the monarchs/owners of the time, for the beauty of its ornamentation and typographical design, errors and all aside.


Vinegar Bible ornamentation

Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society, Library Bible House, 1903 Volume 1, p.259.

Historical Catalogue of the Printed Editions of Holy Scripture in the Library of the British and Foreign Bible Society, Library Bible House, 1903 Volume 1, p.259-260.




I am a pre-1950 Pocket Book with Leo Manso cover art, paperback collector

May 17, 2017
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  During a recent visit to Provincetown MA, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Julie Heller Gallery.  Provincetown’s rich heritage as an art colony was quite unexplored by me, up until I took this walk through the gallery’s walls filled end to end with striking treasures of artists who helped develop […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 1st Quarter, 2017

April 24, 2017
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Rare book sales in the first quarter of every year are usually kept in balance by a slow auction season start on one hand, with two major book fairs on the other. The California International Antiquarian Book Fair, which takes place in February, is the world’s largest, both in terms of attendance and dealer participation.  […]

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Interview with Laurent Ferri

March 21, 2017
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We recently had the opportunity to speak with Laurent Ferri, Curator of the pre-1800 Collections Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, at Cornell University. RBD: Within the scope of your definition of a book [“a closed/bound container of ideas and symbols which reflects and supports the intentions and worldview of its “author(s)”], what are some […]

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The First Dystopian Novel

February 27, 2017
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Before Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”, George Orwell’s “Ninteen Eighty-Four” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, there was Yevgeni Zamyatin’s “We”, the first dystopian novel ever written. The book is a satire on life in a collectivist futuristic state, “One State”, located in the middle of a wild jungle.  It is surrounded by a wall […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 4th Quarter, 2016

January 27, 2017
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  Last quarter’s coverage of the big rare book auctions, focused almost entirely on the new price record set by a first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, which has become the most expensive printed scientific book ever sold at auction after a winning bid of $3.7m (£3m), nearly two and a half times […]

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Pleased to Meet you, Hope you Guess my Name

January 10, 2017
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I was born in Mainz, Germany. I lived for the first month of my life in a printing plant before being brought to a merchant. I can remember very little about that time, for as soon as I left the plant I was securely stored away in a bookcase outside of town.  I was very […]

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The Ingredients of the Rarest Christmas Book

December 15, 2016
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At a local book trade show not more than three months ago, I had the opportunity to meet up with a few old friends and exchange some provocative conversations relating to my favorite topic – books.  The antiquarian book dealer in this particular conversation was delighted to bring up some quite interesting points on the […]

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Tarantula by Bob Dylan

November 25, 2016
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What do T. S. Eliot, Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Pearl Buck, Elias Canetti, Gunter Grass, John Steinbeck, Harold Pinter, Ernest Hemingway and Bob Dylan have in common? They have all been honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature, the world’s most prestigious and coveted award. The 2016 winner, Bob Dylan, […]

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