Les Enluminures Les Enluminures owner, Dr. Sandra Hindman, is a leading expert on manuscript illumination. Professor Emerita of Art History at Northwestern University, she is author, coauthor, or editor of more than a dozen books, as well as numerous articles on the history and reception of illuminated manuscripts and on medieval rings. These publications include The Robert Lehman Collection. IV. Illuminations (New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997); Manuscript Illumination in the Modern Age: Recovery and Reconstruction (Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 2001); Toward an Art History of Medieval Rings: A Private Collection (Paris, 2007); and Take this Ring: Medieval and Renaissance Rings in the Griffin Collection (Brepols, 2015). Sandra Hindman is a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’s Association of America, the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America, the Syndicat National de la Librairie Ancienne et Moderne, and the Syndicat National des Antiquaires.

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Sandra Hindman on the occasion of Les Enluminures’ landmark quarter century anniversary.

Rare Books Digest: September marks 25 years since the establishment of Les Enluminures. During these years the rare book market saw a decline of institutional buying as sales to private collectors have increased. Did illuminated manuscripts also exhibit a similar trend?

Dr. Hindman: I don’t think this is the case for manuscripts of any sort. Perhaps cuttings and single leaves are mostly bought by individuals. Illuminated manuscripts in the 25 years I’ve been in business have been bought both by institutions and private collectors. I detect no change. Text manuscripts, one of our specialties, are bought now (and for many decades) 95% by institutions.

Rare Books Digest: How does your specialization in medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts help provide guidance to clients interested in fine and decorative arts?

Dr. Hindman: We are surely the most specialized dealers in our field with seven PhDs among us. Nearly everyone who doesn’t have a doctorate has an advanced degree. Most of us publish for peer-reviewed journals and presses, not just commercial ventures. We offer special “curatorial services” well described on our website – cataloguing, collection advice of all sorts, exhibition suggestions, and so forth. No one else in the trade can offer the level of specialized guidance we can supply. I think our clients find this reassuring, the idea that we have their own interests in mind and that at the same time we are “objective” scholars as well as dealers. Moreover, because of our backgrounds, we have excellent relationships with the museum and library world, and we are therefore able to help them make connections there that they wouldn’t otherwise find so easy.

Rare Books Digest: How did the intrinsic value between Renaissance illuminated manuscripts and fine, decorative arts compare, looking back during the last 25 years?

Dr. Hindman: I can’t give you real statistics, but 30 years ago (from c. 1984 to c. 1987) a manuscript held the record for the most expensive work of art ever sold (the Gospels of Henry the Lion). This record was toppled by Japanese buyers who acquired a series of Van Gogh paintings during the Impressionist craze in the late 1980s, and then subsequently these were supplanted by modern and contemporary records, Picasso, Bacon, and so forth. That being said, manuscripts now look “cheap” compared to other works of art, especially given their age and tip-top condition, which has resulted in a new client base being formed among modern art collectors. There has never been an era when manuscripts were not avidly collected, and the same holds true today. It’s unthinkable that a manuscript would again hold the record for the most expensive work of art ever sold, but you never know what the future will bring. Were the unimaginable to happen and the Tres Riches Heures [were] to be sold to benefit the French State, perhaps, it would fetch in the many hundreds of millions, more than a Giacometti, a Bacon, or a Picasso!

Rare Books Digest: Given the scarcity in supply, is there any particular area within illuminated manuscripts that could be more attractive to collectors today?

Dr. Hindman: Books of Hours were always personal and private possessions, often passed down through families, and when they changed hands they frequently ended up in other private collections. Thus, they are readily available on the market (perhaps 60 or more change hands every year). Many of the most famous and most expensive Books of Hours remain in private hands today. It is still possible for the astute collector, well-armed with the right questions and with a reasonable budget, to put together a world-class collection of Books of Hours. I’m not sure you could say the same thing about Old Master Paintings or Impressionist Works of Art. You certainly could not do the same for medieval decorative arts – ivories, reliquaries, enamels – because the supply just isn’t there. Nor could you form a collection of Old Master Drawings such as Ian Woodner formed, comprising many pre-1500 masterpieces. You probably could assemble a museum-quality collection of Post-War American Art, but at what a price. Surely, it would cost many multiples of what a dazzling collection of Books of Hours would cost. Here’s a goal, then, for the ready collector looking for a new field.

Rare Books Digest: The 90’s were characterized by less excess in collecting from prior years, especially for the market in contemporary art. Has excess buying in illuminated manuscripts ever occurred?

Dr. Hindman: Quite simply, I don’t think so. The demand has always exceeded the supply, which serves to keep prices steady. There is another important factor too: the illuminated manuscript market has never been subject to speculation or regarded as “placement.”

Rare Books Digest: Have collectors of illuminated manuscripts changed over the years?

Dr. Hindman: Not really. Nobody collects illuminated manuscripts to put them on their walls and impress their friends at dinner parties or because it’s the chic thing to do on the party circuit of modern art fairs. Most collectors of illuminated manuscripts are, and always have been, relatively private, even somewhat introverted. They collect for themselves. (My other field is medieval rings, and I wear a fifteenth-century English ring daily. To the non-specialist my ring looks like “nothing.” I like to say that you wear medieval jewelry for yourself whereas you wear Bulgari, Tiffany, Buccellati, Cartier, etc. for others. The same is true of medieval illuminated manuscripts).

Rare Books Digest: The world rare book market today has been estimated to have annual sales of over $500 million. What percentage of that do you estimate to be attributed to illuminated manuscripts?

Dr. Hindman: Wow, what an interesting statistic and question. The market supports four dealers of illuminated manuscripts and essentially two auction houses with two sales each a year. If illuminated manuscripts exceed 100 million, I would be surprised. Say, around 50 million or 10%? But, really this is a wild guess.

Rare Books Digest: With the explosion of technology and the vast availability of knowledge, do you foresee a time when the higher end of this market will not require personal contact or the confidence of the buyer in the expertise of the seller to complete a transaction?

Dr. Hindman: No, I don’t foresee this. It’s too specialized. The buyer will never have sufficient knowledge and expertise, even with advanced technology, to do without a qualified specialist in my field.

Rare Books Digest: Thank you. Best wishes for Les Enluminures.



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Mistaikes in Books

by James Dawson on July 5, 2016

Mistakes in BooksWho would ever believe that collectors sometimes want to buy things that are imperfect, but turn up their nose at that same item when perfect? Mistakes can be valuable, but it has to be the right kind of mistake and it’s usually only the mistakes in first editions of collectible books that open the pocketbooks of bibliophiles. The mistakes need to have been corrected quickly therefore making the few flawed copies that slipped by scarce and desirable items. An uncorrected mistake that ran through many printings is completely uninteresting.

Common mistakes in books are binding errors where the cover was put on upside down, or when groups of pages (called signatures) were either left out or repeated. This happens during printing and binding and are common enough to not only be not collectible, but actually make the book undesirable. They are viewed as damaged goods. Quite a bit different from that famous upside down airmail stamp- there are different rules for each collectible, it seems.

The mistakes that collectors look for are usually printing errors. Misspellings, chipped letters and so forth that can help establish the earliest printing priority of a book. A book with a damaged letter in it was probably printed later than a copy where that piece of type was perfect (except when the opposite is true!). An edition of a book is composed of printings, and printings can be made of states or issues. Technically, a first edition is really a first printing. A printing is a single run of so many books made at one time. If a mistake was found during the print run and corrected then the printing would have two states or issues: the early uncorrected one and the later corrected one. The first state would be the more collectible. Collectors want the earliest form of the book possible. You can have a first first and a later first.

In the early days of printing, each letter was printed directly from a separate piece of type which were stored in drawers, and then replaced after the printing was completed. This was all hand done by printers’ assistants, who were often called printers devils. It’s easy to see how mistakes were made because of all of this hand work. Imagine having to set up a book tens of thousands of words long, one letter at a time. Printers devils got their name because this boring work caused them to release pent up energy in pranks and other forms of mischief. Sam Clemens, started out as a printers devil and look how he turned out! Proof readers are folks who read over books before they are printed to try and catch mistakes, but that is one tedious job, and they don t always get them all. Sometimes instead of destroying damaged goods, printers insert an errata slip which is a cheap way of correcting omissions and typos. Typo is short for typographical error and you might say that the word errata is from the Latin for oops. One oops is an erratum; two or more are called errata. The later printings of the book which have been corrected would not need an errata slip.

Modern technology can not yet eradicate typos and misspellings. Even the spell check in modern computers can t be trusted 100% of the time, as the word may be spelled correctly, but be the wrong word. I can write that sentence as Evan, a spill chuck en modem commuters can’t bee trusteed and I’ll bet my computer will think it s just fine. Let me try….yes. See, what did I tell you! (And computers think they’re so smart! I think we have a little more time left before they finally take over the world). Mouses make errata. My point is, even in this word processed age, we haven’t seen the last of typos and goofs in books.

One of the most famous mistakes is in the so called Devil’s Bible printed in 1631. For whatever reason, the word “not” was omitted from the seventh commandment and so it read “Thou shalt commit adultery”. One wonders is this mistake was really a mistake or the product of someone’s twisted sense of humor. I guess they didn’t call them printers devils for nothing.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn must hold the record for most mistakes in a first printing. Some of them are as follows: on p. 57 line 11 “with the was” should have been “with the saw”; and on p. 155: the last “5” in “155” is damaged, and so forth. There are eight of these to look out for in the first edition. And to make matters even more complicated, these mistakes were not all found and corrected at the same time in the printing. And even worse than that, the pages later got mixed up at the binders, so instead of a logical order to the corrections, most copies are what is called mixed states where each copy has its own cornucopia of errors. The more errors the better as far as the value is concerned. A very early state first printing would be worth thousands of dollars more than a later state corrected first.

By contrast, some mistakes don t matter. There was only one printing with no states or issues of Walden by Henry D. Thoreau in 1854. Any Ticknor and Fields edition with that date on the title page is a first. The several mistakes in it were present through the more than twenty printings of the book up into the 1880s. Because the mistakes were uncorrected, they don t count because they were in all the early printings and can’t be used alone to identify a first edition. Nevertheless, some reference guides and dealers catalogs tediously list them one after another, and tell you that their copy is a first edition because “port” was misspelled “post” on page 24 even though this mistake wasn’t corrected for decades, and so collectors don’t give two or more hoots (or hoota) about them. The map of Walden Pond was omitted from some copies, but since no priority can be established for that, it doesn’t affect value except that most collectors would prefer to have the map.

Usually, these mistakes are harmless misstatements of facts or spelling errors, but occasionally firsts contain libelous material that was deleted from later printings. On rare occasions that material was later proved to be true and reinstated in later editions. Examples of this are Behind the Nylon Curtain (uncomplimentary material about the DuPont family) and In The Spirit of Crazy Horse (recalled and corrected after a lawsuit filed by the Governor of South Dakota and a government agent who were mentioned unfalteringly in the book which resulted in a ten year legal battle). The libelous first issues of both of these books are very collectible. Years later, both books were reprinted in their original form when the suppressed material was found to be true. And of course, the resulting publicity drew far more attention to the material than if the law suits had never happened. Actually, in these two examples, these mistakes turned out not to be mistakes at all (and so became mistakes by not being mistakes or something).

Mistakes can be amusing. In the index of the 1934 first printing of Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds, the colloquial name for the American Bittern is printed as Bob Pumper instead of Bog Pumper (oh sure, good old Bob Pumper- he used to drive a red Camero). Most mistakes are far less amusing and are only of interest to the specialist collector. Later states of first editions can sometimes still have value and a very serious collector would want examples of all the states. And many, many books don’t have errors in them at all.

But of the making of mistakes, it seems, there is no end. Later editions can have mistakes, but these are interesting but not at all valuable. In my Thoreau collection, a turn of the century edition misspells his middle initial as Henry B. Thoreau (how the heck can someone misspell the author’s name right on the title page?) and a paperback edition from 1987 that tries to pass off a picture of Robert Louis Stevenson as Thoreau. Imagine books that can’t get the authors name right, or know what he looks like.

Points of Issue by Bill McBride; 585 Prospect Ave, West Hartford, CT. 06105 is a handy guide to the important mistakes. It is a pocket sized easy to use list of errors to watch for in first editions. Also, any knowledgeable dealer in old books should be eager to help you in your quest for that imperfect first edition.

Hoppy collecting!


James Dawson is the owner of Unicorn Bookshop in Trappe, Maryland.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2003 issue of The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles


Hot new genre: Adult Coloring Books

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As coloring books for grown-ups have recently popped into the bestseller lists, (12 million sold in 2015), one cannot help but wonder how long it will take for collectors to turn their attention to this popular new genre of “adult coloring books”. Once considered a little more than a novelty, adult coloring books, are now almost considered a […]

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Houdini’s Book Disappearing Act

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Within a short time, the concentration of high spots from the genre of magic and the supernatural has moved into private hands and institutional collections. The market irrupted, beginning in 1991, when illusionist David Copperfield bought the Mulholland Library of Conjuring & the Allied Arts (containing the world’s largest collection of Houdini memorabilia), for $2.2 […]

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The Independent Bookshop

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Presently, independent booksellers are growing. According to the American Booksellers Association, the number of independent bookstores in the US has grown from 1,410 in 2010 to 1,712 in 2015. At the same time, the future of highly-capitalized chains, with their need for expensive, high-traffic locations seems uncertain. Barnes & Noble shrunk from 726 stores at […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor Update – 1st Quarter 2016

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The value of books determined by the Rare Book Sale Monitor (RBSM) is achieved by selecting comparable sales and adjusting the prices according to the differences between the comparable sales and the item being evaluated. RBSM comparative pricing is produced by adjusting the sale price of a particular title that is closely monitored, by accounting […]

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Rethinking the Grading of Old Books

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Since 1949, AB Bookman’s Weekly, which ceased publication 50 years later, strived to establish the criteria for grading the condition of used books. AB’s definitions of “Very Fine” (or “As New”), “Fine”, “Very Good”, “Good”, “Fair”, and so forth, have basically become the industry standard. The condition of each book is, in a very real […]

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The Second Sex is undervalued

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“For a long time I have hesitated to write a blog post on woman. The subject is irritating, especially to women; and it is not new,” is how the opening sentence to Simone de Beauvoir’s book The Second Sex reads. She did write a “book” of course, rather than a “blog post”, a very important […]

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The Slave Bible

March 4, 2016
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Privacy concerns have disrupted lives long before investigators attacked Apple for refusing to aid federal agents bypass a security passcode function on a terrorist’s iPhone. These days, anything that happens through our lives is collected, shared, analyzed, marketed and remarketed, sometimes with our consent, and often without. New generations find it hard to imagine a […]

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Auction Activity Signals

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Last year’s financial results from two of the largest auction houses have signaled the prospect of an art-market slowdown. Christie’s reported $6.5 billion in auction sales for the year, down 4% from a year ago, while rival Sotheby’s reported $6 billion last year, down 2% from a year earlier. Furthermore, this year’s art auctions got […]

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