Rare Religious Books

by The bookworm on July 16, 2011 · Market Analysis, Rare Religious Books

After several years of unprecedented growth during the last decade, sales of new books in the religion category have declined significantly.  Since 2007, sales as reported by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), have declined by more than 25%. The year by year breakdown of revenues reported is as follows:

2010 2009 2008 2007
$585.4M $614.3M $724.1M $783.3M

 

Such declining revenues from books with religious content, which include all religions as well as New Age titles, seems to be the result of slow economic  times at a time that lacked new, blockbuster releases. In prior years, best sellers including:  “The Prayer of Jabez”, “Left Behind”, and “The Purpose-Driven Life,” boosted sales over a prolonged period of time. Climbing sales of e-books during the same period, may have been a factor also; a much less significant one nevertheless.

Despite slow economic  times, prices for rare books of the Religion & Theology category have been climbing, primarily due to the finite quantity of such collectors’ items. It is estimated for example, that in recent years the value of most Bibles has appreciated by 10% to 15% annually with some unspeakably rare collections rising as much as 25% – quite a significant appreciation.

Shortly after the stock market collapsed in 2000, investors have been looking for “hard assets,” such as art, coins, books, and jewelry, to complement their portfolios.   Despite lacking liquidity, highly collectible hard assets offer a good way to diversify and minimize the risk in stock and bond return fluctuations. Amongst rare books, religious books have gained significant interest in auction houses and online sites sales as a result of this trend. The unique nature of these assets makes investing in them tricky, often requiring expert advice.  Specialists providing services within this genre vary widely.  Multiple religions with publications in various languages covering the full spectrum of published works, makes the domain of specialization quite extensive. Consider the following list of some of the most noticeable sales that took place in recent years:

Title Author Period Published Sale price Year sold
King James Great ‘She’ Bible Robert Barker 1613 $22,166 2011
King James Bible John Field 1660 $14,105 2011
TractatusTheologico-Politicus Benedictus de Spinoza 1670 $8,399 2011
King James Great ‘He’ Bible Robert Barker 1611 $8,900 2010
Arabic Manuscript of Al Wajaza Fi Sihhat Il Qawl Bi I Ijaza 10th Century AD $45,000 2010
La Bibbia, Tradotta in Lingva Tofcana 1545 $5,500 2010
Mir’at al Haramain aw al rihlat ul Hijaziyya wa I Hajj wa masha’iruhu ad Diniyya Ibrahim Rif’aat Pasha 1925 $6,000 2010
The Holy Bible: Reprinted
according to the authorized version of 1611
1611 $7,500 2010
Liber Psalmorum Hebraice Benjamin Kennicott 1809 $8,259 2009
Miniature Maghribi
Manuscript of Dala’il ul Khayra
Sidi Muhammad ibn Sulayman
al-Jazuli al-Simlali
18th Century $6,200 2009
The Four Gospels of the Lord Jesus Christ Eric Gill 1931 $11,000 2009
Goslar Gospels 1990 $7,470 2008
Sefarad: Revista del
Instituto Arias Montano de Estudios Hebraicos y Oriente Proximo
Consejo Superior de
Imvestigaciones
1941 $7,265 2008
Memories on the Affairs of
the Jesuits
C.P. Platel 1766 $5,698 2008
Supplementum summae
Pisanellae
Nikolaus Osimo 1479 $24,941 2007
The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt and Nubia David Roberts 1855 $13,000 2007

 

The unique nature of these books is obvious. Not only are some of them one of a kind but in the case where a limited number was published and still surviving, the variations in the condition deem each copy unique. How does the investor then determine a fair price valuation given such uniqueness and limited availability of comparables?  One way is by tracking sales of the same copy of a book that sold multiple times. The rarity of such an occurrence is a major drawback but it does occasionally happen that the exact same copy is resold. Expert appraisers rely on historic sales of similar copies factoring in any applicable differences using a proven formula.

The best advice that we can offer  to the investor who does not have the expertise available, is to narrow the domain of interest as much as possible and then use some general guidelines to collect unique items that are likely to experience increasing demand. For example, focusing on Bibles printed in North America in the 18th century and printed in Europe in the 16th or 17th centuries is a very good target to focus on if Bibles is what interests you. After all it is the most printed book in the world.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Lester Christy February 3, 2013 at 7:18 pm

I’m trying to find Young’s Analytical Concordance that was printed in England in the 1950’s and maybe 60’s. The books were sold door to door in the Midwest states. Bound in leather but not that flexible with thin bible paper maybe 1 inch thick. Dimensions were about 12″x9 or 10″”. I thought that it may have been the Southwestern Publishers because they had offices in Scotland or England. I have a Nave’s topical by them that looks like the Young’s in question. My uncle had one back int he 60’s and I’m going by memory.
his books looks so rare that no one has even heard of it.
Help!
thanks ;
Lester

Reply

Admin February 6, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Robert Young’s Analytical Concordance of the Bible comes in many editions and time periods. A 60’s version that you may be refering to was published in 1963 by the United Society for Christian Literature in London.

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Ed Roley May 10, 2013 at 1:14 am

We have just come in to possession of a 1660 Bible by John Field. It is small, maybe 2 in x 5 in in size. It has 2 metal clasps although one is gone and the other does not latch. It otherwise is in quite good condition. I am having difficulty finding anything just like it on the internet. Any ideas where I can get anymore information. Thanks

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James Smith July 23, 2013 at 11:33 pm

I have recently acquired three books, “Heaven the Country, Christ the Way” 1895; “The Life of Christ From the Four Gospels” 1905 and “Discourses on the Evidence of Revealed Religion” 1795. The first two are in great condition, the third is mostly intact with the cover not fully attached. I have tried to research these books, but am not having much luck as I do not really know where to look. Would you happen to have information on theses books or tell me where I might look for it myself? I am trying to find the value of them. Thank you for your time.

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Dr.Donald Moore October 21, 2013 at 9:14 pm

I cannot find “The Life of Moses” by Hunter. It was a favorite book of Stonewall Jackson. Do you have any idea where I could find a copy? Thanks

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Stuart Russell October 27, 2013 at 3:57 pm

I have for sale an original copy, leather bound, set of pamphlets by Henry Ainsworth on the Pentateuch.
It is still in a remarkable condition. It was bought by my Great Grand Father the Reverend Athol Stuart (Stewart) a Minister in the disruption of 1843 based in Blair Athol. I have the receipt when it was bought for 16 shillings from a bookseller MacLaughlan Stewart in 64 South Bridge Edinburgh. in 1844.
I think such a volume would fetch a high price in some American Religious Organisations

Reply

Brian Horsley April 29, 2014 at 6:50 pm

Hi there, got a beautiful leather/goldleaf 15 inch 1954 version of the 1611 King James with
spectacular colour paintings from the masters. Everyone tells me it”s not worth anything, can that
be true?

Reply

Admin April 30, 2014 at 1:13 am

Less that 100 Sterling. While the King James edition with the illustrations by celebrated old Masters is quite scarce, older editions of the most printed book (Bible) are plentiful still.

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Rev. Doug Rowe May 8, 2014 at 2:17 pm

I have received a copy of Richard Watson’s “Theological Institutes: or, a view of the Evidences, Doctrines, Morals, and Institutions of Christianity” dated 1892. The front and back hard covers are coming off and are in very poor shape but the pages etc are good. What would be the value (if any) of this book? Thanks

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Chris Fogerty September 25, 2014 at 10:12 am

I have a copy of The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments printed by John Baskett 1732
The publisher is University of Oxford and the book and binding are in good condition
Although many editions of the BCP were printed, this particular edition is one of only two in existence in public hands and I would be grateful for your comments and any idea of it’s value

I have pasted the following assessment of the book from the curator of Rare Books and Music Collections at the National Library of Scotland.
————————————————————————-
Hi Chris,
 
I think that your copy would be considered very rare as there is only one other extant copy in public hands at located Cambridge University library:
The ESTC number [English Short Title Catalogue] is the identifier of the edition. The ESTC records the worldwide holdings of all works published in the United Kingdom and/or in the English language from the beginning of print until the year 1801.
 

Reply

Admin September 25, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Worldcat.org lists 4 copies in existence dated 1732. A number of other copies published before 1732 by Oxford are available for sale for about £300.

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