We all now know that the prices of almost everything go up, up, up. Cars, houses, canned chicken, everything costs more – in some cases a lot more – than just 18 months ago. We have to thank COVID for this, but we are where we are.
However, most of the price increases we see are for newly manufactured items, not those with past lives. As the prices in the antiques and collectibles categories go up and down, they have less to do with pure economics and more to do with market trends. So, whenever a record breaking price list comes out for this or that, it always attracts attention.
As it turns out, the American Booksellers Association recently compiled such a list of its 25 best-selling antique books over the past quarter century. Maybe there is something to be learned from this.
But if it does, I don’t know what it can be. The list includes books of all kinds, ranging from a 10th century Arabic manuscript (# 14 at $ 45,000) to two different Harry Potter editions (# 19 and 20, both in the $ 38,000 range. ). Considering the zillions of Harry Potter books in print, these must be pretty special. About a third of the books on the list were in languages other than English, and several (including one of the Harry Potter entries) were multi-volume sets.
From a political point of view, it was interesting to see two works by Karl Marx (Nos. 9 and 18) but only one on an American statesman (“The Complete Works of Abraham Lincoln”). Maybe that means something. Maybe not.
And then we have several early science books (No. 2, 5, 11 and 22), some art books, poems by Emily Dickinson (No. 25), a short story by Franz Kafka (No. 24) and a assortment of books on art. , philosophy and religion. Everything is quite interesting, at least for the hardcore bibliophile. As for truly readable books, my vote goes to “Casino Royale”, the first James Bond book by Ian Fleming. This one is a first edition from 1953, signed and inscribed by the author, and comes in at # 12 on the list with a selling price of $ 46,453. That’s a lot of martinis.
So, what should we take away from this apparent mess? Why is Book # 1 – a treatise on ornithology printed in 1765 – worth $ 191,000 when in # 25, three first editions of Emily Dickinson are barely $ 30,000? Supply and demand is, of course, the answer, but there are still some real world conclusions that can be drawn.
First, the condition counts … until it no longer does. New copies will always bring higher prices, but if the supply is limited to a single copy (like the Arabic manuscript), pricing models are out of reach. Second, signatures help, but inscriptions sometimes don’t, especially if the inscription is for an unknown soul. When collectors go to book signing, they invariably want just a signature and no dedication. In situations like this, less is usually more.
Finally, there is an attribution issue, which directly relates to a book recently entered our gallery. It’s a soft-colored screed from the late 1960s extolling the virtues of North Vietnam and its heroic battle against the US imperialists. It’s basically so much propaganda, except it includes a long inscription signed by “Linda and Paul”. Could it be Linda and Paul McCartney? Linda passed away in 1998, so we can’t ask her. As a short-lived coin from the Vietnam War, its value is quite modest. However, as the original Beatles artifact reflecting their vision of the time, it is quite another thing. We may never know, but the possibilities are enticing.
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years he was an award winning catalog publisher and author of seven books as well as countless articles. Now he is the owner of the Antique Galleries in Palm Springs. His antiques column appears on Saturdays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Drop him a line at [email protected].