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his customers, but the things he sells are
objects of humorous remarks.

A tall, silent old man used to attend
very regularly the house sales in Edin-
burgh. He never bought anything but
books, and yet he was able to make a
livelihood in his peculiar line. He sold
his purchases to the various booksellers,
and knew from experience the class of
books each man gave the best prices for.
He lived all alone in a rented room ; con-
stantly complained of poverty, but after
his death a sum of two hundred pounds
was found to be at his credit in the sav-
ings bank. Another man, an Irishman,
with a good knowledge of books and
prints, used to haunt house sales, but he
drank the profits of his purchases.

For over twenty years now I have,
attended sales of all kinds in search of
books. There is a certain indescribable


fascination in these auctions, and a plea-
surable excitement in attending them.
An old gentleman, a personal friend of
my own, has been a sale attender of over
fifty years' experience. He is as keen a
hunter after rare prints and curious knick-
knacks as ever.

Wherever the red flag flutters it is fol-
lowed by a company of nondescripts who
are not admitted into the premises. These
are unauthorised porters, or men out of
work, who hope to get a job from those
who purchase goods. Thus the red flag,
though it is to many the sign of bank-
ruptcy, of death, or of deep trial, is a
welcome sight to the auctioneer, the
broker, the bargain-hunter, and the hard-
up jobbing porter.



The pleasure derived from collecting books
is a pleasure that never palls ; a joy for
ever. Once a lover always a lover, is a
true saying when applied to a lover of
books. As old age draws near, the man
who has found his delight in athletic sports
is unable to indulge his taste, but the lover
of books can find a solace and joy in the
companionship of his silent friends which
increase as the years go round.

The spiritual and intellectual life of
some men is at its ripest and best when
the physical strength is declining. What
a comfort in old age it must be to have
an cxhaustless treasury of the best and
highest life of all ages to fall back on —
to have pleasures to enjoy, and work to
perform, which can be enjoyed and per-
formed even when the sands of earthly
life are running short. It is one of the
most pleasing of life's experience to meet
with a happy old man — some of the hap-
piest grand old men I have known have
been book collectors.



It is a well-known fact that in many
cases when a man engaged in some busi-
ness all his life suddenly gives up his
work and retires to enjoy his old age the
change kills him. He has nothing to fall
back on, no resource within himself. Ho
has ceased to make money, to buy and
sell ; he has no other interest in life, and
dies from sheer ennui. But the man
whose mind is enriched with knowledge,
who loves books, who delights in collect-
ing rare editions or choice prints, need
have no fear of such a fate ; he may retire
from active business at any time, and still
in his retirement be as happy and busy as

One of the most kindly and gentle old
men I ever knew was for years a fre-
quenter of the old book shop. His was a
well-known figure in Edinburgh ; in all
parts and out-of-the-way corners of the city
he was to be met. There was generally an
attraction in the form of a rare book or
old print drawing him to some bye street
or obscure broker's shop. From him
I gained much valuable knowledge as
to the value of books, and as to the reasons
why certain editions were more prized
than others.

He had accumulated a most interesting
collection of books of local histoiy, of
rarieties connected with Mary Queen of
Scots, and of Shakespearian literature.
Collecting book plates was his chief


hobby. By the way, the term " book
plate " is rather ambiguous ; " ex libris "
is even more so. The proper word to use
when describing the label or plate which
the owner of a library pastes on each book
he possesses has not been coined. "Book
plate" might mean a plate or engraving
inserted in a book to illustrate the con-
tents, as well as a plate bearing the
owner's name. Some early book plates
are artistically beautiful, others ugly,
though the ugly ones may possess value
from being historically interesting. My
old friend possessed many rare dated
plates, and several with ladies' names on
them. Ladies' book plates are uncommon,
thus showing that the collecting of books
has seldom been a hobby of the gentler
sex. Though ladies write many books
nowadays, they have been spoken of as
being amongst the enemies of books, in so
far that they do their best to keep their
husbands from buj'ing them.

An old gentleman used to delight my
heart every time he came to the book
shop. He was possessed with a mighty
passion for literature, an unquenchable
desire to possess books. One had but to
show him a book to make him wish to
buy it. He was a customer such as the
soul of an old bookseller loveth. The
only thing that kept him from being
hopelessly given up to the bibliomaniac's
fever was the fact that he possessed a wife


who hated musty old books. He used to
adopt all kinds of subterfuges to get the
books he purchased home, and placed on
his shelves unknown to his better half.
If the volumes were too bulky or too
many to be stowed away in his capacious
pockets, he used to arrange to have the
parcels delivered at a stated hour when
he knew his wife would be out, sometimes
very early in the morning before she
was up.

A most desirable and delightful cus-
tomer was a gentleman who went on pur-
chasing largely from year to year. He
was a splendid buyer, was ever adding to
his collection, yet his library never seemed
to grow larger, and he always had enough
room on his shelves for his fresh pur-
chases. At the end of each year he
seemed to possess the same number of
books, in face of all his additions. The
secret was that every spring when the
house underwent the annual cleaning, his
wife weeded out from the library shelves
all the most dilapidated volumes, and sold
them to some enterprising dealer un-
known to her husband.

One cannot have much sympathy with
the man who collects books merely be-
cause of their monetary value. He may
have no appreciation of the beauty of the
contents of the volumes he possesses, may
never have read them, or thought of read-
ing them, may be entirely ignorant of the


real reason why certain books are of value,
and yet he may know to a penn}^ how
much this edition or that copy of a scarce
book would bring at an auction sale.
When such a man hears that a certain
early Avork of, say, Robert Louis Steven-
son has brought a high price at a sale,
he greatly desires to possess a copy. He
may have no wish to read the book or to
treasure it as a memento of a favourite
author, but he searches high and low
through the book stalls or shops for the
rarity, simply because it has fetched a
high price in the auction saloon. When
he finds the treasure how he gloats over
his prize. He may have secured it at
some obscure shop for as many shillings
as it is worth guineas. "When he shows
his friends his library he tells them with
pride the ridiculously low prices he has
given for each item.

A true lover of books thinks little of
the monetary value ; he treasures a volume
because of its contents, or values it because
of some association or memory connected
with the author.

The pleasure to be derived from poking
about an old book shop is like drinking
from a well whose waters are ever bub-
bling forth pure and cool. Every time
ono visits the place there is some fresh
volume added, some now treasure to be
examined, some interesting theme to talk
about with the bookseller. Even if there


bo no new books, are not the old ones like
dear friends ever waiting to be looked at ?
There is a delight in just being in the
presence of old books ; one feels at home
in the best society \ the smell of the old
leather binding is good, the homely honest
letterpress is better, but the carrying
away in one's pocket the volume as one's
very own is best of all.



There are three classes of book-buyers —
the book dealer, who buys books to sell
again at a profit ; the bibliomaniac, who
accumulates books for the pleasure of
possession ; and the book lover, who buys
them because of their contents, their
beauty, and the associations connected
with them.

The second-hand bookseller purchases
his stock either by private bargain or at
public auction sales. An amateur attend-
ing an auction sale usually pays more for
his literature than he would have done
had he patronised a bookseller. A
stranger wandering into a sale-room sees
books being knocked down cheap, and
when a work he desires is put up he
begins to bid, and bids, and bids in his
eagerness, until the book is knocked down
to him at a pretty stiff price.

A wealthy newspaper proprietor, wish-
ing to purchase some books from a library
which was being dispersed under the
hammer, sent one of his clerks to pur-



chase. The man had orders to buy
without any limit as to price. The book-
sellers at the sale got to know his instruc-
tions, and in what was perhaps rather a
malicious spirit, they bade against the man
until the books mounted up to prices far
beyond their real value.

One may have noticed in the news-
papers advertisements by booksellers
offering to buy old books. An advertise-
ment of this type attracts the attention of
tidy housewives, who have a lot of dusty
old volumes knocking about their houses ;
or of hard-up individuals who have books
that they wish to turn into money, and it
is by means of these advertisements the
dealer gets part of his stock. In the
spring of the year, when people are clean-
ing up, or at the removal terms, a great
many old books are cleared out of houses.
The majority of these ancient tomes are
of little value, but now and then a
treasure turns up when least expected.

There is a delightful uncertainty in
buying old books. Every dealer lives in
the hope that he may pick up a fortune
some day ; and the little prizes he now
and again secures give a fascinating zest
to his pursuit.

When a man has been out of work for
some time, and tries to sell his little
library, he is often sadly disappointed.
He may, in the days when money was
plentiful, have purchased a "Family


Bible" on the instalment system, and
have paid three or four pounds for it.
"When his children are crying for food he
thinks on the "hig ha' Bible," and re-
luctantly sends his wife with it to the
bookseller, who advertises and offers high
prices. If the dealer has a heai't at all,
he must be touched when the poor woman,
heavy-hearted, sad-eyed, and wear}' with
her fight against poverty, lays down on
his counter the precious volume, carefully
wrapped up in a newspaper, or maybe tied
in a red handkerchief. What must she
think when she is offered five or six
shillings for the "Family Bible," which
cost her husband nearly as many guineas ]
She tries other shops, and, unused to
facing thus a hard world, she loses heart,
and as a last resource, in her sore distress
and need of money, she leaves the book
with a pawnbroker, receiving maybe just
what the bookseller offered.

When times are bad, the pawnshops are
lumbered with "Family Bibles," books of
devotion, cyclopaedias, and other showy
works of the class sold to working people
on the weekly or monthly payment

A bookseller who advertises for books
in tho public prints has curious and varied
experiences in his search for stock. He is
asked to call at houses of every class, from
slum dwellings to stately palaces. He
may be taken down to a dark cellar to


inspect a collection of books, or up many
flights of stairs to the attic rooms. Very
frequently the little library is laid out in
a bedroom. I have even known valuable
literary treasures to be packed like apples
in a barrel, and put out of the way in a
stable. I remember once calling at a house
where there were only an antiquated lady
and a dog present. The lady and I could
not come to terms, and as soon as the dog
(who had listened to our conversation)
knew from our tones that we could not
agree, it made a sudden attack on my
legs, and chased me out of the house.

I was once asked to inspect a lot of
books in Calton Jail ; at another time I
removed a small library from Nelson's
Monument. The other day I bought two
lorry loads of books from a stable in the
Grassmarket. Many years ago I pur-
chased a library in a country house, and
spent the day packing about fifty bags.
As the dinner hour drew near, I heard
from the kitchen the appetising sound
of culinary preparations, and sniffed the
delicious aroma of roast beef. Soon a
smiling maid appeared and laid on a little
table for my dinner a glass of milk, some
bread and butter, and a bit of cheese.

One finds it, as a rule, dilticnlt to suc-
cessfully negotiate for the purchase of the
libraries of deceased clergymen. Pro-
digious has been the number and size of
books written about the Bible. How


numerous have been the divines from
Calvin to Spurgeon who have compiled
commentaries, concordances, and helps for
students of the Book. Every new writer
builds his edifice of theological learning
on the work of the earlier author, and
thus the old books are superseded and
rendered valueless by the new. We live
in an age when men desire to get at the
root, to know the reason, the why and the
wherefore of every matter ; yet, in face of
all, the Bible stands alone the Book of
books, which, like a pure gem, the more
rubbing it gets the brighter it shines.
Sermons and religious memoirs help to fill
up the ministers' book shelves, and unless
the books are pretty modern, the book-
seller is not able to offer much for the

It seems heartless and unfeeling to see
the haste with which some relatives dis-
pose, after a book lover's death, of his
library. The books may have been the
accumulation of a lifetime, every volume
may have its story, and yet as soon as
the busy brain is still his treasures are
scattered to the four winds by the auc-
tioneer's hammer. I remember a case of
a book lover who had devoted years to
collecting a charming library of out-of-the-
way books, which library was packed in
boxes and removed to a public sale-room
the day after the gentleman was buried.

Tons of old books are sent to the


wastepaper stores every year. They are
absolutely valueless as literature. These
waste books are stripped of their covers,
and are either re-made into paper in this
country, or sent to the United States,
where they are re-manufactured into all
kinds of things, from carriage wheels to
picture frames.

What are called " knock-out " sales are
sometimes carried out by the trade. The
plan is illegal, dishonest, and selfish. The
booksellers, previous to the sale, agree
amone: themselves not to outbid each
other, but to manage so that no one out-
side the charmed circle will get a book
under its value. After the sale is over
the conspirators adjourn to a room in
some hotel, and the books are re-sold to
the highest bidder in the company, and
the profits divided.

One is surprised how, sometimes, the
most uncommon books are found in the
most unexpected places. A bookseller
through time becomes possessed of an
uncanny instinct, which enables him to
know when books worth buying are in a

Constantly buying and selling old books
for a long period of years must affect a
man's character for good or ill. For ill
if one allows the narrowing influence of
avaricious greed to hold sway, or if one
looks on books as being mere machines for


The influence of dealing in books may
and should be all for good in helping to
ennoble the character of the bookseller.
It is invariably the best kind of people
who buy books and who have them to sell.
Holding converse day by day with men
and women of a literary temperament,
habitually handling, thinking about, talk-
ing about, and dipping into books must
help to mould one's character in the
highest and best sense.



The absolute commercial value of old
books is a detail which no one can
correctly arrive at. Boohs about books
are innumerable, but no work in any
number of volumes has yet been pub-
lished, or indeed can be, giving the correct
value of every old book in existence. No
man, however long his experience amongst
books, can tell even the approximate value
of more than a limited number. The
prices of the rarer items vary constantly
at sales ; the fashions and fads of collec-
tors change, and a second-hand bookseller's
catalogue is at best a misleading guide.

The value of well-known but rare
literary treasures increases every year.
For this increase in value we owe much
to the American millionaire. Money, the
millionaire argues, can bring him any-
thing he desires. If his ambition is to
found a library of valuable books, he
sends orders to his London or Edinburgh
agents to buy at any price. If two or
three millionaires are in search of the



same rarity it is no mystery to understand
how a book, which fifty years ago brought
tens of pounds now realises hundreds.

Old books in general do not increase in
value, certainly they increase in weight,
and when the dust of ages settles on them
one's chief desire is to get rid of them.
The popular idea that if a book is over a
hundred years of age it must be of value
is a fallacy. A Bible, before it becomes a
prize to the connoisseur, must have been
in existence for at least four centuries.

Age alone is no criterion of value. A
copy of "Waverley," by Sir Walter Scott,
3 vols., boards, published 1814, was sold in
London in 1892 for £162. At the Gibson
Craig library sale in 1888, an uncut copy
of the same book brought only 10 guineas.
A little book by Charles Lamb, "Prince
Dorus," a story for children, containing
nine coloured plates, published for one
shilling and sixpence in 1811, realised
£G2 at the Northampton library sale. A
copy of Fitzgerald's translation of Omar
Khayyam, 1859, which was at one time
picked up in Quaritch's 2d box, was sold
in 1902 to Mr Quaritch himself for £58.

These are a few of the many nineteenth
century first editions of books which are
valued and prized by collectors. A fuller
catalogue would be but dry reading, and
outside the limits of "Bits." Of first
editions of modern authors most desired
cme must include Shelley, Keats, Scott,


Lamb, Meredith, Byron, Wordsworth,
Teniryson, Stevenson, Dickens, and
Thackeray. Even a copy of such a
recent novel as Blackmorc's " Lorna
Doonc," 3 vois., 1869, was in 1900 sold
for £37.

There must be many copies of valuable
first editions of the more recent literary
masters in existence. Owners of libraries,
however small, should make note of any
treasures of that kind they may possess.
A plan which adds interest to a book is
to insert a written bibliography. The
practice of writing on the fly-leaf is not
commendable, but an extra sheet of paper
can be put in without injury to the

The highest price ever paid under the
hammer for a book in this country was
£4,950 for the Fust and Schoeffer Psalter,
printed on vellum, 1459. The celebrated
Mazarin Bible on vellum brought £4,000.
A copy of the same book on paper, being
the first book printed with moveable tj'pes,
sold for £3900. At the Koxburghe sale,
1812, the famous "Decameron" of Val-
darfer held the then record price of £22G0.
The highest price obtained for a book in
1902 was £2225, for a copy of a Caxton,
" The liyal Book," folio, original oaken
boards, stamped leather. These first
printed English books have no date on
title page. "The Ryal Book" was circu-
lated about 1487. These prices are the


five highest record sums for which books
have been sold by auction in London.

The first folio edition of Shakespeare's
works was published in 1G23. The best
price obtained was £1720 in 1901. This
copy, bound in morocco by Bedford, is
now domiciled in the Scribner Library,
New York. About 600 copies of the first
folio were printed at the price of £1. A
copy was sold in 1756 for three guineas,
in 1787 for £10, in 1807 for thirty-four
guineas, and resold at the Roxburgh e sale,
1812, for £100.

The first book printed in Gaelic was
" The Book of Common Order," edited by
John Knox and rendered into Gaelic by
J. Carswell, printed by R. Lekpreuik,
Edinburgh, 1567. A slightly defective
copy of this very rare book, bound in old
Scotch morocco, sold in 1902 for £500.

These early printed pearls which the
waves of time have spared us, are things
to be read about and longed for, but
seldom if ever seen. The ordinary man
has to be content with fac-simile reproduc-
tions. Only the "upper ten" in the world
of booksellers can ever hope to buy and
sell treasures worth many times their
weight in gold. There is, however, a
pleasure in knowing even a little about
these princely volumes, in thinking about
them, writing about them, talking about
them. The spell of antiquity, the charm
of rarity, the zest of monetary value, and


the mysterious fascination which pertains
to literature, all combine to give a satisfy-
ing delight to the student in bibliographical

Few books have given so much pleasure
and gone through so many editions as
" The Complcat Angler," by Isaac Walton.
The first edition, 12mo, 1653, published at
Is 6d, sold in 1896 for £415.

A lady asked in a bookseller's shop one
clay for a copy of " Iiobinson Crusoe." No
doubt she got the book for a shilling, but
she would have thought the bookseller
mad if he had produced a copy of the
three volume first edition, dated 1719-20,
and asked for it £206, which was the
amount realised at a sale.

In 1786 an Ayrshire ploughman pub-
lished by subscription in Kilmarnock, at
the modest price of three shillings, a
collection of original poems. The book
was 8vo size (9 inches by 6), in plain, un-
attractive paper covered boards. I shall
never forget the day in 1898, when, in a
saloon crowded with representative book-
sellers and Burns enthusiasts, Mr Dowell,
the venerable Edinburgh auctioneer, held
up an absolutely perfect uncut copy of
"Poems, chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,
by Kobert Burns; Kilmarnock, 1786." The
bids rapidly went up from £50, until at
£500 there were only two competitors
left. At last it was knocked down with a
burst of applause to Mr Sabine, a London


bookseller, for 545 guineas. This very
copy changed hands in 1870 for £8 10s,
and again for £60 in 1880.

Only two perfect copies of the "Kil-
marnock Burns" are known to be in
existence. The second copy is now in the
Burns' Cottage Museum, Ayr. It was
purchased in July 1903 from G. S. Veitch,
Esq., Paisley, for £1000.

Sometimes books obtain an inflated
value on account of extraneous matter not
originally in them, such as autographs,
MS. notes, book-plates, or prints. Books
which have originally been in possession
of literary and other celebrities have an
added value because of their associations.

There are connoisseurs who devote their
attention specially to the collection of illus-
trated books with woodcuts by Bewick,
plates by Cruickshank, Rowlandson, and
others. Many very fine works were issued
with engravings and hand-coloured plates
at the end of the eighteenth and early in
the nineteenth centuries. These are all of
considerable value, and are increasing in
rarity. "The Sporting Magazine," with
plates, in sets of about 155 vols., is worth
£2 per vol.

William Blake's " Songs of Innocence
and of Experience," 8vo, 1789-94, with 54
illustrations, sold 1902 for £216. The
beauty and age of the binding of a book
greatly enhance its value. It is quite a
study in itself to be able to appreciate the


fine points and the exquisite loveliness of
the bindings of old books.

One can only touch on the fringe of a
most alluring hobby when one ventures
to talk about the value of books. There
are so many different kinds of collectors,

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Online LibraryRobert Milne WilliamsonBits from an old book shop → online text (page 2 of 6)