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that the prices realised for such books were below the average. Still, the season, as a whole, has witnessed some very important sales, and it is worthy of note that no diminution whatever, but rather the contrary, took place with regard to the value of those high-class books for which there is and always has been strong competition.
The Tixall Sale, reported on p. 26 et seq., is a good example of the truth of these remarks. The Tixall Library was a very old one, having been formed originally by the first Lord Aston, Ambassador to Spain in the reign of James I. It was, however, added to by successive owners, and contained books of many kinds and various degrees of importance. Those among them which, at the present time, excite little interest, realised less than they would have done two or three years ago, but all the rest brought their utmost value. The important miscellaneous sale held by Messrs. Sotheby, on November 20th and five following days, is another proof, if any were needed, that first-rate books will always realise first-rate prices, no matter what the political outlook may be. Other sales to which special reference may be made comprise the Fielding-so called, though it consisted of a large number of books from various sources; the sale of the stock of Messrs. H. S. Nichols & Co., Ltd.; Colonel Francis Grant's fine collection of English classics, chiefly of the last century; a miscellaneous sale, held on May 21st last, which included the collection of works on card games, formed by the well-known "Cavendish;" the third portion of the library of J. B. Inglis, a noted collector of the first half of the present century; and the Peel heirlooms, sold by Messrs. Robinson & Fisher, on June 12th and following days. These were the most noticeable sales of last season, and though the whole of them, if massed together, would not approach the importance of a single Ashburnham or Syston Park collection, they were, nevertheless, of very great interest, on no account to be overlooked in any history that may be written hereafter of the state of the English book-market during the 19th century, now fast drawing to its close.
It will be remembered that the last volume of BOOK-PRICES CURRENT contained a long array of original editions of the works of Kipling and Stevenson, and that many of these realised the most astonishing, not to say absurd, prices. No less than
£135 was paid for "School Boy Lyrics;" while the little DavosPlatz brochures, though possessing no literary merit whatever— mere playthings, in fact-brought sums that could not possibly be defended except on sentimental grounds. One eminent critic seemed to imply that space was wasted in reporting the sale of trifles not worth house room. Also might he have said that the persons who bought them wasted their money, which would be true enough, as it happens, since these and other trifles, after a period of artificial inflation, have had a most disastrous collapse, e. gr., “School Boy Lyrics" fell from £135. to £3 5s.; "Echoes, by Two Writers," from £29 to £18 10s.; "Quartette," from £10 5s. to £3 12s.; "The United Service College Chronicle," from £101 (19 numbers only) to £5 7s. 6d.; "Black Canyon," from £13 to £2 6s; the two leaves on light blue paper, known as "The Marguerite," Davos-Platz, 1882, from £4 to £2; and so on. This heavy fall in prices is attributable to several causes, not one of which can fairly be debited to the depression caused by the South African difficulty. When a modern, or comparatively modern, book is believed to be unique, or, at any rate, extremely scarce, it will invariably bring a high price, provided it be written by an author of great repute. The fact of the sale is at once reported in the newspapers and elsewhere, and this results in a general search in likely quarters and the discovery of other copies hitherto unsuspected. The price then declines as a matter of course, just as it did in the case of Mr. Swinburne's "A Song of Italy," which almost entirely lost its value when a large "remainder" was accidentally discovered and thrown on the market. The fall in the value of the minor productions of Kipling and Stevenson must be attributed partly to enterprise, stimulated by publicity and rewarded by discovery, and partly also to the decrees of fashion, which change continually.
The risk of fresh copies being discovered at any moment is indeed the bane of collectors of modern works; and perhaps this is why the precaution of putting on record the precise number of copies issued is often taken, as in the case of books printed at the Kelmscott and Vale Presses. The actual number of existing copies of every work printed at these presses is well known, and in the case of the Kelmscott Press, at any rate, no more can be printed, as all the wood blocks were deposited at the British
Museum shortly after the death of Mr. Morris, with the stipulation that they were not to be reproduced or printed from for the space of a hundred years. The position occupied by these books is therefore ascertained beyond doubt, and, as is well known, they have increased enormously in value of late years. During the last six or eight months, however, the advance has been less marked, though "The Glittering Plain," 1891, Keats' and Shelley's Poems, and Chaucer's Works show a substantial increase in price. A note (page 329) explains the position held by the Vale Press. The books from this source are rapidly rising in value, and will probably be very difficult to procure in the future at anything approaching their present prices. A small number of copies only are printed, and the books as a whole contain all the features which have made those from the Kelmscott Press such desirable acquisitions.
Every volume of BOOK-PRICES CURRENT hitherto published has contained some special features which are to be found in no other. It might be thought that the same books, or classes of books, would be in continual evidence, but this is very far from being the case. It is found by experience that works of a certain class will suddenly drop out of sight for the time being, while others, hitherto only very sparsely represented, will take their place in large numbers. This is due to the modern tendency to specialise. The days of large composite libraries appear to be over, and collectors look no longer on their own shelves for an answer to every question under the sun. The present volume of BOOK-PRICES CURRENT contains an unusual number of early printed books with woodcuts, English classics of the 18th century, works of the old dramatists, and books bearing autograph inscriptions-presentation copies, in fact, for which a very wide demand is discernible. Given a good book by a well-known and highly-esteemed author, living or dead, and its normal value will in many cases be doubled or trebled, at least, if only it contain a few lines in his handwriting. Such exceptional copies always excited interest, but it is only recently that the demand for them has become so general. The degree of estimation in which an author is held can be very accurately gauged by reference to the value put upon presentation copies of the books he has written. There is evidently a wonderful difference between a public criticism that all may read for a
trifle and a private opinion that has to be paid for substantially by the holder of it; though which of the two represents the correct view, so far as contemporary authors are concerned, time alone will be able to show.
Referring once more to the influence exercised by the war on the sale of books, it may be stated that, while nothing adverse happened during the months of October and November, the sales held during the two following months were most prejudicially affected. During this latter period, reports of "disasters" and "untoward incidents" were expected with great confidence, and not only were important collections conspicuous by their absence, but the prices realised for those which came into the market were much below the average. In fact, the average of the whole season was materially reduced by reason of the scare in December and January; the recovery that subsequently took place, especially during June and July, being unable to save the situation. The average sum realised per lot of books sold during the last season amounts to no more than £2 6s. 2d. This is greater than that of many past years, but less than the past three, as the following analysis discloses :
AVERAGES.—1893, £1 6s. 7d.; 1894, £1 8s. 5d.; 1895, £1 11s. 4d. ;
1896, £1 135. 1od.; 1897, £2 13s. 9d.; 1898, £2 15s.; 1899, £2 19s. 5d.; 1900, £2 6s. 2d.
DUKE OF EDINBURGH ROAD,
September 29, 1900.
J. H. SLATER.