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RECORD OF THE PRICES AT WHICH BOOKS
HAVE BEEN SOLD AT AUCTION,
FROM OCTOBER, 1898, TO JULY, 1899,
The present volume of BOOK-PRICES CURRENT is, strictly speaking, the first that has accurately coincided with the natural course of the auction season, which, as is almost universally known, begins, as a rule, in the middle of October and ends at the end of July, or in the early days of August. It will be remembered that the previous volume was made to commence in December, 1897, a procedure absolutely necessary in order to introduce a new system. The present volume covers the sales held during the months of October, 1898, and July, 1899, inclusive, and I believe that it will be found that no sale or entry of any importance taking place between these dates has been omitted from its pages. Omissions there are, for it is neither desirable nor necessary to chronicle everything that is sold irrespective of condition, price, or interest; and then, again, some books have been purposely overlooked, for there is no satisfaction in repeating ad nauseam matters of information which have been dealt with in the same volume with a similar result on many previous occasions. BOOK-PRICES CURRENT is, and always has been, a work of selection specially constructed for quick and easy reference, and compiled in such a manner as to present as true and faithful a picture of the book-market for the time being as possible without wearisome repetition on the one hand or irregular omission on the other.
Anyone who takes the trouble to consult this and the preceding two or three volumes, and to carefully compare their contents with those of the earlier ones of the series, will, I think, arrive at the conclusion that a great change has come over the bookman's fancy during the last few years.
He will observe that the tendency is now to specialize ; that fewer large private libraries have come into
the market of late, and that even the practice of the cataloguers has changed, as if to keep pace with that spirit of restlessness which is death to old time habits as personified by the collectors of a decade or two ago. We read stories without end of the patience of the old school, and lifetimes spent in close application to the business of accumulating an enormous number of books of all kinds to furnish a library that should answer every imaginable question that the wit of man could propound. These libraries have blended with, or at any rate are fast returning to, the world from whence they came, and the modern bookman seems to have fixed his attention upon books of a special kind, interesting, no doubt, but not of a character which can be described as absolutely necessary for purposes of reference or research. The numerous public libraries scattered about the kingdom have perhaps contributed to this result in no small degree. Books of occasional practical use are much more easily obtained now than they were even ten years ago; in fact, in many instances there is no necessity to buy them at all. Another consideration also influences the collector. He has become aware that large general libraries seldom stay long in private hands, and never unless a series of the most favourable circumstances combine to preserve them intact; that their formation takes a lifetime, and that a pecuniary loss is absolutely certain to attend their disposition. The matter of interest on sunk capital is fatal to every scheme for founding a general library on commercial principles that has ever yet been formulated. This is not always the case where books of a special character are concerned, and it cannot be asserted that books are often bought now without any calculation as to their probable fate in the market of the future. If they are, then BOOK-PRICES CURRENT and all other works of the same class are existing without patronage, for the mere amusement of their compilers and publishers.
The truth is that collectors are not now prepared to pay more than they can help for such books as they require, and that they take a keen interest in backing their judgment, so to speak, against that of anyone else who happens to possess the same tastes. It is repeatedly said that books have at last attained to precisely the same level as bric-à-brac. This by way of comment on the large prices which are occasionally paid for pamphlets of little apparent interest, old books which can be read in scores of cheap editions, and volumes which nobody now reads at all. If this be true, it is the specialists who have made it so ; they are backing their respective judgments in every bid they make. Generally speaking, it is perfectly clear that the specialists now rule the book-market, and that all very high prices are either paid by them, or by representatives of the large public libraries in England or abroad.
It was recently stated in several of the literary journals that the season 1898-99 had witnessed no great rise in prices. It depends, of course, what is meant by the word "great,” but this is certain, that works of the kind reported in BOOK-PRICES CURRENT, that is to say, the better-class standard and collector's books, strictly so-called, have increased in price most materially during the last twelve months. Original and scarce editions of the English classics are becoming scarcer and more valuable, and the prices obtained for them are steadily increasing. First editions of modern and contemporary writers of the first rank are in the same position, only in their case the rise has been much more rapid. A glance at the sums realised for copies of the original editions of many of the works of Stevenson and Kipling will confirm this. As a whole, the value of really good books, or books that are specially sought after on account of their merit, scarcity, or for any other reason, are distinctly and patently rising in value, and in many cases the accretion is most marked. The following tabular analysis will show the position at a glance :
The average sum paid per lot was £1 6s. 7d. in 1893 ; £ 1 8s. 5d. in 1894 ; £i iis. 4d. in 1895 ; 135. iod. in 1896 ; £2 138. 9d. in 1897 ; £2 155. in 1898; and £2 19s. 5d. in 1899. In 1897 the average was strongly influenced by the very large amount realised by the Ashburnham Library, and the comparatively small number of lots contained in the catalogue, and the same remark applies to some extent to the average of 1898. This season there has been nothing abnormal to disturb the average, and yet we find it standing higher than ever, i.e., at £2 195. 5d. This shows as con. clusively as anything can do that desirable books of every kind are rapidly rising in value, and the inference is that they have not yet attained their maximum. We shall probably never again see an average of £ 1 6s. 7d. as disclosed by the sales of 1893.
Perhaps the most extraordinary incident in the book world is the position now assumed by the works issued from the Kelmscott Press. These have increased in value enormously during the last few years. In or about February, 1898, the “Chaucer" stood at