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Books and Manuscripts

Roger CollicottRoger Collicott
Rare Book Expert

Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood are one of the few auctioneers in the West Country who have a bespoke book department. Recently the department sourced and sold a rare Captain Cook book, selling for a record £113,000.

A Row of First Edition Jane Austen Novels

What makes a book valuable?

Age is not necessarily an indication of value. Scarcity, a strong demand for the author or subject and condition are the main indications of value. An iconic title, such as the first "Bond" novel Casino Royale (1953), is greatly in demand as being the author Ian Fleming's first novel it would have had a relatively short print run. In this collecting genre of Modern First Editions, condition is of paramount importance. Without the all-important dust wrapper this title might fetch £150, an average copy in a torn dust wrapper £5,000, but one in a fine undamaged dust wrapper would be worth as much as £20,000.

JK Rowling's Harry Potter books, Beatrix Potter's books, JR Tolkien's The Hobbit ... if a film or popular TV series has been made of it you can be sure a fine first edition of the book will be sought after. The explosion in adapting crime novels for television has fired a whole collecting mania, from Agatha Christie, with her first novel The Mysterious Affair At Styles and Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, to Colin Dexter's cynical, intellectual, and downright difficult Inspector Morse.

Also of value are authentic items such as manuscripts written by well-known people, or the recording of important events, such as the Peninsula Wars, voyages to America and diaries of men who fought in the two World Wars, etc. Even a simple signature by someone such as Sir Winston Churchill can add to a book's value quite considerably, with a long poignant presentation inscription being even more desirable. A nine page-manuscript of a little known short story, Greenhow Hill, in the hand of the redoubtable author Rudyard Kipling, realised £12,500 in a Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood auction.

Old nineteenth and early twentieth century topographical photograph albums illustrating a forgotten era, from Japan, China, West Indies, Middle East, Australia and India, reflect the old colonial past and are now highly desirable. For example, Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood recently successfully sold a large collection of early photographs of India by the pioneering photographer Felico Beato; while a small collection of just six photographs of Indian maharajas fetched £6,800.

Natural history books of the nineteenth century and earlier, illustrated with fine hand-coloured plates of botanical specimens, butterflies, fishes, animals, birds, etc are always in great demand. The finer the quality of the plates and hand-colouring the higher the value.

Travel books of the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in their original bindings are especially sought after, with strong demand for such areas as Central Asia, Russia, Polar Regions, Africa, Japan and the Far East. Typical subjects are journeys of military expeditions and exploration, such as Livingstone's crossing of the African continent, Scott's hopeless quest to reach the South Pole, or the tragic description of the annihilation of the British garrison at Kabul during the First Afghan War. All these and many more stories of British exploration and daring-do are keenly sought by many veracious collectors.

There is a steady demand for books on the history of the sciences, especially for works that record the first descriptions of scientific subjects or are pioneering works in their individual fields. Books, maps and prints of local Devon subjects and other areas of Britain are also ever popular.

There is still a seemingly ever-increasing demand for early books, such as edito princeps (first printings) of the classic authors and books from the printing presses of Aldine, Esteinne, Jenson, Platin, Elzirvir, etc. Early editions of the Bible are sought after too. All pre-1800 Bibles in complete condition are always worth having valued, with many, especially those dated pre-1700, worth several thousands of pounds.

Literature of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries continues to grow in value, especially the classic authors such as Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, as well as many others.

Often it is a collection of books rather than individual volumes that are valuable. Where important individual items can command high prices, often the accumulated value of a single subject collection placed in its correct context will attract the keenest competition on the day at a book auction. An important collection of books, lovingly and skilfully pieced together by a collector, a collection which has taken often a lifetime to accumulate, when sold at auction the books are individually re-cycled to another generation of collectors, where they are then lovingly prized, providing immense pleasure, the books future then secured for another generation. Handling and cataloguing these collections is immensely pleasurable and often challenging. Each collection tells its own story, someone's lifetime pursuit and passion. Vast amounts of knowledge are often invested in a collection, the owner being the true expert.

Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood have a dedicated specialist book department. They hold two high profile auctions a year at their spacious saleroom in Exeter, all items are listed on the internet with live internet bidding, catalogues are sent out throughout the UK and worldwide.

If you are in doubt about the value of any printed material: books, ephemera, broadsides, prints, maps, photographs, photograph albums, optical toys, and manuscripts, please don't hesitate to get in contact with Roger Collicott for a swift and accurate appraisal of your property.


Gustave le Gray: Napoleon III's Fleet leaving Harbour 1856/7 

Photograph of Napolean III's Fleet leaving Harbour in 1856/7 by Gustave le Gray.

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