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