Rare Book Found in Toilet to be Auctioned

Here’s a neat AP story about a rare 1st edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species which will be auctioned at Christie’s in London on Tuesday.  The story seems to have originated with this report from the Oxford Daily Mail

The irony is that the book was kept on someone’s toilet bookshelf in Oxford, England, for many years — and now is expected to bring as much as $99,000 at auction!  The owner is said to have paid only a few shillings for the book when it was purchased some forty years ago.

You can find a description of the book on the Christie’s page here.

The story begs the question:  what unrecognized treasures might you have languishing on the bookshelves at your home?  For things like this happen all the time.

For example, back in the 1920s a book collector and Edgar Allan Poe enthusiast named Vincent Starrett wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post called, I believe, “Have You a Tamerlane in Your Attic?”  Starrett of course referred to the great rarity, Tamerlane and Other Poems, Poe’s first published work, which he published anonymously in 1827.

As it turned out, a lady who read that article actually did have a Tamerlane in her attic (I think she lived in an attic apartment).  She tried to contact Starrett about it, but, missing him, instead gave her business to a prominent Boston bookseller named Charles Goodspeed — and the two of them made quite a good little profit.

About twenty years or so ago the twelfth and last copy of Tamerlane turned up in an antique shop in New Hampshire.  The man who bought it just paid fifteen dollars, then sold it at auction for a little under $200,000.

At any rate, if you’ve got a book or any kind of collectible which you think may be valuable, Greensboro Public Library may be able to help you identify the item and get some idea of its value, though, of course, we cannot do formal appraisals.  For that, you should go to a reputable antiques dealer or the appropriate specialist, e.g., a seller of fine and rare books. 

But we have lots of books — too many and varied to mention — and other resources, such as our p4A Antiques Reference Database of auction records, which you may find helpful in researching an item.  As another example, sometimes local history resources, such as our old Greensboro city directories, can be useful in determining when a local item was manufactured.

By all means, if you have something you’d like to research, please feel free to contact us (335-5430) at the Informations Services desk at Central Library.  We’d be glad to help in any way we can.

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