How to Find the Value of a Rare Book without Auction Records
“Elementi teorico-pratici di musica con un saggio sopra l’arte di suonare il violino,” by Francesco Galeazzi, published in 1791-1796. “Elementi teorico-pratici” was an important 18th-century treatise on music theory and education, with a fascinating section on violin technique.
When you’re determining the value of a rare book, one of the first places to look is the auction records. WorthPoint’s Worthopedia™, the Americana Exchange and American Book Prices Current databases are essential resources for determining the prices a book has earned during the past 30 years or so. This is usually a decent indication of how much a book is worth.
But what if you have a rare book for which you can’t find any auction records? I’ll give you an example from my own experience. I recently obtained a two-volume book called “Elementi teorico-pratici di musica con un saggio sopra l’arte di suonare il violino,” by Francesco Galeazzi, published in 1791-1796. “Elementi teorico-pratici” was an important 18th-century treatise on music theory and education, with a fascinating section on violin technique.
There are only about 10 copies of “Elementi teorico-pratici” listed as residing in institutions around the world.
First, I looked up the book in WorthPoint’s Worthopedia, but there were no results for “Elementi teorico-pratici” or Francesco Galeazzi. Next, I turned to the Americana Exchange and American Book Prices Current sites, where I quickly saw that the book hadn’t appeared at auction in at least 30 years. My next step was to check prices in the printed catalogs, which go back further. But “Elementi teorico-pratici” didn’t show up there, either. The book hadn’t been on the auction block since at least 1965!
So, without auction records to rely on, how do you decide the value of a rare book? The first thing to do is figure out how rare the book is. I did a search on WorldCat, the online library database, and then verified it by checking with the individual library catalogs. It turned out there were only about 10 copies in institutions around the world. That’s a small number! Of course, “Elementi teorico-pratici” is Italian, and my search doesn’t take into account overseas libraries that might not participate in WorldCat, or the copies that might be in private hands. Still, I could reasonably say that this book was very rare.
Then I asked myself: is it an important book? The introduction to a 2012 reprint of Galeazzi’s work refers to it as “a foundational treatise in music theory,” with “precise instructions on the violin and how to play it” and “comprehensive introductions to music theory, music history, and music aesthetics.” Italy was extremely influential in European music from the Renaissance through the end of the 18th century, and “Elementi teorico-pratici” was Italy’s last truly valuable contribution to music theory.
Next, I looked at the condition. My copy was in good shape. It had been rebound in about 1900 but had no major wear. There was some minor age-related staining (foxing) to the pages. More importantly, it was a complete copy with no pages or illustrations missing.
Italy was extremely influential in European music from the Renaissance through the end of the 18th century, and “Elementi teorico-pratici” was Italy’s last truly valuable contribution to music theory.
Finally, I had to decide whether the book was desirable. Would someone want to buy it? This was harder to predict. But from experience I knew that there is a strong market for antiquarian music books in general, and for books about the violin in particular. A collector who is interested in important books relating to music theory, music history, or the violin could very well be interested in this book.
So after considering the rarity, importance, and condition of the book, I decided a reasonable retail price was $5,000 for the two volumes. The true test of my evaluation will be if someone buys it!
Adam Weinberger, the founder of RareBookBuyer.com, has been involved in rare books and manuscripts for more than 30 years, first by continuing in the family tradition of rare book collecting, and then professionally. We buy rare books and offer free appraisals. You can reach Adam by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 646.469.1851.
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