Let’s set the scene. You get a message stating that you have inherited a collection from a distant relative and it is sent to you in a box. Or you buy an old house and find a box in the attic. When you open the box a slightly musty, earthy smell hits your senses. Inside are a stack of heavy books that seem like relics from another age. No dust covers, but the spines and boards are covered in bumps and faded sepia colors. When you pick one up you can see the page edges are dulled with golden flecks
It looks something like this:
and if you peer closely you notice what looks like drawings in the dusty gold. Something like this: or perhaps a drawing.
Wait wait. you are thinking. Everyone knows about decorative boards on old books and even decorative end pages. But drawings on the page ends?
Well yes. This has been a trend in books since it started back in the 10th century. You can get it done today, if you want. It is called fore-edge paining. This is a very intricate skill, and most of the time until the pages are splayed, or opened, as you are reading, the image will just look like little dots of color on the edges. Let’s face it. When owning a book or ten meant you were rich and having a library meant you were Robber Baron rich, a good book would cost more than a year’s salary for your servant. You would want to be able to show your wealth without being crass about it. Thus the exotic leather coverings, the gilted decorative covers, the creamiest of vellum pages, the marbled end pages, the copper pressed illuminated illustrations and the fore-edge paintings. The more you had on it, the richer you were. But of course it all had to be tastefully done.
(Sometimes less is more. )
So where were we? Oh yes. The open box.
When taking the books out, you carefully open one to see what the book is called.
You notice the patterned end pages that remind you of a 1960’s pattern-if it was done in gray, red, or dark blue greens. You notice a nice illustration on the page before the title page (complete with a tissue guard) and the face that the words seem up raised under your fingers. You check the date and it is older than any of your living relatives. Then you notice the handwritten name scripted in ink across the title page.
This might be a signed book!
So now what?
First you must see if you can read it.
Does it match the author name or the subject of the book (if it is a biography)? Or is it a familiar name? Is there a date?
All of these are important.
So if signature looks like the author name and is dated, then this is a good thing. This is a signed book.
If the name is familiar, but not the author’s name, then this is a owner signature or a dedication signature. This could also be a good thing. Why? You ask? Well some people like to collect the collections of other people or places.
People collect themes. Books from Rockerfeller’s personal library, books from Ash Tree Publishers, books signed by the author,books by a particular author and books signed by a particular author.
Wait what? That last part didn’t sound correct.
Ah but it is. Some authors signed books that they had nothing to do with. In fact Asimov would sign anything. I’ve seen science textbooks (and yes, he did write some of them) and history text books that he signed for his young fans who, at the time, didn’t have anything else to have him sign.
Some authors signed books for other authors. Like for example if you find a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs A Princess of Mars signed and dedicated to his interesting friend H.P. and H.P. has his signature on a bookplate as well as the date. That Would BE EPIC!
Why? well first off I’m into sure these two men would have known each other and then having TWO authors signing the same book that is NOT a collaboration of some sort is very rare. Very very rare.
I mean it would be almost like having an signed version of Stonewall Jackson’s Autobiography.
Or a pink, singing unicorn.
For if you do have a copy of Stonewall Jackson’s signed autobiography it is either not a real signature per se, or you have the unbound manuscript with the carved copper signature stamp. And if you have that you will become very popular.
If you don’t know Jackson was sick when he was writing it and signed his name to be made into a copper plate stamp to be pressed into the copies of his book. He died before the first copy was printed.
The world of publishing is very intricate and complex. If you want to delve deeper into collecting there are myriad of rabbit holes to go down. There are so many ways to forge a book, and most of the general readers would have no clue as to when they are being taken for a ride. The Vinland Map is a great example of this. Check out the link below for more details. https://www.connecticutmag.com/history/the-vinland-map-was-a-historic-find-that-turned-out-to-be-a-fraud/article_ac55dd82-5879-11e8-b525-d7f2296ed83d.html
Another great example would be what kept happening in China.
What happened there?
Honestly, it would take another blog post to cover the topic, but let’s just say that when the Dynasties changed hands, most of the time all of the books were burned and the names of places were changed. But more on that another time.
So how do you know if you have a real, authentic signed book? Well you have to get it appraised.
First off, go to a computer and look up when the book was published. If the book came out after the author died, it might be a fake. If the signature is inserted on a small slip into the book (attached to the binding) it might be a publisher’s addition.
If the dates line up, then it might be real. Next who wrote it? How many copies are out there? Is it still in print?
These are important t know. For example I once found a “college romance” book that was a signed copy by a member of the Peerage, who became Prime Minister before WWI. Oddly enough it is still in print.
After doing your research, take pictures of the item. Be sure to have one of the Closed book (and book art), the title page, the publishers page , where the signature is, what the color of the ink used is and any other unusual thing you think might be important.
This video gives some good examples of what people are looking for: https://youtu.be/3Ck4Lubopbg
Then put the books in a safe place where they cannot be easily damaged by – well- everything and anything. Depending on what you feel you have found, you might want to rent a safe deposit box at a bank.
Keep your research handy, then look up a specialist. These are called Antiquities Appraisers, but this is a broad field of specialists, so you need to request one that deals with signatures and rare book appraisals. Next do what they tell you to do.
Sometimes they will charge a fee, other times they will do it for free. The value of a signed book will change slightly by the appraiser depending on their market.
Just remember that an appraiser and a rare book dealer might have a similar skill set, but they have different jobs. The appraiser can tell you if it is a valid signature and what the going rate for it is. The rare book dealer will tell you if it is valid and then what they will pay you for it. Remember that buyers need to be paid as well, so the price you get might be a third of what it is sold for. Sometimes you can negotiate , but they are not trying to cheat you.
And that’s it really.
If you want to keep the book, you can either get an archival box, or just keep it on a shelf. But if you do keep it ad it is apprised with the correct signature, then keep the appraisal information in a file on the shelf. This way, you, or your descendants, don’t have to go and have it done again.
Happy reading book friends.