What is your most valuable book?


I love old books.  There is so much history surrounding them.  Who was the author?  Where was it printed?  Who was the original publisher?  What year was the book printed?  The imagination can run wild as to who the original owners were.  Did they like the book?  Was it actually owned by someone related to the author?  Did it travel across oceans?

There is quite a bit of money to be found in antique books, but there is no price tag high enough for two finds in my collection that literally cost me $2.00

My first book is a pocket book of The Holy Bible.  My husband found this book when cleaning out an old house that was abandoned and the new owners needed work to be done.  He brought it home to me and it has become one of my most treasured possessions.

As you can see from the copyright (MDCCCLVI – 1856),
this book is 156 years old.  (Hmm, wonder what Kindle or Nook will ever survive 156 years or more).  This particular pocket bible was printed by G.E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode, Printers to the Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty.  It is a rare book, affordable at the time by only the wealthy and it shows in the binding and cover.  Look at the beauty in this book’s leather design and in the gilded page edges.  You’ll never, ever, EVER get that with a Kindle.

But the beauty doesn’t stop there.  Inside I found remarkable insights to the owner:  four-leaf clovers, a clipping from a newspaper, a red feather, and a tiny patch of hair, tied neatly in a string. 

Inside the front and back cover are references to family history.  The owner was born in Londonderry, Ireland and was given the bible by her mother when she departed Liverpool at the age of 16.  She arrived in Ellis Island aboard The Teutonic on April 25 1894.

She married in 1926, settled in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and had 5 children.  Her last baby, a boy, died at the age of 8 weeks.

Kindle and Nook and all you other e-readers…Blah!  This is proof there is more to books than the story the author intended us to read.  Books have history.  They’ve traveled, they hold treasures untold.  e-Readers just turn it all into black and white.  For me, I prefer the color, the imagination.

My next treasure is one I picked up for $2 at a book store in Atlanta, Georgia.  It is The Sketch Book by Washington Irving.

The cover is a bit worn, but folks, it’s suede.  Suede.  What books nowadays have suede for a binding?  Look at the gold floral embossment. Stunning.  And look at the inside?  Look at the artwork!

After doing some research, this book is 164 years old.  It was the second printing, published in 1848, and includes 2 previously unreleased short stories:  “A Sunday in London”, and “London Antiques”.  Other short stories include “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”.  In addition, there are several pages that are still connected to each other at the bottom, see?

What I found most humorous in the book is what was written in the Preface to the revised edition.  Authors, you will appreciate this excerpt from a famous author as he takes you on his adventure into publication (have fun with the Victorian English).  In this excerpt he is speaking of a few of his short stories he sent to the United States for publication because he felt that “…much of their contents could be interesting only to American readers”.   The bold, underlined parts are what made me chuckle.  Enjoy. 🙂

“By the time the contents of the first volume had appeared in this occasional manner, they began to find their way across the Atlantic, and to be inserted, with many kind encomiums, in the London Literary Gazette.  It was said, also, that a London bookseller intended to publish them in a collective form.  I determined, therefore, to bring them forward myself, that they might at least have the benefit of my superintendence and revision.  I accordingly took the printed numbers which I had received from the United States, to Mr. John Murray, the eminent publisher, from whom I had already received friendly attentions, and left them with him for examination, informing him that should he be inclined to bring them before the public, I had materials enough on hand for a second volume.  Several days having elapsed without any communications from Mr. Murray, I addressed a note to him, in which I construed his silence into a tacit rejection of my work, and begged that the numbers I had left with him be returned to me.  Two days, Mr. Irving?  Seriously? You’d never survive in today’s publishing world The following was his reply: 

MY DEAR SIR:  I entreat you to believe that I feel truly obliged by your kind intentions towards me, and that I entertain the most unfeigned respect for your most tasteful talents.  My house is completely filled with workpeople at this time, and I have only an office to transact business in; and yesterday I was wholly occupied, or I should have done myself the pleasure of seeing you. 

If it would not suit me to engage in the publication of your present work, it is only because I do not see that scope in the nature of it which would enable me to make those satisfactory accounts between us, without which I really feel no satisfaction in engaging.—but I will do all I can to promote their circulation, and shall be most ready to attend to any future plans of yours.

With much regard, I remain, dear sir,

Your faithful servant,

John Murray

Quite a rejection letter, wouldn’ t you say?  LOL!

He goes on to write about his ventures into publishing, including sending his works to Sir Walter (then Mr.) Scott.  Irving goes on to tell the story of multiple rejections by publishers until he finally decided to publish the first edition of The Sketch Book, “at my own risk”, with a bookseller of unknown fame, “…and without any of the usual arts by which a work is trumpeted into notice.”   Finally, after much to do, Sir Walter Scott convinced John Murray to undertake the publishing of The Sketch Book.  It was printed in Philadelphia by the Henry Altemus Company.  In Mr. Irving’s own words, “…under the kind and cordial auspices of Sir Walter Scott, I began my literary career…”  It helps to have friends in high places, even in 1848.

Is it any wonder why I treasure this 164 year old book?  It is this, this holding of history in my hands that keeps me from moving into the electronic age of Kindles and Nooks.  My heart grieves for the day when there are no more tangible books.  The words may remain, but the hidden history within the bindings will be gone.  It is my intent to all authors, to keep books around for as long as possible.

By the way, the bible has been appraised at close to $300 and The Sketch Book, even in the tattered shape it’s in, almost $100.  To me…they’re priceless.

Do you have any treasured, valuable books in your collection?

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14 thoughts on “What is your most valuable book?

  1. I love old books, too, but have stopped buying them because I’m trying to downsize so I can move overseas. I’ve given most of my old books to my brother-in-law who is a great collector. But, the one book I will never part with is my first book. A slim volume from Stanford Press in Palo Alto, CA. I received it for my first birthday, my parents say because I was so enamored of riding San Francisco’s cable cars, even at that young age. Seems unlikely for a year-old baby, but I still love it. And, the cable cars.

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  2. Your books are such treasures! 🙂 I can’t get over the beauty of that bible – why don’t they make them like that any more?

    I have two books I treasure. One is a bible that belonged to my grandmother. It’s falling apart, but her handwriting is all over the pages, which makes it beautiful to me. The other is a leather bound, early 19th century edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Its not a beauty by any means, but it was a gift from my aunt because she knew I loved Shakespeare. 🙂

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  3. I don’t have a book of that type of value, but I would say Pablo Neruda’s Extravagaria is worth thousands of dollars to me. It saw me through the loss of a dear friend to cancer, a bad relationship, and a bad back injury.

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    1. There is nothing that matches sentimental value. I have many books I will never part with for that very reason. I will have to check out this book if it gave you such strength.

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  4. Those are very special books, especially the history included with them. I love old books, too, and I am fortunate I belong to a family of pack rats who value books as much as I do. (I probably got the book-loving gene from them!) I have several treasured volumes from my grandfather and one very rare old edition that was a gift to my father from a distant cousin. It really should be in a museum. Actually, you have given me a great idea. I should do as you did and share them with everyone who cares to read about them. Thanks for sharing your treasures. 🙂

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    1. I do consider myself very, very lucky. I’ve tried to find the family through Ancestry.com and other similar sites that may have some connection to the original owner of the bible, but have had no luck. To think it could be sitting in a landfill somewhere breaks my heart. It has found a good home with me. 🙂

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