Bibliomania – taken from the Greek, meaning book-madness – is the term used for the hobby of book collecting. Prior to the Internet age, the value of a dealer was the time and expertise needed to find rare books. Now a web site that compiles the catalogues of numerous sellers gives collectors instant and simultaneous access to millions of titles. However, just because a book can be found quicker or news travels faster doesn’t make it any less rare. This list presents 10 of the most rare published books in our post-Gutenberg history.The market has undergone changes as a result of the internet and quicker, wider dissemination of information. Books that were previously hard to get can have dozens of copies for sale online, driving down some price points and “rarity” ratings for many, while also recognizing the high value of true scarcity for others.
10. The History of the World, 1614
Written by Sir Walter Raleigh, an English adventurer and writer and a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, who knighted him in 1585. He was accused of treason by Elizabeth’s successor, James I, imprisoned in the Tower of London and eventually put to death. It was during the time that he was imprisoned int eh Tower that Raleigh wrote the five volume set that outlined the course of world history as he knew the details, the position of the English State and the relationship that his country should have with regard to foreign affairs. This book is important not only for its age and relevance to revealing thoughts and views of the times, but also because of its changing the course of book content and knowledge transfer to the general public. History, as a branch of literature, did not then exist in England except for the work of the antiquaries. It is not knows in what year he actually began to write, but, on 15 April, 1611, notice was given in the registers of the Stationers’ company of “The History of the World written by Sir Walter Rawleighe
9. Apparatus in Revelationem Jesu Christi, 1607
Written by William Alabaster, this study of the Kabbalah gave a mystical interpretation of Scripture. The book was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum at Rome early in 1610. Alabaster’s other cabalistic writings are Commentarius de Bestia Apocalyptica (1621) and Spiraculum Tubarum (1633), a mystical interpretation of the Pentateuch.
8. Christianismi Restitutio, 1553
Published by Michael Servetus, this book was the first to describe pulmonary circulation in the human body, yet was published as a theological treatise and not a medical piece of writing. This work also sharply rejected the idea of predestination and the idea that God condemned souls to Hell regardless of worth or merit. God, insisted Servetus, condemns no one who does not condemn himself through thought, word or deed, an approach and philosophy which angered Calvin and his followers (Protestant Reformation). Servetus was eventually convicted of heresy and burned at the stake for his views on God and Christianity. Most copies of the book were burned shortly after its publication in 1553 because of persecution of Servetus by religious authorities. Three copies survived, and are now in institutional collections.
7. Don Quixote, First Edition, 1605/1615
Written by Miguel de Cervantes Saavreda, The first edition of Book One of Don Quixote came off a printing press in Madrid on December 20, 1604, and reached the public on Jan 6, 1605. The novel quickly became an international best seller. Four centuries on, it still ranks as the most published and translated books of all time. Cervantes created a fictional origin for the story by creating a fictional Moorish chronicler for Don Quixote named Cide Hamete Benengeli. Published in two volumes a decade apart (in 1605 and 1615), Don Quixote is the most influential work of literature to emerge from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published. Only 18 first edition copies are known to exist worldwide, with four of them in Spain.
6. Paradise Lost, First Edition, 1667
Christ’s College Library, Cambridge University, holds in its collection six of the 1,300 copies of the first edition of Paradise Lost printed in 1667-68. The poem initially sold slowly, provoking its publisher Samuel Simmons to reissue it a number of times with new title pages and additional material in an attempt to drum up business. This copy bears the first title page, from which Simmons warily omitted his name, perhaps in fear of reprisals arising from Milton’s prevailing political unpopularity. Milton’s masterpiece tells the story of two falls. It opens with Satan and his host of rebel angels, who are caught plummeting into the abyss of Hell. Milton then works back in time through the narrative of Lucifer’s rebellion and the war in heaven, before recounting the creation of Adam, Eve, and their earthly home in Eden. The poem’s climax arrives in Book IX, when Satan in serpent’s form coaxes Eve into eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. On seeing that Eve has sinned, Adam then knowingly joins her by also tasting the fruit. This act of disobedience precipitates their expulsion from Paradise, but not before Adam is shown a vision of human history, culminating in the possibility of redemption offered by Christ’s future sacrifice.
5. Great Expectations, First Edition, 1861
With about 1,000 copies published in the first edition, Great Expectations is the rarest of Charles Dickens’ larger books in that most of the first edition was purchased by libraries; those copies that survive are usually not in good condition. The book was originally produced in three octavo volumes – (iii), 344pp.; (ii), 351pp.; (ii), 344 + 32pp. of advertisements dated May, 1861.Widely acknowledged as Dickens’ masterpiece, Great Expectations was one of only two novels not published in monthly parts, and published without illustrations. It was serialized in the weekly periodical, All the Year Round from December 1860 to August 1861; the first edition appeared on 6 July 1861. Four additional printings, which were designated “editions,” quickly followed, with all misprints preserved.
4. The Iliad and The Odyssey, 1715
[version translated by Alexander Pope]
In the year 1700 at Alexander Pope wrote his first verses at the age of 12. His breakthrough work, An Essay on Criticism (1711), appeared when he was twenty-three, and included the famous line “a little learning is a dangerous thing” (still quoted today). Pope admired Horace and Vergilius and valued them as models for poetry. His great achievements were the translations of Iliad and Odyssey into English. Pope’s collected works were published in 1717. He was one of the first professional poets to be self-sufficient as a result of his non-dramatic writings. Interestingly, Pope is the third most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson.
3. Shakespeare First Editions (Folios/Quartos)
Of the 32 plays of what is generally recognized as the Shakespeare canon, 18 were published for the first time in the First Folio of 1623. The remaining 20 were published in basd, doubtful and good quartos. A first edition of the collected works of Shakespeare published in 1623 sold for almost $6 million in 2006.
2. A Caxton Publication
Anything from this printer would be considered among the rarest and most valuable books in the world. William Caxton (~1422 -1492) was an English merchant, diplomat, writer and printer. As far as is known, he was the first English person to work as a printer and the first to introduce a printing press into England. He was also the first English retailer of printed books (his London contemporaries were all Dutch, German or French).
Caxton bought and set up his own printing press in 1475 to put out the first book to be printed in English: Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye. Caxton then set up a press at Westminster in 1476; the first book known to have been issued there was an edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Caxton printed Dictes or Sayengis of the Philosophres (Sayings of the Philosophers) in November 1477, a book that was written by Earl Rivers, the king’s brother-in-law. Other important works by this printer/author include Caxton’s translation of the Golden Legend, published in 1483, and The Book of the Knight in the Tower, published 1484, containing the earliest verses of the Bible to be printed in English. Caxton is credited with printing as many as 108 books, 87 of which were different titles.
1. Gutenberg Bible First Edition (1456)
This was the first book to ever be printed using a printing press. A single volume of the two-volume Gutenberg set sold for $5.5 million about 25 years ago. Today, single pages from first-edition Bibles fetch $25,000 each. Assuming a collector could find a complete first-edition Bible, which had a run of several hundred copies, he could expect to pay anywhere from $25 million to $35 million.
The first printing press was developed by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, with printing methods based on Gutenberg’s printing press spreading rapidly throughout Europe and the rest of the world. It eventually replaced most versions of block printing in use at the time.
More Than Just Age
Also of interest are books previously owned by famous persons, or personages of high stature, such as someone from royalty or the nobility. Tracing the history of an antiquarian book’s possession history, similar to other antiques, referred to as “provenance”, can markedly affect the value of a book, even if it is not a first edition. For example, a copy of a less-important 18th-century book proved to have been owned by Voltaire would achieve a value many times its stand-alone market value, simply because it was once in Voltaire’s possession.
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