As we on Jot 101 have remarked before, the catalogues of antiquarian booksellers are often a reflection of the tastes or fashion of the time among collectors. Books which today might be downgraded for various reasons were once highly prized, especially in first edition form. Writers who were once the height of fashion are now almost forgotten, while firsts by ‘ classic ‘ authors, though often sought after over many decades, do not always retain their monetary value in real terms. The catalogue issued by Maggs Brothers in 1909, which we recently unearthed in the archives at Jot HQ, is a case in point. Although the craze for ‘modern first editions ‘ had not really taken off , books by ‘ modern ‘ writers like William Morris and Oscar Wilde were beginning to be seen as modern classics and were priced accordingly. Classic ‘ Romantic ‘ authors, like Keats and Shelley, have always kept their value, but the prices of works by Charles Lamb have dipped in real terms since 1909, mainly due to the baleful influence of the critic Frank R. Leavis. The rise and rise of Jane Austen since 1909, mainly due to various TV and film adaptations, is probably unique among English novelists. In contrast compare the prices of work by George Meredith, then at the height of his popularity, but hardly read at all today.
Books on certain sports have also become more sought after today. Not surprisingly, there is nothing on football or rugby, which were comparatively modern in origin, but plenty of rare material on cricket, horse-racing, angling, boxing and hunting. Of these only books on tennis and cricket, which are perhaps more popular today, seem to have increased in value.
With such a catalogue sometimes it’s good to play ‘Fantasy Book Buying ‘. This involves going back in time and seeking out bargains that one might have bought with our present day knowledge. Let’s start with Oscar Wilde. The great playwright and gay icon had only been dead for nine years, so wasn’t as appreciated as he is now.
1909 The Ballad of Reading Gaol, first edition 1898. £1.8s.
1909 De Profundis, first trade edition 1905. 10.6d.
2022 Trade edition up to £600. One of 200 copies £6,833
1909 The Importance of Being Ernest, first edition 1899. £2. 5s.
1909 The Picture of Dorian Gray, first edition 1891 signed by the author. £3. 5s.
2022 Signed first edition £23,600
1909 Poems, 1881. With author’s signature, “Oscar Wilde, Feb 27, ‘85 on half title £4.4s.
2022 Signed first edition £17,600
1909 Ravenna: the Newdigate Prize Poem, June 26 1878, first edition. 21/-
Percy B. Shelley
1909 The Revolt of Islam. First edition 1818 ‘ very rare’. £4 4s.
2022 First edition £1,700
1909 Queen Mab 1821. First published edition. 38s.
2022 First published edition 1821. £1,500.
1909 Endymion. First edition 1818. £30
2022 First edition. £14,000
- Eve of St Agnes and other poems. First edition 1820. $14. 4s.
2022 First edition £6,000 and £19,000.
1909 Essays by Elia First edition 1823 & Last Essays by Elia. First edition 1833
Uncut and bound by Riviere. £52 10s
2022 First editions also bound by Riviere. £1,000.
Sense and Sensibility. First edition 1818. ‘Of the utmost rarity in this fine state’. £45.
- First edition £30,000 and more.
1909 Poems. First edition 1851. £19.19s. ‘ Rare’.
2022 First edition. Several copies on Abebooks ranging from £550 to £980. So not that rare then.
Felix on the Bat, 1845. ‘Very scarce ‘. £7 15s.
Same edition. £575.
Julian Marshall, The Annals of Tennis. First edition 1878. 14s.
First edition. £3,000. From a current Maggs catalogue !!
To be continued… [R.M.Healey]