03 February 2007

The Book of Common Prayer. 1549.

Thomas Cranmer & others. BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER. Edwarde Whitchurche, London 1549.

Current Selling Prices
$40000+ ? / £18000+? Want level 50 - 75 High

Folio. 12 editions came out in 1549, causing serious reaction not the least in Cornwall and the South West where they refused to accept the book. 4000 died in what are known a 'The Prayer Book Riots.' It had replaced the various Latin rites that had been in use for 100s of years with plain English. However in historical terms the book is a landmark of the Protestant Reformation and featured in Printing and the Mind of Man (75). People used to collect all the books in "PMM', one wonders whether this still works. The text is 'black letter' or gothic in style, much used for liturgical and legal texts in the 16th century and the title printed in red and black within woodcut border. A book of this age will frequently have handwritten notes and annotations and these do not detract from the value unless messy or recent (ie in the last 150 years or so.) If any sort of name can be given to the writer of the notes and he or she is in DNB or at least googleable so much the better, if it's a big and ancient name the value goes through the cathedral roof.

VALUE? Copies have made between £1000 and £50,000 over the last 30 years with the £50K being achieved in 1979 for the Houghton copy described as 'magnificent.' The same book appeared at the flashy Garden sale 10 years later and made £45K. Not a good sign. Only one has appeared in the last 10 years and made $8K but it was a little defective and discernibly washed. I have heard there have been copies of 1549 editions on ebay where Bibles and Prayer Books are avidly traded but I don't have figures. The Garden Sale, by the way, was the beginning of the end of taste and refinement in book collecting. A collection assembled by Michael Davis (the money) and one Haven O' More of important bog standard famous books, the preface by O'More to Sotheby's catalogue can still raise a titter - described on a sober library website as "fatuous and quasi-religious" and prices that were high for the time but reflected the fact that many of the books were bought too recently to do anything but 'wash their face.' I was reminded of this recently listening to the tape of David Baldacci's bibliomystery 'The Collectors' (2006) featuring some cool old geezers known as the Camel Club. The first murder in the book is of the Head of Rare Books at the Library of Congress one Jonathan de Haven, surely an echo of O'More. Or am I mad?

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