14 October 2007


Boccaccio. IL DECAMERONE DI BOCCACCIO. Printed by Christofal Valdarfer. (Venice) 1471.

Current Selling Prices
$4,000,000+ /£2,000,000+

Ultra rare book that caused a sensation in its time and then 350 years later caused Bibliomania to break out in England and parts of Europe. This week I was slightly surprised to see a header for the book at Ebay:

'Decameron, 1471 by Giovanni Boccaccio'

I clicked it with the faintest of hopes that it was an incunable. Not only was it a modern book but you could not be sure you would even get any of Boccaccio's 100 amazing tales as it had the caveat '...You will get the item ordered based on ISBN, NOT based on the auction title or stock picture due to eBay and Muze catalog errors.' So you might get a biography of Barry Manilow or a treatise on war reparations. It lead me to looking in the last 30 years of ABPC auction records for any 1471 Decamerons. There were none and also none in a bunch of older BAR records, lacking a few years, going back to 1938. I suspect there hasn't been a copy through the rooms for 100 years (unless 'the lion of Althorp' copy was at some point put on the block.)

Dibdin writes of seeing this book at the Royal Library in Paris in his 1831 epistolary work 'A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL ANTIQUARIAN AND PICTURESQUE TOUR...' He talks of a time in the late 1820s when he spent many weeks looking throught the early books and illuminated manuscripts at the Bibliothèque du Roi in the Rue de Richelieu '...Months and years may be spent among them, and the vicissitudes of seasons (provided fires were occasionally introduced) hardly felt. I seem, for the last fortnight, to have lived entirely in the "olden time;" in a succession of ages from that of Charles the Bald to that of Henri Quatre: and my eyes have scarcely yet recovered from the dazzling effects of the illuminator's pencil. "II faut se reposer un peu." ' After the illuminated books he moved on to the incunabula, books 'likely to afford all true sons of BIBLIOMANIA and VIRTU the most lively gratification.' Here he finds the Valdarfer Decameron:
'This is the famous edition about which all the Journals of Europe have recently "rung from side to side." But it wants much in value of THE yet more famous copy which was sold at the sale of the Duke of Roxburghe's library; inasmuch as it is defective in the first leaf of the text, and three leaves of the table. In the whole, according to the comparatively recent numerals, there are 265 leaves. This copy measures eleven inches and a half, by seven inches and seven eighths. It is bound in red morocco, with inside marble leaves.'
Dibdin refers to a perfect copy sold by auction at the dispersal of the Roxburghe Library, in 1812, for £2,260, which up to that time was the highest sum of money ever given for a book. It caused dealers and amateurs to madly scour the bookshops and book collections of Europe. Nearly 200 years later a sort of low grade Bibliomania broke out here when it became known that 'The Philosopher's Stone' (Potter!) was worth £10,000 +. The Decameron had made at least a million sterling in today's money. (To be continued.)

More coming about Holbrook Jackson's take on it 'The Anatomy of Bibliomania', Princess Diana's connection to the 1471 edition, Aldous Huxley's theory of collecting aesthetics and more pedantry that you can shake a stick at...

The illustration above shows a scene from the Decameron painted by the female PRB Marie Spartali Stillman- "Messer Ansaldo Showing Madonna Dianora his Enchanted Garden". Pursued by Ansaldo, the married Dianora told him she would never grant his suit until he made her midwinter garden bloom with midsummer flowers. Aided by a magician, Ansaldo did it. Her husband ordered her to honor her promise. Not to be outdone in courtesy, Ansaldo released her from her promise. (Boccaccio, Decameron, day x. 5.)


Anonymous said...

I have aquired the Decameron of Boccaccio, but there is no date to which it was published. It looks old, with a genuine leather cover, a lily encircling his name on the front, and the letters WJB on the side.

I was wondering where or how I could find information on this copy?

Thanks for any help

Anonymous said...

Very little idea, sorry--check at ABE and put the publisher in keywords--unlikely to be the big one, although that too was undated. A vellum binding, Vatican style would be a good start...

Anonymous said...

My father left me a copy of the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio. It
is a 2 volume set from Garden City
Publishing Co.
The illustrations are by Rockwell Kent.The set is a limited edition of 1500; my copy is #525.
R. Kent signed the edition page.
The set is in fine condition.
I was wondering what it may be worth?