June 28

The bibliophile William Blades tells of a letter written by the Rev. C.F. Newmarsh, Rector of Pelham, to the Rev. S.R. Maitland, Librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury, concerning a copy of the Boke of St. Albans printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1496. This early English imprint, probably the most celebrated of all English sporting books, is tided. Book of Hawking, Hunting & Biasing of Arms, and was written by Dame Juliana Berner. In 1935, A.S.W. Rosenbach sold a copy of the same “Book for $24,200. The Rev. Newmarsh wrote:

“On June 28, 1844, a pedlar called at a cottage in Blyton and asked an old widow, named Naylor, whether she had any rags to sell. She answered. No! but offered him some old paper, and took from a shelf the Boke of St. Albans and others, weighing 9 lbs., for which she received ninepence, The pedlar carried them through Gainsborough tied up in string, past a chemist’s shop, who, being used to buy up old paper to wrap his drugs in, called the man in, and struck by the appearance of the Boke, gave him three shillings for the lot. Not being able to read the Colophon, he took it to an equally ignorant stationer, and offered it to him for a guinea, at which price he declined it, but proposed that it should be exposed in his window as a means of eliciting some information about it. It was accordingly placed there with this label, ‘Very old curious work.’ A collector of books went in and offered half a crown for it, which excited the suspicion of the vendor. Soon after Mr. Bird, Vicar of Gainsborough, went in and asked the price, wishing to possess a very early specimen of printing but not knowing the value of the book. While he was examining it, Stark, a very intelligent bookseller, came in, to whom Mr. Bird at once ceded the right of pre-emption. Stark betrayed such visible anxiety that the vendor, Smith, declined setting a price. Soon after Sir C. Anderson, of Lea (author of Ancient Models), came in and took away the book to collate, but brought it back in the morning having found it imperfect in the middle, and offered five pounds for it. Sir Charles had no book of reference to guide him to its value. But in the meantime. Stark had employed a friend to obtain for him the refusal of it, and had undertaken to give for it a little more than any sum Sir Charles might offer. On finding that at least five pounds could be got for it, Smith went to the chemist and gave him two guineas, and then sold it to Stark’s agent for seven guineas. Stark took it to London, and sold it at once to the Rt. Hon. Thos. Grenville for seventy pounds or guineas.”

Evidently the same methods of purchasing the volume held over to the present century, as Rosenbach’s biographer stated that when a customer looked at it and enquired of its price, the Doctor shouted, “$24,200 and I wouldn’t sell it to another person for less than $40,000. My God, I’ll never see another copy for sale in my lifetime.”

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