Hiya bookies. I know I promised more frequent updates here, but life keeps intruding. One of the kids is returning to the nest while attending graduate school, necessitating a massive move of stuff from one room to the next. Yuck. Not what BBG had in mind for the summer.
Anyway, I am often asked how I come across the books that I sell. The simple answer is: there is no simple answer. But today we’ll just at one book and how that came to be in my possession, some of the problems faced in researching it, pricing it and translating the title.
One Friday morning about five years ago I arrived an hour or so early for a private estate sale in the Memphis suburb of Germantown. The yard and house were a bit unkempt, reflecting the elderly nature of the previous tenants. I don’t remember if it was a living estate sale or not, but the middle aged children were holding the sale and one of them was late. We stood around for an extra twenty minutes or so waiting for this son to arrive. Once inside one other bookseller and I rummaged through the books, most of which were hardback science fiction and fantasy.
The other seller was a local lady who is very knowledgeable in antiquarian books and such. She had perused one particular bookcase before I got there, but there was a book with a leather spine that she had missed somehow. I bought it, more or less without inspecting it. Once at home I did what I always do and began going through my purchases. But this one…I could not even make out what language it was in, at first, the only word that made sense was where the publisher information is usually placed at the bottom of the title page. It said “Stockholm, 1727.”
It was immediately evident that this was the oldest book I had ever scouted up. But what was it? What language was it written in? Who was the author? To discover this required backtracking. I searched the net using the phrase ‘Joh. Laur. Horrn. Stockholm’, which lead to a number of books published by this printer. For the language, I assumed that it was either German or Swedish but online translators weren’t much use; as it turns out, the language is Old Swedish, which is quite different from modern Swedish. Who knew? That lead to simply searching for the title itself, which I cut and pasted. In its native language, it is: Engelska aker-mannen och fara-herden, eller: Aker-bruks-konsten och far-skiotslen, sa wal efter philosophiske principer som sielfwa praxin, af de witraste engelske scribenter utdragen, med atskillige historiske och topographiske anmarkningar. To this moment I still don’t have a good translation of this, although I know the first words are The English Farmer and Shepherd, and that the book is a treatise on contemporary English sheep-herding techniques. The book was written by Jacob Serenius, who went on to write the first English-Swedish dictionary in 1741.
This information lead to an old auction price on a really battered piece of the book of about $160. I finally contacted an auction house, who suggested a price of around $500 as being quite fair for what is a nice copy of a rare book. So that’s what I did, priced it at $499.95, and here are the photos. All told I must have twelve or fourteen hours of research in this book.