Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2013 Issue

The Breaker : Still controversial – but it can be profitable

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An 1856 travel Cyclopaedia is a good breaker. Has shabby binding but good antique maps and text.

The breaker is the Lord Voldemort of the book world, the name that is - at best - reluctantly uttered. It’s the book that comes in ratty and usually for a low price and gets taken apart and resold in pieces. In the world of old paper the breaker is usually worth more in parts than whole.

Since the beginning of binding there has been breaking and the subject of taking books apart invariably generates more heat than light. If you are categorically opposed to this practice then this is a good place to stop reading – and please hold the flames.

On the other hand, if you think that recycling interesting materials so it goes to new homes at good prices is a worthy pursuit, then this example might give you some ideas of what to look for and how to do it.

The example shown here is Bayard Tayor’s1856 edition of the Cyclopaedia of Modern Travel published by Moore, Wilstach Keys & Co., Cincinnati in 1856. It was purchased on-line in July from a Cleveland dealer for $20 for the express purpose of writing this article.

The copy arrived with one hinge gone and the other hinge going, the backstrip off exposing the paper covering and portions of the sewing on the spine. The binding was distinctly beat up. Though the outside had seen better days, the text block itself – all 900 pages - was in good condition.

It was the ideal candidate for breaking because it had no less than 12 full page antique maps each accompanied by abbreviated texts about explorations which were considered notable and exciting in the years leading up to 1856 as well as extensive biographical information about individual explorers and the obstacles they encountered along the way.

In addition to the selections with maps it also had an additional 21 articles and many were illustrated. They were all complete and in good condition.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Adam Smith, <i>Wealth of Nations,</i> first edition, descended from William Alexander, London, 1776. $70,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> George Gershwin, photograph signed & inscribed with autograph musical quotation, <i>An American in Paris,</i> 1928. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Friedrich Engels, <i>The Condition of the Working Class in England,</i> first edition, NY, 1887. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> <i>Bury St. Edmunds Witch Trials,</i> first edition, London, 1682. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Robert Rey, <i>Estampes,</i> complete portfolio of 12 wood engravings, Paris, 1950. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Archive of 47 letters by Enrico Caruso to a lady friend, 1906-20. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Books of Hours in Flemish, Netherlands, 15th century. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Jack Kerouac, <i>Doctor Sax,</i> deluxe limited edition, signed, NY, 1959. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Walt Disney, signature on title-page of Ward Greene’s <i>Lady and the Tramp,</i> first edition, first printing. $3,000 to $4,000.

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