The Value of a Book

Michael sat examining an 18th century book of Italian poetry. First stat Quarto (29cm) pages numbering 778. The cover was well preserved. It was bottle-green leather exterior, but with speckled calf inlay. Triple gilt fillet on each side of the two raised spine bands. Lower rear extremities showed signs of slight rubbing with mild crushed bottom open corner. One ancient velum paper label with title manuscript left shadowed suggesting original binding replaced 30 to 50 years from first woodprint. That would place the first edition to 1731- 1751. An extra inner leaf was handwritten with a dedication scribed in the looping style fashionable to this estimated era. As for the contents, well, the yellowing aging upon the pages’ outer edges was expected. The text was of, again, woodprint despite the improved method being readily available. There were several annotations in ink margining pages 52 through to 84. Believed to be authors own hand; however, apart from the romance of the story there were little, if any, indicators weighing proof favourably for this theory.
Michael had hoped the trip was not a waste of time, but his gut feeling was one of disappointment. He made his mind up within the first ten minutes of inspection, but to ensure his client was getting her money’s worth, he made a show of slowly scrutinizing the edges of the binding. Every so often he made note of his observations, and in a neat hand relayed such to his pristine diary.
In his peripheral vision he could see the client hovering on the outskirts of the adjacent room. He did not mind. His current client, Mrs Hover, was similar to the majority of those who contact him for his appraisals. Eager clients were common in his line of work. He never minded those with a genuine interest in his examination. Michael seldom tired of explaining techniques of analysis or educating why one type of horse-glue made a better adhesive than another. Even those who only cared about the price a manuscript would fetch at auction, were fine, if not a little disheartened when his appraisal pointed to less zeros that was hoped for.
No, the genuinely interested and cash greedy clients were fine. It was the amateurs who annoyed him with their constant yearning for flattery and craving of intellectual gratification. Sometimes he deliberately allowed them to prattle on while pointing out the knowledge they cherished so he could enjoy correcting them at length and send them off embarrassed for their interference. It was his way of saying ‘Go back to your mammy and leave the grown-up stuff to us adults.’
After running out of ideas on how to prolong his examination, he carefully replaced the volume back in the glass case it was presented to him in when he first arrived. Coughing politely to gain Mrs Hover’s attention, he carefully removed his cotton gloves and proceeded to return his magnifying glass and notebook back into his briefcase. As always he doubled checked none of his small collection of bottled chemicals used to date the rarer manuscripts had been damaged.
His findings would be typed up from his notes later that evening and sent to Mrs Hover along with his invoice or copy of his invoice if she decided to pay there and then.
Michael guessed Mrs Hover was in her early sixties. She had a pleasant cheerful face along with the alert characteristics often portrayed by actresses in adverts for vitamins for the elderly or exercise machines aimed at those of advancing years. Slim as a whippet, but standing strong as a fighter half her age, she approached him and stood next to the case. ‘Are you sure I can’t get you anything?’ She asked him twice already, but again he responded that he was fine.
‘So, what can you tell me about my book?’ she asked eagerly.
Michael roughly outlined his findings and assured her she would receive a full report in a day or so. The only thing he omitted was the estimated retail price. When she initially said it was in her family for three generations, usually with that came with three generations of expectations that the price would have increased significantly. He did not like letting his clients down, but it was part of the job. He had a feeling she would be more accepting, although just as disappointed, than most.
Michael took a second to compose himself before breaking the news. ‘If it had been an original first edition with its original binding, I would have estimated it to come close to 24 to 30,000.’
Mrs Hover was physically surprised by the amount mentioned, but he continued before she was too carried away. ‘As it stands, I’m afraid in its condition, we’re talking about 5 to 600 max.’
He waited for it, but the disappointment he expected did not come.
‘Oh, I see,’ Mrs Hover commented with a slight nod of the head. She seemed to be waiting for more from him, but there was nothing further he had to add.
‘As I mentioned earlier, a report of my complete findings will be with you in a day or two.’
She nodded her under standing. As he was about to leave, Mrs Hover interrupted his progress to the door. ‘Are you going to take it with you?’
Michael shook his own head. ‘Sorry, I don’t understand!’ He hoped she was not under the impression he was going to purchase it from her.
‘I mean, you were only here an hour, tops. Surely you can’t have finished already.’
He was getting a little techy. It was seldom that anybody brought his expertise into question. ‘I can assure you madam, I have scrutinized every inch of your manuscript. My findings are correct, on this I can absolutely guarantee.’
‘But you haven’t done anything,’ Mrs Hover insisted. ‘Are you telling me you’ll have everything sent to me in only a day or two?’
‘Yes, I give my word,’ Michael said, but did not mention the bill also due for payment.
‘Oh, if you’re sure. I though these things could take week, if not months.’
‘They used to madam, but with today’s technology, things have sped up exceptionally so.’ Michael was glad this was accepted and the hint of hostility was rapidly dissolving.
‘Well, I guess that’s something. Can I ask you just one question before you leave?’
‘Absolutely, Mrs Hover.’
‘Can you tell me what the first poem is about?’
‘You know, the first poem? At least tell me what it’s about before you translate it all’
Michael was confused ‘Sorry?’
‘Oh, do you need to use your computer to translate it?’
‘Translate it? What are you talking about?’
Now it was Mrs Hover’s turn to get techy. ‘That’s what I’m paying you for, isn’t it? I asked you to tell me everything about my book’s contents.’
‘But…but I don’t speak Italian. I’m not a translator,’ he uttered.
‘Then what on earth have you been doing this whole time if you were not translating it?’
‘Err? evaluating! That’s what I do.’
‘How can you value the price of something you didn’t even read without taking into account the ability of the poet?’
He was a ware of, but could not recall what reply he stammered before leaving Mrs Hovers, nor of the long drive to the his hotel. His years of study and apprenticeship, the thousands of hours spent examining manuscript after manuscript spanning the centuries; these all came to a head in her simply stated question. With the exception of historical documents which either confirmed or contradicted believed events, he was never once asked to place value on the actual written content only on the physical condition and rarity of a piece. His thoughts could not stray from the idea that she was right. As he entered his room with a glass of whiskey he ordered at the bar, he imagined the souls of every author are whose work he appraised. He could feel their condemning him from their graves; grieving each judgement he made. A wave of nausea flushed through him.
Sitting on his bed, he froze as his eyes landed on a bible. It was the usual edition compulsory provided in every hotel he ever stayed in. Guilt ridden¸ Michael shunted to the edge of the bed, picked up the book, and began reading: In the beginning…


About Penlateral

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