Wednesday, December 11, 2019

437. The Picture of A Headcap

The terminology of the auction houses does not always coincide with that of the bibliographer or the collector. One tries to sell an object, the other to describe it, the third to admire it. Auction houses therefore do not always describe defects in books clearly or consistently, so as not to distract too much attention from the desirability of an object, especially when its price runs into the thousands. In that case, damage (no matter how small) has the greatest impact on the price.

In my opinion it is unwise to buy a defective or poor copy of a desirable book, because it is precisely the unevenness that is most noticeable with each inspection of the book. The price slowly disappears from your memory (although you sometimes realize that instead of buying a book, you can also have your entire house painted); but a worn spine will stare at you forever.


Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, cover design by Charles Ricketts (1891):
deluxe copy no 136
At the auction of the collection Ribes, a copy of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray will be sold, a deluxe copy, signed by Wilde: number 136 of the 250 (there were also 1000 unsigned copies in a smaller size).

All copies of this edition are fragile. The deckled edges are often worn, the spine can come loose, or the book may have been re-bound at the behest of previous collectors or bookdealers and in those cases Ricketts's design is completely lost.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, cover design by Charles Ricketts (1891):
deluxe copy no 136 (detail)
The description of the auction house is extremely cautious about the faults: 'Coiffes restaur√©es'. That is: the headcap has been restored.


Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, cover design by Charles Ricketts (1891):
deluxe copy no 136 (detail)
An image clearly shows that there is more going on. The joint is completely covered with a strip of linen; part of the front cover seems to be missing. It is a poorly restored copy of which the spine has probably become completely loose and several pieces of the boards are missing, affecting the overall design. 

But the price of a deluxe copy of this book has been high for years; even a bad copy is still estimated at thousands of euros. In the past, such a bad copy wouldn't have reached Sotheby's rooms.