Eighteen years ago, my husband decided to read all the works of Sir Walter Scott. We lived in Hawai’i at the time, and I methodically requested Scott novels every time I went to the library. Because the Hawaiian library system covers all the islands, some of the books had to be shipped to O’ahu over water.
One volume came to us from the big island and we handled it gingerly when it arrived. It looked old with colorful plates and gilded pages and had only been checked out a couple times according to the white label glued inside the front cover. The copyright date was 1895. It can’t have been a first edition, but it was an early one. We marveled the library allowed it to circulate, surely the book was valuable?
I returned it to Aiea Public Library’s front desk with awe. “Look at this book!”
The clerk shrugged as he reached for it. “So?”
“You’re not a librarian, are you? I need to talk to a librarian.”
He beckoned to an older woman in the back room. I showed her the copyright date.
She reverently reached for the book and ran her palm down the leather binding. “Oh, my goodness! You checked this out?”
She understood its value. I doubt the book saw the light of day again . . .
It reminded me of a time at UCLA when my roommate retrieved a book by Eleanor Roosevelt from the University Research Library (now the Charles Young Library). She opened the pages with reverence, and then gasped. “Eleanor Roosevelt autographed this book! Why did they let me take it out of the library?”
I sat beside her on the bed and touched the black signature. “Amazing.”
“I just plucked it off the shelf.” Her eyes gleamed with promise. “I could steal this book. What was the library thinking in letting it circulate?”
“What would you do with it?”
“I don’t know.”
I’m happy to report she returned the volume when she was done with her paper and went on to become a district attorney. I have no idea, however, if the book is still on the shelf.
A quick browse through the Internet just now revealed the books range in value. An 1895 version of Lady of the Lake in good condition currently goes for $39.95 on Abe’s Books, an Internet-based book store specializing in first and early editions.
On the other hand, a signed limited edition of Eleanor Roosevelt’s It’s Up to the Women is advertised at $7500.
I purchased my most expensive book, The Oxford English Dictionary, through the Book of the Month club. It retailed at $75 back in 1975, but I joined the club and got it for about $20. It comes with it’s own magnifying glass in a drawer on top of the case because the print is so small.
I see Amazon.com is selling a used version for $114. Hmm, I could make a profit after 36 years . . .
Probably the most valuable book I own, however, doesn’t circulate because it truly was a limited edition. Written by my father-in-law, Louis Ule, after 25 years of research (or, most of my husband’s childhood), it’s a biography of Christopher Marlowe–demonstrating in thick lugubrious sentences how Marlowe wrote the works attributed to William Shakespeare.
I’ve thought to rewrite it over the years, to make it more palatable to modern readers because the story is compelling and rich. Louis did some amazing research. He even wrote computer programs analyzing Shakespeare and Marlowe’s writing to demonstrate frequency of word usage. (Those programs were written for main frame computers using punch cards; how much simpler it all would be today.)
We can’t reproduce the book; the vanity publishing company reneged on their deal and we never got the 1500 copies promised. It’s cherished because of what it represents: Louis’ lifetime passion, my husband’s childhood, and a magnificent story. He even autographed it for me.
Valuable , and cherished, indeed.
What’s your most valuable book and why?