Wednesday 2 May 2018

Antiquarian book sale - Beverly Hills style

This prayer book is being auctioned by Ambiance Arts and Antiques, a flashy shop in Beverly Hills, on eBay. Although the book is undoubtedly valuable, both the sales pitch and the venue caused some amusement. It seems to be Beverly Hills at its finest. The price of $3,500,000 may seem a trifle steep. But we are advised that the book is not only "unique", it's also "rare" as well!

(I do wish people would realise that the word "unique" means 'the only one of its kind' - which makes the tautologous word "rare" a bit of a superfluous understatement.)

The description falls somewhat short of what might be expected of a normal dealer in antiquarian books but note the warning: "QUALIFIED BUYERS ONLY". In order to qualify, perhaps any potential customer must first prove: a) that he has more money than the entire economy of Switzerland and b) that he has had a full frontal lobotomy.

Although the "last page of this book shows the date", the seller seems to have trouble understanding it. The Persian year 1123 equates to 1744 in the Gregorian calendar and the Islamic year 1123 equates to 1711 in the Gregorian calendar, neither of which is "circa 1706".

The book boasts a "beautiful gold hard cover". That sounds extremely impressive but I suspect it actually means the binding is gilt morocco, which is not quite the same thing. And "70 pages" presumably means 70 leaves (in bibliographic collation a page is only one side of a leaf). And I'm guessing the baby phrases "hand writer" and "hand writing" are pitched at a semi-literate clientele who might have difficulty with the adult words "calligrapher" and "manuscript".

Curiously for an item offered for such a large sum of money, there is not the slightest hint of its condition (whether the binding is loose, whether any leaves are missing, torn, dog-eared, etc.) or, apart from its original owner, of its provenance (later inscriptions, library stamps, auction records, ALR check, etc.). A comment on Daum glassware offered by the same seller suggests an attitude to condition may be somewhat cavalier and a publicised spate of book thefts from libraries in the Middle East and elsewhere indicates that a mention of provenance would be wise. I'm not entirely sure that the generous offer of free postage offsets concerns that the seller states "NO RETURN" in big red letters.

Sadly, if "Sultan Hussain Safavi [...] used it every day for praying and keeping himself out of sickness and trouble", it didn't work very well. Eleven of his twelve sons were slaughtered and his dynasty was nearing its end when he was himself beheaded. Perhaps a bad omen ...



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