Tauchnitz Editions


Rarity and price

Posted by Baronbern on September 25, 2010 at 4:56 PM

Tauchnitz Editions are not rare. At the time of writing there are over 13,000 of them offered for sale on the ABEbooks website alone, and at any one time eBay will usually have over 1,000 of them up for auction. You can go into almost any second-hand bookshop anywhere in Europe and have a pretty good chance of turning up at least one Tauchnitz edition.  And yet, many individual Tauchnitz Editions are undoubtedly rare. I have spent over 20 years searching for them, and there are still around 2,000 that I have been unable to find in first printing at a reasonable price.


Many are genuinely rare, and some, from particular authors, are much sought after. But part of the answer is in that last phrase, ‘at a reasonable price’. There is no consensus at all about what the appropriate price is for Tauchnitz books, either in first printing or in reprints, and of course there is no right answer. Todd & Bowden commented only that prices in the 1980s varied between the ‘irrational extremes’ of 50c and $1500. They expressed the hope that partly as a result of their bibliography, an equitable price might eventually be established, and more temperate language used in describing copies for sale.  Unfortunately this has not happened. Copies offered on the internet are still routinely described as first printings when they are evidently not, and rarity is often ascribed to copies that are anything but.


One of the most extreme examples is ‘Transformation’ by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Tauchnitz volumes 515 / 516), possibly the most common of all Tauchnitz editions. This was produced in particular in a vellum bound edition with additional albumen photos bound in, and sold as a tourist memento in Italy, probably no earlier than the late 1860s. Todd & Bowden (page 197) record 29 copies of this in US institutional locations. On ABE at present there are another 23 such copies amongst a total of 40 copies of this book in the Tauchnitz Edition for sale. All of these copies are likely to be reprints.




Realistically it is hard to see, on the basis of supply and demand, why anyone should pay more than $2 or $3 for a copy of this book. Copies that are offered on eBay, if they sell at all, sell for this kind of price. Yet most dealers on ABE price the book at $50 or more, and of course the book remains unsold. There are currently 14 copies of the tourist edition offered for sale at over $100 on ABE and 5 over $250. The most optimistic dealer, one James F. O’Neil in Boston, offers it at a price of $500.


One difficulty is that ABE has become the easiest way for lazy dealers to establish the ‘value’ of a book. If you know nothing about a book it’s easy enough to look it up on ABE and see what price other dealers are offering it for. Unfortunately, by definition, the copies on ABE are the copies that have not sold, usually because they are over-priced. Copies that are sensibly priced are sold and no record remains on the website. The result is that more and more over-priced and unsold copies accumulate on the internet and provide more and more weight of evidence to demonstrate the ‘market price’.


Update 13 October

The distinction of being the most optimistic dealer to offer 'Transformation' on ABE has passed to Ursus Rare Books of New York, who are now offering a copy for a mere $1250.  Oddly they do so after having consulted Todd & Bowden, recognising that it's a late reprint in the 4th setting, and even quoting the comment from Todd & Bowden that this is the book 'most often found' in this format.

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