David Powell 's query about uncut signatures rang a little bell with me. I can't top his 140-year-old example, but it reminded me of a comment I had made in an article published in our print journal -- "Bibliomania through the Ages: Four Mini-Reviews" (The Asylum (Spring 2002), Vol. 20, No 2, pp. 59-61).
Referring to the 1930 revision of F. Sommer Merryweather's Bibliomania in the Middle Ages (originally published in 1849), I had written, "... the copy which this reviewer was privileged to read had been uncut from page 137 on. The knowledge that this was the first time in seventy years that these particular pages had been scanned elicited a feeling of reverence, if not awe, and provided impetus to the project of reviewing this book in The Asylum."
This example falls short by a factor of two of even matching Powell's example, but I thought he might be interested that other readers have had a similar reaction to such a find, and I will look forward to seeing new records set.
David Fanning writes:
David Powell asks about uncut signatures in numismatic books. One item in my upcoming (Oct. 28) auction has him beat. The auction includes a completely unsophisticated copy of Ludovico Debiel's 1733 Utilitas rei numariae veteres. It's unbound, in original wraps, untrimmed and unopened.
Since I know the term isn't familiar to all of our readers (it wasn't to me the first time I heard it a number of years ago), I asked David if he'd define "unsophisticated" for us, in the context of book collecting. He writes:
The simplest definition would be to say that it refers to a publication that is in the same state as it was when the printer's job was finished. The sheets folded to make the signatures are uncut, edges are untrimmed. The book (if it is such) is unbound, generally in wraps (if 18th or 19th century). The signatures have been compiled into a book (they aren't loose), and the book is completed, but nothing further has been done.
If "unsophisticated" is generally a good thing in the world of rare books, a "sophisticated" copy can be a bad thing if not done properly. A sophisticated copy in a finely executed quality binding is usually a good thing. A nicely bound copy of a numismatic catalog where the text is from one copy, the title page from another and the plates from a third is also a "sophisticated" copy, and in this case that's NOT a good thing. I've mentioned before the term the late numismatic literature dealer John Bergman used for such books - he said they were "all boogered up".
Steve Tompkins writes:
In last week's issue there was a piece about uncut signatures in numismatic books. I have wondered about a similar issue as it pertains to many older numismatic auction catalogs. I have hundreds of auction catalogs from the 19th century that are essentially new and un-used and have no writing on them, such as the priced or annotated examples that are avidly pursued. These consist of both cut and uncut signatures. My guess would be that these are extra examples left over from the sale and only dispersed many years later to collectors. My question is: For the ones with uncut signatures, should I cut them open or leave them intact? When they are uncut, it is somewhat cumbersome to look at the lot descriptions or to search for items that were sold. Will it hurt or help the value of these catalogs in the future? Does it matter at all? Inquiring minds want to know!
My point of view is that uncut signatures should by all means be cut, as long as it is done carefully. I love numismatic literature and prefer top condition whenever possible, but a book that's never been read is a sad thing fit only for the Island of Misfit Toys. Cutting the signatures would not hurt the value in my book. What do our readers say? -Editor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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