Separating Bound Prints

Q: I bought a book of original etchings, most of which are by 19th century European artists. I showed the book to an antiquarian bookseller and he told me that one person probably collected the etchings from various publications and had them bound himself. This makes my book a unique piece, but then again, I've been thinking about having it disbound, keeping and framing my favorite images, and selling the rest. Is this a good idea or does it destroy the value of the book as a whole?

A: Opinions generally diverge as to the acceptability of removing prints from books. Booksellers frown on the practice and value books as collectibles in and of themselves. Print dealers often see nothing wrong with "breaking" books and valuing them according to the values of the individual prints. Your situation is somewhat unusual, however, in that you don't really own a book, but rather an album of individual prints put together by one person. In other words, booksellers may not be quite as militant about keeping this piece together as they would if it had been a formally pubished book.

Whether or not your book should stay together depends on several factors. It's better kept together, for example, if it is an outstanding or scholarly assemblage of prints or a beautiful work of art. If the binding is unique, special, full leather, exquisitely hand tooled, or by a famous binder, the piece in its entirety probably has a substantial value-- value which would be lost if it were taken apart. Likewise, consider not breaking it if the prints form an extensive collection of one particular era, school, subject matter, region, medium, or artist. Keeping it whole is also be a good idea if it contains insightful text that cannot be found in other books. A less common reason for preserving unique books in their entirety is if they were either compiled or owned by famous collectors.

Taking the book apart is acceptable if the prints are unrelated to eachother, the binding is ordinary or in poor condition, there is no significant accompanying text, and nothing else is unique or unusual about the piece when considered as a whole. Speaking strictly from a marketing standpoint, unless the album is extremely unique or special it probably has more value disbound than it does as a whole. The etchings can be sold separately for more money than they can as a lot. If you choose this option, you may well be able to pay for the entire purchase by selling off the prints you don't want.

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Articles © Alan Bamberger 1999. All rights reserved.