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Book Market and Preservation

Acquisition of Manuscripts

Medieval manuscripts are quickly becoming more and more sought after by collectors. The integrity of the manuscript is generally an important issue – single pages could be worth between thousands of dollars, to full books which could reach into millions of dollars. The most reputable ways to get manuscripts is through international auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christies. More safety nets are present in these auction houses, as they generally appraise the items and can offer some assurances on the originality of the work. Auction houses can also be relied upon in providing a provenance for the work. The market for manuscripts is growing, a factor which unfortunately leads to a lot of black market activity. New laws will be needed within the next couple of decades to preserve manuscript quality, and to ensure fare trading.

Preservation of Manuscripts

Once a manuscript has been acquired, certain measures should be taken in order to preserve it. In earlier years, many manuscripts were sealed in airtight containers in order to regulate the amount of humidity and bacteria that they would be exposed to otherwise. In recent years however, it has become obvious that this might not be the best way to preserve the manuscripts. Projects involving digitalization have been increasingly explored. Digitalizing images makes them more accessible to the public, and also gives researchers a lasting record of the image. Unfortunately, digitalization takes some of the experience away from the viewer, and is incredibly expensive to maintain the computer support systems. Preservation is a difficult problem to solve, but there is hope that emerging technology will solve many of these problems.

Auctioning of Manuscripts

The value of the piece in question generally determines the type of auction that will take place. However, the internet has increasingly become and important factor in sales, if not in the auction itself. Sotheby’s even has a site on EBay in order to provide easier access to lesser works to a greater number of consumers. As recently as 1999, Christies Auction House sold a complete manuscript The Rothschild Prayerbook circa 1505, a Book of Hours, for around £8,580,000. A version of Chaucer’s’ The Canterbury Tales, circa 1476, was also sold for around $7,565,396 in 1998.


Below is an example of a single page that was put up for sale on Ebay recently.

Note: US
$24.00 of
this price is the
Buyer's Premium.
Manuscript French Bible Leaf, 13th Century

A more in depth look at this topic


These pages are the work of the students enrolled in Art 238, "Art and Medieval Mentalities," taught by Professor Christine Hamza during the Spring Semester, 2003.

The format of this site was last updated:  October 2, 2017.