Akenside/Armstrong Page 258/261

Armstrong's Table of Contents

The Poetical Works of Mark Akenside: With the Life of the Author is highly unique in that it has been curiously bound with The Poetical Works of J. Armstrong: With the Life of the Author. Such a connection makes some sense: both texts are published and embellished by C. Cooke, meaning that they share the same type of paper, size of paper, and similar overall styles.

The ultimate question, however, is about discovering the value of such a unique binding of texts. We must define how rare books are judged in value, discover how unique this pairing of texts is, how rare or valuable it may have been when it was first bound, and discern how it may be valued in the rare book market as it is today.

The first factor to call into question is the text’s uniqueness. As seen in the table of contents for The Poetical Works of J. Armstrong: With the Life of the Author, C. Cooke lists the page numbers starting with 5, after the “Life of the Author” section. This almost surely indicates that C. Cooke never published or released a version of this text wherein The Poetical Works of J. Armstrong: With the Life of the Author came already bound to its counterpart, because Armstrong is the second half of the collection. If C. Cooke were to release a pre-bound edition, then they would surely adjust the page numbers in the table of contents and in the text to reflect the fact that the texts have been combined. Most likely, a single individual purchased the pages of Akenside and Armstrong and later hired someone to bind the works together, meaning that this text could well be one-of-a-kind.

Many digitized copies of Akenside exist, and many of them share covers and even inner-covers with our copy. It’s unlikely that the individual that originally bound the two works used the same cover as is on the other digitized versions of Akenside and Armstrong because uniform covers in publication were not standard practice until the mid-twentieth century. That said, most late 18th century publishers used cloth-binding, so the cover we see today in modern digitizations of Akenside is probably a complete replacement of the original cover. Zero digitized copies of both Akenside and Armstrong exist in their combined-state, other than the one at Georgia State University’s Digital Collections. It’s possible—and potentially likely—that someone else who happened to own both Akenside and Armstrong decided to bind both copies into one, but it is highly probable that our exhibit focuses on the only surviving version of such a creation.

The Poetical Works of Mark Akenside: With the Life of the Author, and The Poetical Works of J. Armstrong: With the Life of the Author were published in the late 1700s as pocket-editions, which grants us some implications about the text’s original value. The works were cut as an octavo, meaning that the works are quite small: easy to travel with, easy to store, and easy to carry around. It is likely that C. Cooke designed these texts to create an easily accessible source for high-culture texts so that anyone could feel and experience high-culture without spending a ludicrous amount of money. The implication here is that the two texts were intended to be cheap, accessible, and easy to replace if need be; however, their former value does not necessarily translate to the modern rare book market.

The modern rare book market sells and buys rare books largely through auctions and donations. In William Reese’s “The Rare Book Market Today” he notes that the consistency of book prices has historically been inconsistent due to dealers’ inability to juggle and judge the value of the millions of rare books that float around the market from year to year, but that “due to the internet,” the price of books is steadily stabilizing (149). Much of what makes a book valuable or not valuable comes down to certain titles and types of books that Universities, private buyers, or other prestigious rare book libraries find themselves willing to compete for, which lends itself well to the auction system. He writes that, although there is somewhat a correlation in a book’s age and its market value, that “1945 probably marks the greatest buying opportunity for rare books in history” (147). Our text is not from the “Golden Era,” but it is highly unique, and one of Reese’s anecdotes about the rare book market fits the story of Akenside and Armstrong well. He writes that George Briney, an Americana collector, purchased a Bay Psalm Book in 1864 for $1,000. The Bay Psalm Book was the first English book ever printed in North America—a truly one-of-a-kind piece. 83 years later, Yale purchased it at an auction for $151,000, and it has been deemed priceless ever since due to Yale’s unwillingness to sell it (146). Akenside and Armstrong are ancient and decrepit, but an even larger contributing factor to their value than their age is their uniqueness when observed as a singular unit. According to Reese, the “single most important factor in the market today” is the ”scarcity of material” (147). Akenside and Armstrong may have been looked over in the 18th century, but their uniqueness in the modern day book market could potentially make them an invaluable addition to a rare book library’s collection.