500-year-old book for sale in Utah for $42,600

02:07, Jun 09 2011
A copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle published in 1493 is displayed at book shop in Salt Lake City.
RARE CHANCE: A copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle published in 1493 is displayed at book shop in Salt Lake City that is being sold for NZ$42,600.

A partial copy of a 500-year-old book considered one of the earliest and most lavishly illustrated works of the 15th century is now on sale for US$35,000 (NZ$42,000) at a rare book shop in Utah.

Book dealer Ken Sanders was shocked back in April when, while volunteering at a fundraiser for a small town museum in Sandy, just south of Salt Lake City, a man arrived with the unusual find pulled from his attic. It had been gathering dust for decades.

"There was just something almost dreamlike, something surreal about a five-century-old book being found here," said Sanders, who appraises items for PBS's Antiques Roadshow and owns Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City.

The German language edition of the Nuremberg Chronicle, printed by Anton Koberger and published in 1493, is a world history beginning in biblical times. It is believed there are several hundred copies in circulation worldwide, making it not-so-rare of a find, especially with about two-thirds of its pages missing from its tattered binding.

Still, to a book collector, it's a genuine must-have, said Heather O'Donnell, a book seller at Bauman Rare Books in New York City.

"It's an incredibly exciting book. Every page is visibly beautiful. Even a single page of a Nuremberg Chronicle has genuine value," O'Donnell said. "It's a landmark of printing ... There's always more buyers than copies available."

Bauman's store sold a complete copy with hand-coloured illustrations for more than US$300,000 in 2006.

"It was a stunning book, really incredible," O'Donnell said.

She said US$35,000 was a fair price for Sander's book, given its condition, and she didn't think it would be difficult to sell, noting many collectors want it not because of its monetary value, but for its literary significance.

"They have a desire to own it and cherish it and preserve it for future generations," O'Donnell said. "They see it as a part of western civilisation and want to pass it on."

The owner of Sander's book has declined to be identified, but said it was passed down to him by his great uncle and had just been gathering dust in his attic. He had no idea of its worth or historical significance.

Since publicising the find in April, Sanders said he has received dozens of calls and emails from interested buyers.

"Hundreds and hundreds of people have come through the store wanting to see the book," he said. "We just don't handle a lot of five-century-old books here in Utah, and the public interest has just been phenomenal. It's still so exciting."