Books & Old Documents


“What I particularly like about books or old manuscripts is their relationship with intimacy, with what has been read or written, possessed or loved. The book, an object of passion, can also become a real art object in its own right when the written word is sublimated by the illustration or the binding”

– Sophie Perrine


Our Rare Books & Old Manuscripts department offers two catalogued sales per year. From incunabula to modern illustrated books, from manuscripts to first editions, enriched with autographs from the great names of literature, you will find what you are looking for in our auctions.

An incunabula is a document that was published before 1500.

Old books, published before 1851, are rare books, some of which are precious. Its value is determined according to several criteria: the author and the work itself, the rarity of the edition, the quality of the book, the condition of the binding. It may also include an autograph shipment or a prestigious provenance.

The atlas is a collection of geographical maps in the same format and bound together, which developed in the 16th century; these volumes illustrate the world view at a given time. The two most sought-after names are Ortelius and Mercator.

The autograph letter is a handwritten message affixed by the author to one of his works. Usually addressed to a close friend or colleague, signed or not, it is all the more prestigious and interesting if it is embellished with a drawing on an original edition or a little-known early text.

The first edition is the first printing of a work. It is sometimes printed on so-called “luxury” paper for the first edition and numbered. Signed by the author, it will be all the more prized. It is also known as a “pre-original” edition when the text has been published in part or as an “editio princeps” for a first edition by an author who lived before the invention of printing.

The modern illustrated book is generally a well-known or famous work, to which drawings have been added to illustrate the words by renowned illustrators (Cocteau) or artists (Matisse, Chagall).

Paperback, vellum, calf, morocco, chagrin, full, half, cornered, stamped; all expressions that can qualify a binding and increase its value.

In the words of Mallarmé, “The world is made to lead to a beautiful book“. We will accompany you to create the most beautiful collection.

Antique paper collections. This generic term covers a range of collections, both large and small, which have developed in recent years to the point of becoming major specialities: old and modern prints, either on their own or in collections; advertising posters, photographs, old popular or religious imagery.

You will also find Philately, which is the research and study of old postage stamps, issued in all the countries of the world since they were first put into service (1840 in Great Britain, 1849 in France…).


“Nothing seemed more important to me than a book. I saw the library as a temple”

– Jean-Paul Sartre, Les mots


AGUTTES is the auction house chosen by the court to coordinate the auction of the most prestigious collection of manuscripts and books ever sold at auction. Associated with three other auction houses under the acronym OVA (les opérateurs de vente Aristophil), and with very good results obtained since 2017 (more than 60 million with more than 47 sales), Aguttes is today a major player in the field of old books and manuscripts capable of attracting buyers (collectors and institutions) from around the world.


Estimating a value: a first approach

We usually have several books, more generally a library: you can send us lists of books but this is tedious to do. The best thing to do is to make an appointment to come to your home to make a selection of your possessions which will be sold individually or in lots. Seeing the entire collection of books will show whether they are the books of a well-informed bibliophile; some bookcases are often filled with books whose only purpose is to “look pretty”!

Older documents should be brought to us as sorting is often necessary.

For a book, even an old one, the first thing to do is to look at the title page which reveals the main information (title, author, publisher and year of publication). If a dedication, a mailing or an ex-libris accompanies the book, these elements give the book added value. The binding is also important: it must be in good condition and can be signed (especially for modern works). Then there is the general quality, which even for a 300 or 400 year old book counts. An estimate can only be considered as definitive after the collation, i.e. an examination which allows to certify that the book has the right number of pages, that it is complete with its illustrations etc…

The field of autograph letters and manuscripts is very vast: they are ancient historical documents such as charters, papal bulls or administrative documents; letters or manuscripts of writers, musicians, historians, painters, actors, scientists. Some authors unleash passions such as Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Marcel Proust, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, Picasso, Mozart, Beethoven, Einstein, Napoleon, Joséphine… to name but a few.

Many attics are full of documents on parchment, with the signatures of kings, but they are very often administrative papers kept through inheritance and have a very low value. The expertise will focus first on the author and then on the content. For autograph letters or important correspondence, the name of the author and therefore his signature as well as the content of the letter are decisive for the valuation. A letter from the painter Auguste Renoir that talks about one of his paintings does not have the same value at auction as a simple invitation to dinner. Also the rarity of the presence on the market: a letter from the poet Arthur Rimbaud fetches a high price because of his early death. However, only an expert’s knowledge and eye will be able to recognise the authenticity of a writing and also, by examining the paper, that it is not a facsimile. Another added value is the unpublished nature of an autograph letter or correspondence.


The market

The market for antiquarian books has been declining for some time, while modern illustrated books are defending their position. Buyers at public auctions are looking for original, rare editions whose provenance, if known, is a plus! A volume with plates or illustrations is always appreciated; sales of books based on a theme (gastronomy, science, travel, esotericism etc.) are also very popular.

Sets of autograph letters or manuscripts are usually put up for public sale by a descendant of the author in the case of important sets. Provenance is therefore of the utmost importance. The buyers are private art collectors, professionals and many public institutions. This field is a matter for enthusiasts. The introduction of the important Aristohil Collection to the market has not led to a collapse in prices. We have returned to the pre-2000 prices after a period when the prices of manuscripts had risen considerably.

Thanks to the great sales of the Aristophil Collections, we have come into contact with the greatest collectors in the world.


Putting it up for sale, a tailor-made service

The first advantage of a public sale is that you can put several buyers in competition for your property after having advertised it widely through a catalogue, i.e. targeted advertising aimed at collectors. Today, with the internet, we reach an international clientele who can buy safely from a distance.

After sending you the estimates of your books or old papers, a contract is signed – the sale mandate – which sets out the terms of the sale: description, estimate, reserve price, costs, date of sale, fees and conditions of sale. The auctioneer is an agent and not a dealer; he sells on your behalf, and is paid a fee by the seller and buyer. His interest is therefore to advise you as best he can so that the lot is sold, as he incurs costs (photo shooting, graphics, communication, etc.) which will not be reimbursed in the event of a non-sale.

The public sale is always preceded by one or more days of exhibition of the lots during which the potential buyer can carefully examine the lots presented. You can attend the sale because it is public. Today, it is customary to follow the sales on various websites that broadcast the sales live, such as Drouot Live or Interenchère. Public sales can also take place online: the sale is planned over several days and the bids are made via the Internet. This type of sale is increasingly used, especially for specialities. When the sale is not “online”, it usually takes place in our own auction room in Neuilly-sur-Seine.

At the end of the auction, we will contact you about the result of the auctioned lot and the payment will be sent to you within four weeks.





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