Rare book market holding well, despite online onslaught

HOLDING a book that is more than 300 years old is a rare occasion, even for Morisset rare book merchant James Owens.

Mr Owens is binding a religious book published in 1693 called the Epistles of the Apostolical Fathers, which includes letters re-translated about different religious events.

"A fellow found it holding up a car where someone had taken the wheels off," Mr Owens said.

Mr Owens, who owns Lake Macquarie Secondhand Books, labels himself a book detective.

"I spend 99 per cent of my life looking for books for people," Mr Owens said.

The rare book market was holding up well, despite the online onslaught.

"The more the Kindles take over, the dearer rare books will become," he said.

"There will always be people who will want to be able to touch what they read."

Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers president Sally Burdon said demand for rare books remained strong.

"People can get the text for free online, but it's the object, binding, paper and illustrations that tell a story about the time from which they were published," Ms Burdon said.

"You can trace human history through rare books."

Mr Owens said the rare-book market attracted big money.

"I had one in my hand the other day, which was Governor Bligh's account of the mutiny on the Bounty," he said.

"It had one page missing but otherwise would be worth $25,000 to $30,000."

He said John James Audubon's illustrated Birds of America was the most valuable book in the world.

Forbes magazine recently reported that a rare first edition of the book was worth $7 million to $10 million. An online version of the book can be seen here and you can view a video of his paintings in the carousel above. 

Ms Burdon said one of the most valuable books about Australia was John Gould's The Birds of Australia, which was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The seven volumes, produced between 1840 and 1848, can be read for free online on the National Library of Australia's website, at nla.gov.au.

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