Print world auction expert Christopher Coover dies at 72

Unseen, he was able to recite the dedication, in Italian (he said he saw 10 to 15 copies of the score with the same words), and identified the reader’s find as a simple photolithographic copy.

Again, he said, seemingly ordinary documents can contain surprises.

“An otherwise boring newspaper or series of family letters recording mostly weather and local news might contain a lengthy description of an election campaign, protests against the Stamp Act, summoning the Confederacy to write a constitution, or a Pancho Villa raid,” he told the Williamsburg newspaper.

“Historical nuggets in original manuscripts are often buried, but rarely deep,” he added. “I once discovered an outstanding letter from Ethan Allen at the bottom of a pile of old deeds, copies of minor poetry, and otherwise uninteresting papers.”

Assessing an item’s monetary value is highly subjective, he said.

“Family Bibles and birth and death records are valuable for their genealogical information, but they have very little commercial value,” he said in Marsha Bemko’s book “Antiques Roadshow: Behind the Scenes” ( 2009), “and I think it’s a shame to see little old ladies queuing for hours while lifting a 40-pound Bible that’s financially worth very little.

“You have to trust your innate instincts and your perception of the size of the potential market,” he said. “The value of certain letters and documents can only be determined by letting the free market operate, by auction.”

Mr. Coover recalled that in 1992 the grandson of a recently deceased woman asked him to appraise his book collection. He visited his Manhattan apartment and immediately realized that the books were not of much value, but as he was leaving the grandson asked him to look at some papers in a tattered Manila envelope .

Inside, Mr Coover told The Times in 2004, he found an old black leather book with the word “autograph” embossed in gold on the cover. On the very first page, he recognized Lincoln’s signature, followed by the handwritten last paragraph of his second inaugural address. He told the young man that a single page was worth at least $250,000. When it finally went to auction, it sold for $1.2 million.

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