Anthony Grafton

  • The Moonstruck Tuscan

    In the late Renaissance, many northern Europeans came to Italy in search of a world of natural wonders. The Swiss Hebraist Caspar Waser reported in 1593 to a friend in Basel that he had visited everything from Jewish printing houses in Venice to Roman sites outside Naples. But he dwelled on the natural philosophers whose thrilling museums he had seen: Ulisse Aldrovandi in Bologna and Giambattista della Porta and Francesco Imperato in Naples. Waser gaped at their magnificent collections, the shelves stocked with shells, fossils, monstrous fish, and Siamese-twin animals, the ceilings hung with


    What makes one copy of an old book more valuable than another? Should pristine copies, fresh and white, bring the highest prices? Or messy ones that show the complex and multiple signs of use? Over the last two centuries, most dealers, collectors, and librarians have preferred the former. Catalogue descriptions emphasized the handsome, unscarred bindings and crisp, clean paper that showed no one had ever read the books in question––much less smeared them with perspiration, messed up their neat rows of printed text by underlining striking sentences, or filled clear margins with scrawled comments.