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Ken Sanders sent his book store staff to last weekend's New York City Book Fair, where they cast their eyes on a $100,000 copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, one of the oldest illustrated books in existence.
Meanwhile, back at home, Sanders volunteered his appraisal services for a fundraiser at the Sandy Museum, where the bookseller believes he stumbled upon a copy of the same five-centuries-old book.
"You can imagine how my jaw dropped," Sanders said. "Usually these appraisals are one long exercise in telling people there's no way they can retire on their old book collections."
Copies of the book, a world history of events and western cities as told in the Bible, are among the most venerated finds by book collectors and appraisers. It's estimated that up to 1,500 Latin copies and up to 1,000 German copies of the book were made. Some 400 Latin copies and 300 German copies are thought to have endured the passage of time to become today's museum pieces and collectors' items.
Esteemed for its hundreds of wood-cut illustrations, very few copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle remain intact because portions were often taken apart for use as art. The 1493 book is also prized for its printing connection to Anton Koberger, one of the biggest names in early printing, said Luise Poulton, curator and head of rare books at the University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library.
"That's a big-deal book, and if this is an honest-to-gosh authentic find that would be amazing," Poulton said.
The book is so central to publishing history that the Marriott Library has several Nuremberg Chronicle leafs of its own.
Sanders said the copy he examined was written in German, with up to six black-and-white illustrations per page. Although no longer bound, the two boards and pages of plant-based fiber paper are in hearty shape.
Sanders said the Utah owner wishes to remain anonymous for a time. He planned on golfing or hiking last Saturday, but with bad weather decided to at last get his family's book appraised, Sanders said. It was inherited from an uncle in Pennsylvania, and the Utah man paid Sandy Historical Museum $2 for Sander's volunteer appraisal.
The book's most fascinating aspect isn't its potential worth, but its link to the past, Sanders said. It was published one year after Columbus sailed for the New World, and just 31 years after Gutenberg invented moveable type. Sanders said he saw no apparent red flags to suggest it's not authentic, but the volume will be examined for page count and its provenance investigated.
After that, the book is expected to be on display starting Wednesday at Ken Sanders Rare Books in downtown Salt Lake City.
The display of the Nuremberg Chronicle will mark the second time in a year that Sanders' store has hosted a rare book of historic importance. Last fall, the store displayed a 1831 family Bible belonging to Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Emma Hale Smith.
"You expect to see old Mormon books in these parts, and I've seen a lot of those," Sanders said. "You just don't expect to see a kind of epochal find at a local appraisal in your neighborhood museum or library."
When • The book from 1493 will be on display beginning April 13. Store hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Where • Ken Sanders Rare Books, 268 S. 200 East, Salt Lake City
Info • Call 801-521-3819 for more information, or visit http://www.kensandersbooks.com/shop/rarebooks.