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Some of you might know that I volunteer for Books to Prisoners. Our book donations fall into a few categories: the majority go on the stacks for future dispatch to prisoners; other books not suitable/requested in prisons go to the bargain bins (25c-$1) at Left Bank Books; and good quality titles we sell online (I think?) for the $5 or $10 we anticipate. This third scenario crops up infrequently.

All monies raised from book-sales goes toward postage … and it is postage that accounts for most of BTP expenditure.

Last night, I was sorting some old donations – the usual suspects were there (Alice Walker, Louis L’Amour, John Le Carre, James Patterson) as were the much-needed non-fiction (Spanish dictionaries, parenting books, American history titles, etc.)

I did not expect to come across an original edition fine art photography book. I put Images a la Sauvette, Photographies par Henri Cartier Bresson aside while I sorted the thrillers from the biographies from the media studies text books.

At the end of the night I picked Images a la Sauvette up again. It was obviously too large and too heavy to go on the stacks. During my induction, I remember high end monographs were mentioned specifically as candidates for sale rather than dispatch. I new this was a special book, but I didn’t realise it was Cartier-Bresson’s foundational work, fully illustrating his ‘Decisive Moment’ philosophy.

The book is beautiful. Published by Editions Verve, Paris in 1952. The cover was designed by Matisse purposefully for the book. There are 126 pages of full-sized (37 x 27.5 cm) black-and-white gravure reproductions. The cover is strong, the spine a little discoloured. The pages are in fine fettle. The pages are bound to one another tightly but as a group have come away from the spine. Still, gorgeous.

I instantly thought it might be worth more than your average book – I hoped maybe $100, perhaps even $200. That amount would pay for a fair whack of postage, right? A few hundred books, right?

After getting home, I checked out the specifics. The proceeds from the sale of this book are to pay for postage on thousands rather than hundreds of books. Depending on which source you credit, make allowances for the condition of this copy and factor in the state of the book market, it could be worth anything between $1,000 and $3,200.

Antiqbook pegs it at $1,053; AbeBooks start it at $1,260 running it up to $7,700 (for what I guess is a pristine copy); Franklin Books values it at just shy of three grand and Bauman Books pushes it a little further to $3,200. In 2007, PhotoEye auctioned a copy for $2,250.

Books to Prisoners has never sold a book of such high value before so we’re a little stumped. I guess we’ll get a local dealer to stick a valuation on it and then carefully search out buyers. We’ll likely use AbeBooks. I’ll let you know in due course. If you have any advice or interest, please drop me a line.

In the mean time, salivate over these images:

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