Antiques that open a window into another time...

Our antiques expert Allan Blackburn takes a look at the value of centuries-old diaries.
This book is part of a beautiful set of Pepyss diaries containing eight volumesThis book is part of a beautiful set of Pepyss diaries containing eight volumes
This book is part of a beautiful set of Pepyss diaries containing eight volumes

So, we really are into 2019, and I’m gradually training myself to writing the new date (it usually takes till about Easter to stop automatically putting the previous year!)

Dare I ask how the resolutions are going? A recurrent one, often on receipt of a beautifully bound present, is to keep a diary, so this week I thought we’d have a look at some entertaining (and highly collectable) examples compiled over the centuries.

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No one knows exactly when diary writing was recognised as a form. “To Myself”, or “Meditations”, written by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the 2nd century, displays many characteristics of a diary. The 11th century Arabic diary by Ibn Banna' is the earliest existing example arranged in date order like modern diaries.

Published diaries of the famous became popular in the Victorian age, and have remained so ever since. Great area of academic study, they often reveal aspects of life which official history has neglected. From Churchill and Lewis Carroll to local famous diarists Dorothy Wordsworth and Lady Anne Clifford, diaries are by turn riveting, harrowing and entertaining reads.

Collecting diaries is a great hobby. Abridgement can affect value as well as personal reading taste; published editions (and there will be dozens, if not hundreds, of the most famous) will be varyingly-edited versions of longer originals. Often the earlier the version, the less abridged, higher volume, and higher value, especially if beautifully bound. Paradoxically, some abridged editions can be more valuable, if they have been edited and introduced or annotated by a famous editor.

As you’d expect with multiple book sets, there is a high risk of missing or damaged volumes. Check carefully, sadly it is not uncommon for a volume to be unscrupulously replaced with one from a different edition, slashing its worth.

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Samuel Pepys's 17th century accounts are the earliest examples of diaries still widely read today, recording great moments of historical significance including the Great Fire of London.

First published in 1825, the full ten-year diary runs to over a million words, but there have been many abridged versions over the years. This beautiful set of Pepys’s diaries contains eight volumes of diary plus one index volume.