The criteria by which a library “treasure” or “rarity” may be defined are variable. Of the several applicable definitions, the most common determines the degree of rarity of a book by taking into account demand and supply issues, and other specific content and edition features that make it unique and/or unusual. Therefore, for numerous reasons, a book may become rare and valuable despite having been perfectly ordinary at the time it was published.
The collection of books gathered by Calouste Gulbenkian comprises a considerable number of works that may be classified as “rarities” or “treasures”, as they possess specific and peculiar features. There are many different examples. Some of these books were dedicated to Calouste Gulbenkian by a vast array of personalities belonging to political, literary, artistic and business milieus: Saint-John Perse, the pseudonym of poet Alexis Léger; Maurice Sandoz, writer, composer and art collector, and André Breuil, pre-historic art specialist, just to name a few.
The “rare” set of books, also comprises works that had limited editions, like the magnificent Le livre d’heures de Louis Legrand (1898), copy number 124 out of an edition of 160, or The holy carpet of the Mosque at Ardebil, which contains five watercolours prints and two photolithographs, and was copy number 2 out of an edition limited to only 50 impressions. In addition, some copies were purposely printed for Calouste Gulbenkian. Les grands châteaux en France (1907), for example, had an edition of 600 copies, of which number 2 was especially printed for the Collector. Included in the “rare” or “precious” set of books are also old items dating back to different centuries. Amongst these, it is worth mentioning Les quatres premiers livres des navigations et peregrinations orientales, published in Lyon, in 1568; The travels of Sir John Chardin into Persia and the East Indies, published in London, in 1686; and Elements d’orfévrerie, published in Paris, in 1748.
Also belonging to this section is a significant number of books that have unique bindings, ex libris and/or coat of arms of their previous owners. Purchased from other personal libraries by Calouste Gulbenkian, these books include: Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bósphore (1807?), which belonged to the Library of the Duchess of Berry; Symbolica Dianae Ephesiae statua a Caludio Menetreio Ceimeliothecae Barberinae praefecto exposita (1688), which shows the ex libris of the Duke of Bedford; and Hints on ornamental gardening, acquired at Thomas Hope’s library auction sale, in 1917, and showing Hope’s coat of arms in the front cover.
This section on library “treasures” would not be complete if one would not include all the works that contain Calouste Gulbenkian’s handwritten notes and those that show visible traces of having been extensively handled or attentively read by the Collector. Their importance lies in the way they provide valuable clues about the Collector’s research and study methods, as well as his interests and preferences. These library “treasures” are to be found in the all the thematic sections that make up the whole library, thus evidencing Calouste Gulbenkian’s eclecticism, his several interests, and most importantly, his commitment and need to pursue knowledge.
Voyage d'Italie, de Dalmatie, de Grece, et du Levant, fait aux années 1675 et 1676 par Jacob Spon et George Wheler / par Jacob Spon et George Wheler et Jacob Spon, George Wheler. - Amsterdam : Henry & Theodore Boom, 1679.
Voyage pittoresque de Constantinople et des rives du Bosphore / [d'après les dessins de M. Melling, architecte de l'Empereur Sélim III et dessinateur de la Sultane Hadidgé sa soeur] ; [rédigé par J. C. D. de Lacretelle et J. D. Barbié du Bocage]. - [Paris [etc.] : Treuttel et Würtz : Pierre Didot l'ainé, 1807?].