SALT LAKE CITY — Rare-book dealer Ken Sanders has seen more than his share of old books. But he's never seen one in Utah quite like ancient tome that made his jaw drop last weekend.
"It's a real thrill and a treat to hold something in your hand that was new when Columbus discovered America and the New World," he said of the dilapidated book that is more than 500 years old, making it one of the oldest books ever printed with movable type.
Since the book surfaced during a fundraising event for the Sandy Museum, its owner has bowed out of the media limelight and has put his treasure under wraps.
Sanders was attending the event as a volunteer, appraising books for museum visitors. A man pulled a book out of a garbage bag, telling Sanders he had something that was very, very old. According to Sanders, the man said, "Well this here, I got this, it's the Nuremberg Chronicles."
Sanders exclaimed, "What?" in astonishment because he knew of the book's lofty historical reputation. "And sure enough," Sanders said, "lo and behold, it was!"
Assuming the edition found in Utah is authentic, it was actually printed in 1493, in the same century that Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press. The Nuremberg Chronicle was already 100 years old when Shakespeare put on his first stage play.
"Well it's very important," Sanders said. "It's considered to be one of the world's first illustrated books printed with movable type."
The book was that era's equivalent of a history and travel book. But for its day, it was exceptionally lavish in its illustrations. "It has some 1800 woodcut illustrations in it," Sanders said. "Every page has an illustration, which is highly unusual for a book of that antiquity."
The owner requested anonymity from Sanders and the museum. He told Sanders he inherited the book from an uncle in Pennsylvania.
"It passed the smell test. Just, 'yeah, this is real!'" Sanders said. "Outside of a museum or a library, I'd never seen one before. And I'd never got to touch one."
The book is probably worth at least $25,000, Sanders said, and possibly as much as $100,000 if all the pages are there.
The book is in serious disrepair, as is typical for books from the 15th Century. The binding is so deteriorated that pages are stacked in loose-leaf fashion with many pages out of order. Sanders has not yet determined if the book is complete.
The owner has tentatively agreed to put it up for sale through Ken Sanders Rare Books. In the next few days, Sanders hopes to put it on public display. But he said he cannot offer it for sale until the book's authenticity is verified.