OCLC as a guide to book value
– usefulness and limitations
– February 4th, 2007

Have you ever seen a book listed by a bookseller in which the bookseller remarks ‘Only x copies in OCLC’ to justify a very high price?

After noticing this a number of times, I naturally found myself asking myself ‘What is OCLC and how do I access it?’

What I have discovered so far is that OCLC appears to be a co-operatively run international organisation of participating libraries whose holdings are catalogued within a unified database of books that is freely accessible over the Internet by anyone at all. Thus the idea is that anyone wanting to know where to find a rare or scholarly book to research can simply select the relevant author, title and edition date in OCLC and see a list of all holdings of that book in a particular country.

Since there are many hundreds of libraries, especially in North America and the UK, but also throughout Western Europe, that are members of OCLC, its database serves as a very useful sample of the holdings of libraries across these parts of the world, and thus as a rough indicator of the prevalence of particular books in libraries within North America and Western Europe.

There are a few limitations however:

First and foremost, not all the best libraries are members, or if they are, not all of them have yet had their contents adequately catalogued in OCLC. The British Library, which has vast holdings of almost every subject under and beyond the sun, at first appeared to me not to be a member. However, I’m no longer sure of this since I did catch a match for one title in the British Library this morning, so perhaps the British Library has recently joined but has yet to have most of its very voluminous catalogues incorporated into the database – certainly virtually all of the astrological titles from the British Library that can be found by searching in the British Library’s own website fail to show up on OCLC. In practice, this entails that anyone disappointed by the lack of usefully located UK-based results for particular book-searches in OCLC should at the very least separately check the British Library website before presuming that there is no copy of the book wanted in the British Library, because there probably will be one even if the book is not listed as being in any British library on OCLC.

Secondly, the prevalence of certain classes of literature in libraries is a relatively poor guide to the prevalence of surviving copies in private hands, and thus likely to appear for sale used. While academic astrological textbooks, volumes of essays, and critical editions can often be found in fifty to two-hundred libraries in OCLC, they may be so very scarce in private hands that it is rare to find a single copy for sale on the worldwide used book market, and they may command very high second-hand private sale prices accordingly.

Conversely, non-academic, non-historically-discursive astrological books and journals may have been shunned by the vast majority of libraries worldwide as being of no serious value, and as a consequence the numbers that have survived in OCLC member libraries may be in only single or low double digits, yet there may be significant numbers floating about on the used book market because of a much greater volume of the same works having survived in private ownership.

Still, it is probably fair to presume that in the cases of non-academic astrology books, where ten to twenty copies are found listed in OCLC throughout North America and western Europe, there will be a much higher chance of used copies coming up for private sale than if there are only three to five copies found in OCLC. So as a guide to scarcity and value OCLC still has its uses for collectors.

OCLC can be accessed directly from the home page of www.worldcatlibraries.org. It can take a while to get the hang of using the database in the most efficient way, since the navigation system is a little arcane, and many older works with longer subtitles are found to have been entered under several different names by different libraries, even if the edition is the same. Narrowing results by date of publication is extremely helpful however.

I was looking there earlier today, and discovered for instance that surviving copies of the original first and second editions of Lilly’s ‘Christian Astrology’ are much more numerous than surviving copies of Gadbury’s first edition of ‘The Doctrine of Nativities’ or Partridge’s first edition of ‘Mikropanastron’. This was slightly surprising to me at first in view of the much higher values commanded by 17th century copies of Christian Astrology on the second-hand market – typically $3250 or more for a copy in sound condition but lacking an original frontispiece portrait, whereas copies of Gadbury are currently available for $1500 and Partridge was recently available for the same price. But then the relative scarcity of the works of Gadbury and Partridge no doubt reflects the greater success of Lilly as an astrological writer in his day, as well as the enduring popularity of his work through the centuries since – many more copies of Christian Astrology were probably produced in the first place; and those that have survived are in high demand from today’s astrologers.

Some of the very scarcest of all astrological works both in OCLC member libraries and in private ownership would appear to be journals. Even when I’ve managed to obtain copies of the vast majority of astrological books of any importance from the 20th century, the same does not hold true of astrological journals. They have either been disposed of as ephemera, or have been stored away in a very limited number of widely dispersed and in many cases poorly identifiable private collections.

It is probably true that anyone who belatedly begins to try to piece together an astrological library including works from the past will struggle in the greatest measure when it comes to collecting complete or even significant past runs of many astrological journals. Established astrological libraries that have subscribed continuously to such journals over decades cannot hope to be equalled in this respect.

Here are some more precise figures showing the prevalance of certain astrological texts in OCLC, although owing to the often confusing way in which the data is presented, with results from different editions being pooled together by default, it took me quite a long time to extract these figures for particular editions!

Coley ‘Clavis Astrologiae Elimata’ (1676): 11 copies in USA, 4 in UK
Lilly ‘Christian Astrology’ (1647): 9 copies in USA, none in UK
Lilly ‘Christian Astrology’ (1659): 14 copies in USA, 2 in UK
Gadbury ‘Doctrine of Nativities’ (1658): none in USA, 1 copy in UK
Gadbury ‘Doctrine of Nativities’ (1660): 1 in USA, none in UK
Gadbury ‘Doctrine of Nativities’ (1661): 1 in USA, none in UK
John Partridge ‘Mikropanastron, or an Astrological Vade Mecum’ (1679): 5 in USA, 1 in Australia, none in UK
John Partridge ‘Defectio Geniturarum’ (1697): 7 in USA, none in UK

Note: It was very difficult to obtain verification of the existence of any copy of the 1658 edition of the Doctrine of Nativities, since only microform copies appeared to be present until, searching via a later edition, I discovered that Glasgow had a copy of the 1658 edition that had been recorded in the same file as a later edition!

I may look up some more later, but this was an interesting start! It shows that there are more second editions than first editions of Lilly extant in OCLC member libraries, with 25 copies of the two editions combined found in the US and UK, and that there is a reasonably good survival of Coley in libraries too, with 15 copies of the 1676 edition in the US and UK, but that the most famous astrological works of Gadbury and Partridge are considerably thinner on the ground.


The thought has occurred to me that if the British Library and the major private astrological and metaphysical organisations that have significant libraries joined OCLC also and submitted their holdings, the picture would be very much more complete for our purposes.

Or perhaps an independent co-operative database could be set up of specialised astrological collections, with the co-operation of those responsible. Thus, to take some obvious examples:

1) the AFA research library,
2) the library of the Astrological Lodge in London,
3) the collection that has recently been in place at the Sophia Centre, Bath Spa, but may be moved to another institution within the UK,
4) any collection that may presumably be held by the NCGR,
5) the collection of Project Hindsight,
6) the collection of Rob Hand’s ARHAT,
7) the private collection in Canada from which Ballantrae Reprints are sourced,
8 ) the private collection from which the Sacred Science Institute’s reprints are sourced,
9) the huge collection at Michael Erlewine’s ‘Heart Center’,
10) Kepler College’s library,
11) what remains of the Seattle Metaphysical Library,
12) the collection of the Astrologisk Museum in Denmark,
13) the collection of Aureas in France,
14) the collection of the Philosopical Research Society (Manly P Hall’s famous library)
15+) any other substantial private collections owned by individual astrologers and enthusiasts (and I’m sure there are many),

…could be catalogued on a unified database of use to astrologers…. This would then begin to give a truer picture of the numbers of rare astrological books maintained in proper, durable collections, and would help to safeguard their preservation too by putting their contents on a list of important collections to be maintained for posterity, increasing the chance that the astrological community will pull together to save their books as a collection in the unfortunate event that a sole owner or manager passes on.

I’m going to go back to OCLC and do some more searching this afternoon. Back later!


I would take this further still, but someone wants to use the computer now, so I had to stop with an incomplete list which jumps rather suddenly from the most famous Renaissance texts to James Wilson and Ashmand’s first edition translations of Ptolemy, without stopping en route for Sibly or expanding on Lilly and Gadbury to include their other works. This must be rectified later. So please regard this list as work in progress!

So anyway, here is what I discovered about OCLC-member library holdings of Renaissance-era astrology books so far, (plus Wilson and Ashmand’s first editions from the early 19th century!):

Argoli ‘De Diebus Criticis’ (1639): 10 in USA, 2 in UK
Argoli ‘De Diebus Criticis’ (1652): 4 in USA, none in UK
Coley ‘Clavis Astrologiae Elimata’ (1676): 11 copies in USA, 4 in UK
Dariot ‘A Breefe and Most Easie Introduction to the Judgement of the Starres’ (1583): 1 in USA, none in UK
Dariot ‘A Breefe and Most Easie Introduction to the Judgement of the Starres’ with G.C. ‘A Brief Treatise on Mathematical Phisicke’ (1598): 8 in USA, 3 in UK
Dariot, G.C., etc. ‘Dariotus Redivivus’ (1653): 10 in USA, 2 in UK
Gadbury ‘Doctrine of Nativities’ (1658): none in USA, 1 copy in UK
Gadbury ‘Doctrine of Nativities’ (1660): 1 in USA, none in UK
Gadbury ‘Doctrine of Nativities’ (1661): 1 in USA, none in UK
Giuntini, Francesco ‘Speculum Astrologiae’ (1573): 2 in USA, 2 in UK, 1 in Germany
Giuntini, Francesco ‘Speculum Astrologiae’ (1575): 3 in USA, 1 in France, none in UK
Giuntini, Francesco ‘Speculum Astrologiae’ (1581-3): 3 in USA, none in UK
Lilly, William ‘Christian Astrology’ (1647): 9 copies in USA, none in UK
Lilly, William ‘Christian Astrology’ (1659): 14 copies in USA, 2 in UK
Morin, Jean-Baptiste ‘Astrologia Gallica’ (1661): 7 in USA, 3 in France, 1 in UK, 1 in Germany
Partridge, John ‘Mikropanastron, or an Astrological Vade Mecum’ (1679): 5 in USA, 1 in Australia, none in UK
Partridge, John ‘Defectio Geniturarum’ (1697): 7 in USA, none in UK
Partridge, John ‘Opus Reformatum’ (1693): 3 in USA, none in UK
Placido Titi ‘Physiomathematica’ (1650): 3 in USA, 1 in France, 1 in Germany, 1 in UK
Placido Titi ‘Physiomathematica’ (1675): 3 in USA, none in UK
Ptolemy ‘Tetrabiblos’, transl. Ashmand (1822): 17 in USA, 6 in UK
Ptolemy ‘Tetrabiblos’, transl. Wilson (1828, according to UCLC, though I always thought this edition was from 1820!): 11 in USA, 3 in UK
Ramesey, William ‘Astrologia Restaurata’ (1654): 7 in USA, 5 in UK
Rantzau, Henrik ‘Tractatus Astrologicus’ (1593): 2 in USA, 2 in Netherlands, none in UK
Rantzau, Henrik ‘Tractatus Astrologicus’ (1615): 2 in USA, 1 in France, 1 in Netherlands, none in UK
Rantzau, Henrik ‘Tractatus Astrologicus’ (1625): 2 in USA, none in UK
Rantzau, Henrik ‘Tractatus Astrologicus’ (1633): 1 in USA, 2 in France, 1 in Netherlands, none in UK
Salmon, William ‘Horae Mathematica, seu Urania, or The Soul of Astrology’ (1679): none in USA or UK – only microform copies, so no books in any OCLC-registered library worldwide, astonishingly enough!
Schoner, Johannes ‘De iudiciis nativitatum libri tres’ (1545): none in USA, 2 in UK
Wilson, James ‘Dictionary of Astrology’ (1819): 7 in USA, 4 in UK

By the way, it’s worth noting that the 1652 edition of Argoli is much expanded over the 1639 edition, the 1653 edition of Dariot has the most additional texts and is therefore also the most valuable edition, and the 1581-3 edition of Giuntini (aka Junctinus) is by far the longest and most valuable edition.

There is some inconsistency in recorded editions of the Rantzau work. Krown and Spellman are offering a 1594 second edition, which I could not find listed at OCLC at all, and which is claimed to have just over 600 pages (as against 357 for the 1593 edition) and to be ‘the basis for all subsequent reprints of the work’, for $3000 currently. However, I seem to recall coming across a claim elsewhere recently that at least one of the later editions had a page count more in common with the 1593 edition rather than the 1594 edition. So anyone looking for the most complete edition to research in a library should prospect the later editions with careful advance questioning of librarians before paying for an expensive research trip!

Share to:

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.