This chapter and the next again focus on the medieval reader; not to examine how the manuscript reflects reading practices, as is done in the section Reading in Context, but to deal with aspects of book ownership. Like modern readers, medieval people owned two types of books: some were bought new, others secondhand. The two are very different entities, as we all know. New copies are expensive, pristine, and probably present a current publication, while second-hand ones, by contrast, are damaged, may smell of cigars, and potentially present an older edition of the text. Apart from the cigar smell, not much has changed in this regard since the Middle Ages. In that era, too, books were bought both new and pre-owned. And like most books today, their value differed greatly. We know this in part thanks to a familiar piece of information that is sometimes encountered in a medieval book: price tags.
Medieval booksellers carefully set a value on both the new and the second-hand books that they offered for sale. Mind you, while they had the second-hand copies in stock, ready to be browsed by potential clients, the new ones still needed to be made. For these, arrangements awaited, regarding both material features and price. While it is difficult to deduce precisely which factors were in play in the appraisal process of second-hand books, availability and looks were probably deemed important. Manuscripts with illustrations or with a decorative binding, for example, may have been more expensive than plain copies bound in a parchment wrapper. Unlike today, the text's edition was unimportant (there were no publishers, editions, or even title pages), nor was the pristine preservation of the copy in question: it was common for medieval readers to jot down notes in the margins anyway, so few copies were truly pristine for long.
Surviving price tags, while rare, add a real-world dimension to these inferences and assumptions. The tags are usually found on the first or last page of the book, commonly at the very top so that they could be easily found (Figure 113). These prices were sometimes added next to individual copies listed in book inventories, which were made if an owner planned to sell, or if he or she had died.