Will Sideri made the find of a lifetime while scoping out an estate sale in Maine earlier this month: He paid $75 for a page of 700-year-old text that experts now say could be worth thousands, reports the Maine Monitor’s David Dahl.
Sideri, 24, was searching for a cake mixer at an estate sale in Waterville, a small town along I-95 in central Maine. While browsing on September 3, however, a different item caught his eye: a framed page featuring elaborate script and musical notations. A circular yellow sticker, attached to the lower right-hand corner, read “1285 AD. Illuminated manuscript on vellum. $75.’’
Sideri’s thoughts immediately flashed back to a course on medieval manuscripts he’d taken years earlier at Colby College. He snapped a quick photo of the framed page on his phone, then texted it to his former professor Megan Cook.
Cook then sent the photo to Lisa Fagin Davis, executive director of the Medieval Academy of America. Together, they determined that the page was actually a missing page from the Beauvais Missal, a 309-page, late 13th-century Roman Catholic prayer book written in or near Beauvais, France. Sideri, meanwhile, rushed home to get a check so he could buy the page.
I got to see @wsid30’s Beauvais Missal leaf yesterday, and we took it to visit its sister leaf in @ColbyCollege special collections. The Colby leaf has been conserved, but had environmental damage. Will’s leaf has been in that frame since the 1940s. Look how white the vellum is! pic.twitter.com/YHrLGCoJqr— Megan L. Cook (@meganlcook) September 9, 2022
The missing page, which had been well-preserved over the years, could be worth between $5,000 to $10,000, according to Davis.
“Students will often want to show or talk to me about an old book they own, but I’ve never had anyone approach me with material like this before,” Cook tells Artnet’s Vittoria Benzine.
The fully intact Beauvais Missal belonged to American businessman William Randolph Hearst, who sold it in the 1940s. Art dealers decided to take the document apart and sell it piece by piece, which was a common practice in the early 20h century. They “destroyed and scattered” thousands of manuscripts, Davis tells David Sharp of the Associated Press (AP).
Coincidentally, Davis had been looking for the now-dispersed leaves of the missal for several years when Sideri made his estate sale find. And she’s been successful: So far, she’s tracked down 114 pages from old barns, basements, museums and estate sales. Sideri found the page in the home of Colby College’s late director of financial aid, who died earlier this year.
“This stuff just shows up at the craziest places,’’ Davis tells the Maine Monitor.
What will become of the valuable leaf now? Its fate remains unclear, but Sideri says he has no plans to sell it. He may take it to his parents’ house to protect it from damage in case he moves. And, eventually, if he settles down, he’ll display it proudly and regale his friends with the story of his discovery.
“This is something at the end of the day that I know is cool,” Sideri tells the AP. “I didn’t buy this expecting to sell it.”