How Much Is a Wine Book Collection Worth? $2 Million, Maybe …

Veteran California winemaker Sean Thackrey’s assemblage of more than 700 historic wine reference books and manuscripts dating to the 6th century goes on sale at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair

How Much Is a Wine Book Collection Worth? $2 Million, Maybe …
A rare 1826 first edition of Dufour's The American Vine-Dresser's Guide is among the treasures of the Thackrey Library. (Courtesy of Ben Kinmont Bookseller)
Apr 22, 2022

We love books about wine. And many of us are quite proud of our wine reference collections, but few libraries hold a decanting candle to that of California winemaker Sean Thackrey. He’s been compiling wine-related books and manuscripts for decades, and now his massive collection of more than 700 tomes and documents—which date to as early as the 6th century—is up for sale at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair. Asking price: $2 million. (Update: Bookseller Ben Kinmont reports that the Thackrey Library has sold for $2 million.)

“Any institution [that] purchased this would put themselves on the map as one of the most important places in the world to come research the history of wine,” Sonoma-based antiquarian bookseller Ben Kinmont told Wine Spectator. Kinmont, a specialist in wine- and food-related texts, has been working with Thackrey to curate and sell the library. “[It’s] of immense significance, because it has so many early-printed books, so many books that [were] printed before the year 1600.”

The Thackrey Library is one of the world’s largest privately owned collections of wine texts. Of course, it represents a great deal more to the man who assembled it. Thackrey has been consulting his collection for decades as a guide to growing grapes and making wine.

According to Kinmont, only one other winemaker has assembled such a collection in the past 150 years: Inglenook founder Gustave Niebaum. “I think the reason [Thackrey] didn’t sell it before is that he was still using the collection,” Kinmont said. “A collection such as Sean’s can be an incredible source of information for winemakers today to reconsider their own craft.” But it isn’t just about wine for Thackrey; as Kinmont explained, the collection is deeply important to him as a broader testament to the progress of human civilization.

 This 6th century papyrus leaf indicates the sale of grapevines from a monastery to a local farmer in Egypt.
This 6th century papyrus leaf indicates the sale of grapevines from a monastery to a local farmer in Egypt. (Courtesy of Ben Kinmont Bookseller)

The Thackrey Library’s oldest document is a 6th century papyrus receipt for vines, and among the approximately 50 pieces Kinmont is displaying at the fair are a 14th century illuminated leaf of a man stomping grapes, a 15th century edition of Arnaldus de Villanova’s De Vinis (one of the first significant works on winemaking) and several 16th century manuscripts previously owned by wine merchant and writer André Simon. If you won’t be attending the fair or dropping $2 million on the collection, Thackrey has helpfully transcribed some of his library, viewable at his website, wine-maker.net.

“We will be exhibiting and showing things that have never, ever been seen before at a fair or even in any exhibition,” Kinmont said. “Some of the books are so rare that this will be my one chance in my lifetime to handle them and see them.”


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