MADRID, SPAIN. It is no exaggeration to say that whatever kind of literature you are looking for, you will find it at the Feria de Libro in Madrid, with stalls ranging from guidebooks to foreign literature to comics. Walking through the Retiro there are many unexpected treasures, and something even the most avid book fan may not have come across.

I am drawn to displays of large, old-looking books and illuminated manuscripts with the most ornate decoration. After enquiring with a few bookshop owners, I learn that most of these are facsimiles (copies of the original.) Scriptorium is displaying a copy of the ‘Beato de la Liébana de las Huelgas’, the original of which is in New York. Approximately 600 copies have been made by machine that even have exactly the same defects as the original. These books are still extremely impressive with detailed drawings and vivid colours. They retail at the price of €5000.

A couple of stalls away is Librerīa Lorer which looks much like Scriptorium. However, when I ask the owner, Alberto, if he has any originals, his eyes light up as he says that he does. He points to a large book on display, declaring, “I want people, especially children, to be able to touch them and feel the parchment.”

This particular book is one of Alberto’s most prized. It is the “Breviario de la Liturgia de las horas”, a collection of daily prayers dating from 1771. Alberto houses the book in his private collection, and would only sell to someone from Madrid as it is firmly rooted in the city’s history. It comes from the Parroquía de San Andrés (Parish of St Andrew), one of the most important in Madrid.

How the book ended up out of the hands of the Parish is unclear. It may have been sold to raise money for the Parish or stolen and then sold. However, Alberto indicates that it is unlikely that it was stolen as the pages are in perfect condition and none have been torn out. It was custom to tear out pages and sell them individually for maximum profit. How much is the book worth in its current condition? Approximately €30000.

This is not the most valuable book, or even the oldest, that Alberto has brought to the Feria. On one shelf is a small glass case and inside is a book roughly the size of a matchbox. Alberto takes it out of the case and tells me to be careful. He then hands me a magnifying glass to better see the incredible detail of the minute brushstrokes. This prayer book comes from Rouen in France and dates back to 1515. It is made of vellum, a parchment coming from calfskin. The price tag does not match its tiny size, however. To own this piece of history would cost approximately €42000.

Alberto is bringing his relics of the past to life at the Feria del Libro. Whilst the facsimiles are impressive, there is a certain magic in touching something that was created while Leonardo da Vinci was alive. There are few opportunities to see such old works outside museums, and even fewer opportunities to actually be able to touch them. As you walk through the Retiro, make sure to stop at Librería Lorer; I imagine Alberto’s treasures won’t be sold any time soon.