Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2011 Issue

A Sale that Confirms

Ae-12

AE: The American Experience

On December 2nd Bonhams in New York and via simulcast in San Francisco, conducted the sale of "The American Experience 1630 - 1890".  As the consignor I can confirm it was an experience.  The sale was presented as an unreserved mirror-on-the-market event and everyone seemed to see the results differently.  As Shakespeare might have said, "the mirror always lies" or tries to.  For myself it was confirmation of the efficacy of 'the-auction-as-event' approach and evidence of the endemic market weakness that prevails today.  In succinct terms the sale brought a 20% premium on its full original cost.   More than 200 registered to bid, 34 of which were new bidders at Bonhams.  Thirty-seven spent more than $10,000.  The overall bidding pool represented 29 American states and 8 countries.  The house issued a superb catalogue, offered it widely,  and advertised the sale extensively.  A series of videos were issued.  All that could be done was done.   The outcome was very good but the results, given the support Bonhams provided, may be difficult to duplicate.        

 

The sale worked while suggesting comparative weakness.  The highly valuable and rarest material sold well as it has elsewhere throughout the downturn, common rarities less well.  The threshold between 'safe and supported' material probably rose to more than $5,000.  A decade ago it was $1,000, as recently as three years ago around $2,500. 

 

During much of the past decade such material has been listed by dealers at somewhat higher prices, reflecting the general strength of the rarest books that have been trending up over the past twenty years.  However, in this sale, when exposed to public reappraisal without reserves the community that buys, sells and collects often stepped aside to let items change hands for substantially less than what they themselves asked years ago.  This suggests two possibilities.  Prices may not so much have fallen as been exposed as inflated.   Alternatively prices may have risen with the market but now fall at different rates, the middle of the market demonstrably weaker than the first tier.  As to which view is more accurate it's unclear and probably irrelevant.  When I was acquiring the material I believed the prices made sense.  That the market's view changes is unsurprising.  Neither is dealer pricing infallible.  In buying primarily from Bill Reese I didn't know then what I know now - that he often bids at auction on items he sold.  In this sale which brought $4.058 million he was the largest buyer by lots and dollar volume.  Every collector should have such a dealer.         


Posted On: 2011-01-01 00:00
User Name: arader

Congratulations on your successful sale Bruce.

This is a great essay that was very useful to read.

What I would like to read next would be your v


Posted On: 2011-01-09 00:00
User Name: jaysnider

Bruce, first of all, congratulations on building a tremendous collection. I appreciate your analysis, and I'm sure this was bittersweet.
I'd like t


Posted On: 2011-01-10 00:00
User Name: MiRIAMGREEN

William Reese is to be commended for stepping up and gathering back your book inventory purchased from him, like the Oriental rug dealer tha


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions