Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2012 Issue

A Case for Buying from Dealers

L-5 jersey city and albany railway, 1875

A prospectus for the Jersey City and Albany Railway 1875

Buying books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera is no great task.  There are millions of items available today.  Finding material that is highly relevant to a collecting strategy and requiring that price roughly equal value is oh so much more difficult, buying from dealers who most often have such material  - at prices that provide a reasonable chance to someday sell for a profit  - even more of a challenge.
  

Locating common material is often easy and does not require the help of knowledgeable dealers.  For run-of-the-mill rarities listing sites and eBay provide thousands of opportunities.  Learning to differentiate between common and uncommon rarities and to sort them by relevance to your collecting focus however is an art learned slowly.  As a collector I’m focused on material relating to the Hudson Valley, in particular to people, places and things on both sides of the Hudson River between New York and Albany, an at once difficult to collect subject and also the subject of thousands, invariably tens of thousands of items.  Finding the right material is the challenge and experienced dealer perspective very useful.

For help I turned recently to two dealers, Bill Reese and Peter Luke, who routinely encounter the material I want.  Bill is of course the New Haven dealer and leader in the Americana field in the United States.  Peter, doing business as Peter Luke Antiques, Ephemera, Old and Rare Books, is a long experienced, deeply knowledgeable dealer whose home in the Hudson Valley in New Baltimore an hour south of Albany, gives him a window on the flow of the local material I most value.  Both have a practiced eye.

The easy logic is that dealers are often expensive and some sellers on listings sites and many sellers on eBay cheap.  Following that line of thinking I would buy more from the inexpensive sources and I in fact do.  This however ignores the value of dealer perspective.  What is rare?  What is important, what is “good condition for issue”?  Dealers see a great deal of material and some develop a sense of ‘relative condition’, an important criteria when it’s necessary to pay up.  Paying them for this perspective is part of the calculation in making them offers, deciding what to offer or accept often a tough call.  For these calculations I rely on the AED’s current value and probability of reappearance calculations as the basic measure of value and rarity and its very effective.

My collecting focus of course also needs to be on target.  An unfocused collection I build will sell but may disappoint just as a laser-like focus on an out-of-favor area may also fail financially.  Of course choosing a subject exclusively for its potential for profit may meet financial criterion but be unsatisfying.  Every collector has to balance these factors.  I long ago came down on the side of collecting passion and have worked hard to have my collection make sense and do this by considering every possibility and rejecting most.  If this sounds like I’m denying myself my wife will be quick to say “I haven’t seen that yet.”  My collection of early and interesting material relating to the Hudson Valley approaches, and probably exceeds, 3,000 items. 

The collection is large because I’ve been open to the possibilities the Internet has provided.  When speaking with dealers I explain that I collect narrowly and deeply.  As to minutia I consider it all.  And it turns out only institutions and very focused collectors want the deep detail I pursue so I’m constantly considering appealing material that few others want.  Items I want may start on eBay at $200 but 4 or 5 unsuccessful auctions later I buy them for $40.  This keeps prices within reason.

This may also limit the collection’s ultimate value because if there is no market now for much of what I buy, who is to say there will be a market for it in future?  I’m certain there will be but am less certain when.   Why so?  Because such focused collecting becomes important often only when it becomes very complete and has been explained.  Most collections are never complete and many of them fall into the hands of heirs who view such hard to understand aggregations as impediments to selling the real estate and therefore dispose of them quickly for a small fraction of their actual value.  In other words such collections are a little bit dangerous.  They can become important, and valuable, when complete.  They are otherwise often indistinguishable from the boxes of rubble that every collector, dealer and library has.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <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 Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750

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