Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2013 Issue

An Old Man in a New World – recounting my experience with rare books

Page1

Early images of a life with books

Recounting my experience with rare books.

How does someone becomes a book collector?  In this recounting I retrace my career with old books from the moment of my first awareness through to the present, the traditional world of books and book collecting for me a receding memory, the electronic world of dealer catalogues and offers, eBay and auctions now every day emerging.   And juxtaposed against this flow a database that captures and contextualizes material permitting me to quickly understand what passes into view.  This no doubt is the greatest era for book collecting and it is an extraordinary privilege to be involved as the larva, now some four hundred years old, becomes the butterfly.  This is my story.

Becoming Smitten

I’m among the 10% of the population that collects seriously.  Most of the other 90% collect if not so aggressively, everything from seashells to potholders.  What we don’t throw out turns into collections after a while.  For those who collect seriously we share some common genes or perhaps a defective one, your view depending on whether you are the collector or live with one.

As a boy I lived in Ohioville, once a trolley stop east of New Paltz in Ulster County, mid-way between New York City and Albany in New York State.  My parents owned, by a thread, five weekly newspapers covering the villages between Newburgh to the south, Poughkeepsie to the east and Kingston to the north.  This was then a no-man’s land, the bride waiting at the altar for the groom that never arrived.  “This place will be big some day,” my father used to say but somehow it never was.  For myself it was simply home.

About collecting I don't think I had a choice.  Early on I searched boxes stored in our attic and closets and established we had many collections, most of them in hiding.  At some point I asked and was told to mind my own business.  I was six or seven.

My father had stamp, baseball card and penny collections and all kinds of golf memorabilia, everything from his first golf bag to every scorecard he ever filled out. My mother had books, a lot of them.  Nothing old mind you, she simply bought and bought and read and read.  Books, after her children, were her most durable companions.

At eight I inquired about book collecting and she, the country newspaper editor, knew our town’s historian and arranged an appointment.  That man Bill Heidgerd is the reason I collect today for he regaled this then young man with the power of history and book collecting and challenged me to find what he had what he had not, two obscure local items, one a pamphlet, the other a book.

The first - Bevier’s The Indians printed in Rondout, Ulster County, in 1846. I bought my first copy at the Siebert sale in May 1999.  Today I have 4.

The other: James Eldridge Quinlan’s Tom Quick The Indian Slayer, printed in Monticello, in nearby Sullivan County in 1851. I have many copies. 

These smooth volumes it turned out contained barbed hooks, that once set, launched my pursuit of the printed word in all its forms.  They are innocent to look at.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <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>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions