Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2013 Issue

A Day at the Races

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Books are part of our background

A day at the races

 

I took a week off to think about the future of book collecting and was reminded that a week is not a very long time.  Oh well, it was what was possible.  This isn’t going to be a Ph.D. thesis, just a think-through about both the status of and future of the collectability of the printed word.

 

Printing is an old idea and from its beginnings a small portion of the production good, interesting or unusual enough to merit some collector’s or institution’s interest.

 

Much of what is thought to be worth keeping is ultimately not.  Evidence of this is found on the shelves, in the attics and basements of people who believed random books would someday pay out big.  They haven’t and we face a deluge of these I thought they were valuables over the next twenty years that will tax eBay, dealers, second hand shops and library fairs to dispose.  Fixed price approaches probably won’t work as well as auctions but the fixed price guys will adjust as we descend into what may become, for a year or two, the ultimate buyers market.  After all, there are only so many auctions you can run before you burn out the audience.  In truth, nothing in this field changes without the discernable scent of desperation.  What will trigger sufficient desperation is unclear.  I have thought that living longer might force some to dispose.  After all, an extra year of life has a cost and there has to be sufficient money to pay the bills.

 

I’ve also thought the prospect of declining value might encourage some to sell, to get x rather than ½ x five years later.  But I had an interesting conversation with an octogenarian dealer and his younger wife and they are prepared to wait out the decline.  They have something well north of 10,000 items, probably 40,000, have been in the business for two long generations, been through the depression and three wars and always seen better days materialize.  I did say I thought the downturn would last another five years and see common and unimportant material falling 80%.  Their response:  we’ll wait it out.  They have had a great eye and I think expect their discernment will be appreciated by future generations.  They are right but it will be, to quote the Beatles, “a long and winding road.”  In their resolute commitment to carry on they are very much in the minority.  Most people are already trying to sell significant quantity and with only limited success.

 

A walk through Greenwich Village reminded me that, while old books may be a hard sell, collecting of almost everything else you can think of continues to prosper.  On almost every corner were collectibles stacked up or framed.  Art seemed to be everywhere.  Sculpture as well.  The signage in stores was smart and looked like it too should be on walls.  Altogether, the material put out to sell seemed a celebration of the present, the era we are living in with images and symbols drawn from world and current events, social trends, television shows and movies – thousands of objects that portray the buyer as hip, aware of the world we share.

 

Books were there but not so much and some of what I saw was books in the images as symbols of something slipping by.  Greenwich is very much about the moment and books not a significant part of it.

 

Comics are more so.  If your taste runs to comic graphics you’ll find choices here – they seeming more to celebrate the movies than the comic strips.  And so what, it shows the problem isn’t with paper but rather what’s on it.

 

While here I could see that newspapers continue to be important although all the media seems to be starving.  The news is still around to be reported but the advertisers seem to be spending their money elsewhere and everywhere you turn people are staring intently into what used to be phones but are now computers in their pockets.  The New York Times, long the epoxy that binds New York’s five boroughs as well as liberals from coast to coast, still sells but more and more printed media is fading. 

 

History has its place but people aren’t having any of it.  Make the trains run on time while a revolution in expectations and at least here – acceptance of every shape, color and age unfolds.  Gay and straight, hip and hippo, erudite and barely civilized and between them a celebration of the moment in which they live.

 

For the printed word to be relevant in this world it needs to be in the picture, not just in the paintings, and it seems, to quote Broadway lingo, exiting left.

 

The battle isn’t over but we have been through Pickett’s charge and we are the intruders, the guests that won’t go home.  You can hear it in the voices, you’ve had your chance and yes we know what you are – buggy whips in the age of the automobile, road maps in the era of Google maps.  Hey old timer we don’t do that anymore.

 

Yeh, I’ve noticed and I just want to figure out how to put the printed word back into the conversation and make what has long been appreciated interesting and relevant to this and future generations.  Experience matters and books ultimately introduce a broad range of characters and experience.  Today, in their place are twitter feeds, text messaging, videos, and 500 channels of cable, all to tell you what’s happening.  As to why, well you’ll probably need to read a book and not so many are inclined to do that, buy an old book or visit a library anymore.

 

So we have our work cut out for us.  And it seems like a substantial undertaking.

 

So some will wait it out, many will give up, and some will fight it through.  I’ve got no quit in me and I know many in the rare paper field that feel the same.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Leaves from<br>George Washington's Own Draft <br>of His first Inaugural Address. An Extraordinary Rarity!
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Declaration of Independence: Benjamin Tyler 1818 - First Print with Facsimile Signatures.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Thomas Jefferson Signed Act of Contress Authorizing Alexander Hamilton to Complete Famous Portland Maine Lighthouse.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Emanuel Leutze. Silk Flag Banner designed by Leutze, created by Tiffany & Co., and presented to Gen. John A. Dix, 1864.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> The "greatest of early American maps … a masterpiece" (Corcoran). Thomas Holme.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Lincoln Summons His Cabinet for a Historic Meeting to Discuss Compensated Emancipation.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Albert Einstein. Autograph Letter Signed. Einstein Counsels His Son ... Meaning of Life.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Normal Rockwell. Painting/Drawing Signed. Rockwell's "Barbeshop Quartet", 1936.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Frederick Douglass. Autograph Letter Signed to unknown correspondent. Washington, D.C.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Harry Truman. Autograph Manuscript Notebook for Kansas City Law School Night Class.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> Robert E. Lee. Autograph Letter Signed, June 11, 1782. Hours after the Battle of Culpeper Court House, Lee Escapes Again.
    <b>Seth Kaller:</b> George Washington. Letter Signed, as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to Elias Dayton, Headquarters, [Newburgh, N.Y.], June 11, 1782.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,<br><i>The Chap Book</i>, 1896.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec,<br><i>Troupe de Mlle Églantine</i>, 1896.<br>$20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Philippe Henri Noyer, <br><i>Limonade Brault</i>, 1938. <br>$4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b> <br><i>The Great Men of the World</i>,<br>designer unknown, circa 1945-46. <br>$7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>James Montgomery Flagg,<br><i>Wake Up, America!</i>, 1917.<br>$4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Alfred F. Burke, <i>Share / Jewish <br>Relief Campaign</i>, circa 1915.<br>$3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b><br>Ludwig Hohlwein, <i>Marke Pkz / <br>Burger - Kehl & Co.</i>, circa 1911. <br>$8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 3:</b> <br>Gian Emilio Malerba,<i> E.A. Mele / Modo e Novita per Signora</i>, circa 1900. $7,000 to $10,000.
  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION, Chicago, 1968). <i>Collection of papers of John M. Bailey, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, concerning the convention</i>. Various places, 1968.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (ARMSTRONG, NEIL.) VERNE, JULES. <i>A Trip to the Moon.</i> New York: F. M. Lupton, September 9, 1893. Signed by Neil Armstrong, first man to walk on the moon.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> KEY, FRANCIS SCOTT. <i>A Celebrated Patriotic Song, the Star Spangled Banner.</i> 1814.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> [COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER, Amerigo Vespucci ..] Bernardus Albingaunensis .. Dialogo nuperrime edito Genue in 1512.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (WATKINS, TABER &c.). <i>An album of 32 photographs of the Yosemite and American West Various places</i>, c. 1890s
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (BATTLE OF CONCORD.) <i>Powder horn used by Minuteman Oliver Buttrick at the Battle of Concord</i>, April 19, 1775.
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (CIVIL WAR.) <i>An Extraordinary Confederate Photograph and Autograph Album of Dr. R. L. C. White</i>, 125 original mounted salt prints. 1859-61.
  • 20 Jul 2016, starts at 1pm EDT, NY
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Full scale vintage <i>Sputnik-1</i> EMC/EMI Lab Model, with live transmitter. US$ 10,000-15,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Flown SOYUZ-3 space navigation indicator with unflown on-ground transformer. <br>US$ 30,000-40,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Flown on SOYUZ 9<br>An exhaustive manuscript on life in space. [Trans: On-Board Flight Journal for Spacecraft Soyuz-9, 1970]. US$ 6,000-9,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> SOYUZ 18? Flown Navigation Celestial Globe. Soyuz 18 lasted from May 24-July 26, 1975. US$ 30,000-40,000
    20 Jul 2016, starts at 1pm EDT, NY
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Flown Space Suit from ISS Expidition 6. Worn by Flight Engineer Don Pettit on his dramitic return to earth. US$ 25,000-35,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Original Gemini 133P Trainer Assembly Five Part Electrical System & Attitude Maneuver ... US$ 60,000-90,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Lunar Rover Development. Collection of 11 vintage gelatin silver prints and 4 vintage NASA lithographs. <br>US$ 2,000-3,000.
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Lunar Orbiter I. The first image of the earth as seen from the moon. Gelatin silver print. August 23, 1966. US$ 2,500-3,500
    20 Jul 2016, starts at 1pm EDT, NY
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Michael Collins' Flown Crew-Signed Apollo 11 Emblem. One of the very few Armstrong signed mission artifacts. US$ 50,000-70,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Flown Apollo 11 Navigational Chart. Taken to Lunar surface mapping the start of the <br>first manned lunar descent. <br>US$ 25,000-35,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> FFlown Apollo 11 Flight Plan Sheetmission Day One. Some of the first words and data values written by Neil Armstrong. US$ 18,000-25,000
    <b>Bonhams Jul 20: </b> Apollo 12 - Alan Bean in the Ocean of Storms. Signed and inscribed by Bean. <br>US$ 2,000-3,000

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