• <b>Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers: Fine Books & Manuscripts.<br>October 30, 2016</b>
    <b>Skinner Oct. 30:</b> Cook’s <i>Voyages</i>, 1773-1785, complete set with Atlas volume. $40,000-60,000
    <b>Skinner Oct. 30:</b> Henry Warre, <i>Sketches in North America</i>, 1848, first edition, hand-colored.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Skinner Oct. 30:</b> Catlin’s <i>North American Indian Portfolio</i>, 1875. $40,000-60,000
    <b>Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers: Fine Books & Manuscripts.<br>October 30, 2016</b>
    <b>Skinner Oct. 30:</b> John Torrey Morse’s <i>The American Statesman</i>, autograph edition, extra-illustrated with original signed documents.<br>$35,000-55,000
    <b>Skinner Oct. 30:</b> McKenney & Hall’s <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America</i>, folio, three volumes, 1837-1844. $35,000-55,000
    <b>Skinner Oct. 30:</b> John Webber’s <i>Views in the South Seas</i>, 1820, hand-colored plates. $30,000-50,000
    <b>Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers: Fine Books & Manuscripts.<br>October 30, 2016</b>
    <b>Skinner Oct. 30:</b> A Collection of Eight Signed Letters, Some Men of Fame Autograph Collection.<br>$35,000-40,000
    <b>Skinner Oct. 30:</b> George Washington Signed Letter inviting Senator John Laurance to John Adams’s Presidential swearing in ceremony. $30,000-40,000
    <b>Skinner Oct. 30:</b> Elizabeth, Empress of Russia Coronation Festival Book, St. Petersburg, 1744. $30,000-40,000
  • <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>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through Oct. 27: Rare Autographs, Books, Sports and Art</b>
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Important Aviation Archive w/The Contract For First Trans-Pacific Flight. Est. $30,000-$50,000.
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Albert Einstein Signed Photo. Est. $2500-$3500.
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Dodgson’s own copy of <i>The Hunting of the Snark</i>, signed and dated by the author the day after publication with original photo. Est. $10,000-$12,000.
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through Oct. 27: Rare Autographs, Books, Sports and Art</b>
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Abraham Lincoln Early Legal Brief. Est. $3500-$4000.
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> The Beatles: Autographs of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison and more 60's Groups. Est. $3000-$2500.
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Hector Berlioz Rare AMQS. Est. $4000-6000.
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through Oct. 27: Rare Autographs, Books, Sports and Art</b>
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Renoir, Autograph Letter Signed. Est. $2700-3500.
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Ferdinand and Isabella, Manuscript Document Signed. Est. $6000-9000.
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Lincoln-Douglas Debates Signed by William Howard Taft. Est. $1400-$1600.
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through Oct. 27: Rare Autographs, Books, Sports and Art</b>
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Stunning Vintage Amelia Earhart Signed Photo. Est. $2000-$2500
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Marilyn Monroe's Hair From her hair dresser. Est. $1200-$1800.
    <b>One of a Kind Collectibles<br>Now through 10/27:</b> Babe Ruth Signed Album with Others Sports and Entertainment Stars of the 20s. Est. $1800-2500.
  • <b>Bonhams: Voices of the 20th Century. December 7, 2016</b>
    <b>Bonhams: History of Science and Technology. December 7, 2016</b>
    <b>Bonhams: Voices of the 20th Century. December 7, 2016</b>
    <b>Bonhams: History of Science and Technology. December 7, 2016</b>

Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2013 Issue

On the Rim of a Volcano


An increasing percentage of lots will be bought by collectors and institutions

The following is a text version of a talk I gave at the California Rare Book School and the Book Club of California on Monday 4.


Printing in the western world is an old thing.  It traces to Gutenberg’s development of movable type, his first examples printed around 1440 and the most famous book ever printed, the Gutenberg Bible in 1454.  It was a remarkable moment as moveable type opened a path to the printing of multiple copies.  Early printing had a strong artistic component but the potential to communicate widely soon repurposed the invention leading toward efficient communication of ideas and information.  For the next 250 years literacy rates would remain low but the utility of reading become firmly established.


Until the mid-18th century most people in England, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, engaged in subsistence farming.  Those said to be literate mostly met a simple standard far below what we understand literacy to be today.


With improving farming techniques and a correspondingly greater food supply children in the mid 18th century began to live further into adulthood, some becoming excess to the requirements of maintaining family farms and plots from one generation to the next.  Family size would fall by the late 18th century but not as quickly as farm output increased.  Inevitably some children were encouraged into other endeavors and gradually cities became the destination of many.  The times were auspicious, the increasing food supply produced by an ever smaller farm population, setting the stage for the industrial revolution. 


In cities idle hands, wanting for food, provided a steady supply of cheap labor. Experiments in rudimentary manufacturing led to rising production through the substitution of increasingly complex machines for repetitive mechanical processes.  These changes in turn required a better-trained work force.  Education became entwined with economic advance and over time the English working class became its middle class, emerging first as process workers and later as builders of the efficient machinery that transformed national economies around the world in the 19th century.  Less noticed in the changes sweeping the country, the emergence of libraries, book collectors and booksellers were the byproducts of increasing education and rising economic stability.  ˜It was a trend that would take hold and in time sweep the world.  Books, essential to the exchange of information, were sometimes also collectible.  Every family had them and almost every family kept them safe and valued.


The success of the English economy brought moderate wealth to the middle class and it was this portion of England’s population and the populations of many other advancing countries that would make book collecting a respected field dependent more on intelligence and intellectual diligence than financial capability.  Books were interesting, sometimes complex, often bibliographic jigsaw puzzles.  They were satisfying to own and widely appreciated, interesting and complex but not terribly expensive.  Great collections would be built with determination rather than money and many were. 


Wars would ravage periodically and economic uncertainties plague the western world.  In the pre-Keynesian world economic bubbles and collapses happened regularly and there seemed little could be done to avert them.  Keynesian thinking and the post-Keynesian world embraced compensating government action to offset periodic economic decline.


This change created a more stable world and one that increasingly permitted the building of great collections, most of them by stalwarts of the middle and upper-middle class, this possible because the distance between the middle class and the top of the economic pyramid, while significant was, as late as the 1960s, only about 40 times, that is the difference between the janitor and the company president 40 times.


In the post World-War II period a surge in higher education brought wealth to colleges and universities and an outpouring of desire among faculty and administration to have great libraries and great collections.   For the rare book business this was the beginning of an exceptional era, one of steep imbalance between supply and demand and lead, over the next 40 years, to prices achieving unimagined and ultimately unsustainable levels.  The rise would be exhilarating, the decline unnerving, today unfolding into what is turning out to be a perfect storm of rising online visibility of full texts and copies for sale, declining institutional purchases, and a lost generation of collectors for whom collecting opportunities often never sufficiently materialized between 1970 and 2000 to impassion them to fight over and for the never imagined fresh heaps of material that drift into the market every quarter now.


In the 1990s, for dealers in the mid-range and lower, the chickens would come home to roost. Higher prices began to bring more copies out and it became difficult for sellers to maintain the illusion of ever-higher prices in the face of declining institutional interest and weak collector demand.  Material in this sector held but volume declined until the Wall Street crisis in 2008 broke the decades-old 10-7 relationship between retail prices and auction realizations leaving us today with a 10-5 reality for solid but otherwise unremarkable copies that are common today.


This has left the market casting around for a direction and propelled a strong trend among dealers to refocus on unique material for which price is less defined by auction realizations.  For premium dealers the adjustment has been less.  Many, for a decade, prepared for what to them seemed obvious, that the markets for the best material would continue to prosper while the mid and lower levels fall into a buyer’s bonanza that is now daily re-defined in the auction rooms.



For less than exceptional material overall we are now in the stage where broad categories, once thought to be valuable only because no one would sell theirs’ cheaply, now find such material regularly re-priced in the auction rooms at steep discounts and attracting the serious interest for the first time in years. 


Lower prices are having a positive effect.  Buyers who years ago grew cautious now increasingly buy at auction.  Auction volume has surged, increasing on average around 15% a year over the past decade.  Through this period dealers have been boarding up shops while new auction houses have been opening and existing firms adding events and increasing the size of their sales.  It feels as if the shift portended for years, and only recently a trend, is becoming permanent.  Price it turns out matters.


The number of lots passing through the rooms seems destined to further increase and I have prepared a chart of what I think may lie ahead.  Most booksellers hope to quickly sell but are prepared to wait for the buyer willing to pay up.  But older booksellers facing the additional issue of declining time are being forced to decide now because it takes time to wrap up a rare and used book business, the probable number now north of five years.  Those that adjust pricing aggressively now stand a reasonably good chance to sell in that time.  For those who chose to hold the line time may simply run out.  This is a field that many have enjoyed but it is not the same field today it was when today’s greys and whites were in their primes.


History suggests that when the bookseller dies, so too often does the community comity that provided reassurance through the tough times.  His or her material too will quickly go somewhere, the most desirable easy to place, and the balance to be carted away.  Much of it was backdrop anyway.  A significant aspect of bookselling has been the dealer’s personality.  When that spark is gone there is only the scenery without Othello to command our attention for the best have been and always will be magicians who can summon, as in a time machine, the author and his circumstances as he wrote a book or penned a letter.       


The shifting of focus from dealers to the rooms comes at a cost.  For decades most collectors’ introduction to the field has come through the ministrations of dealers, who spotting a serious prospect, nurtured such possibilities.  Booksellers of substantial intelligence and prodigious memory have always been able to talk birds down from the trees.  In their once plentiful shops they had the opportunity to perfect salesmanship in their main street mahogany groves of rare volumes of rich bindings, wonderful illustrations and quaint and appealing histories.  Today book fairs are their pale replacements and printed catalogues their less frequent emissaries.  The rare book field struggles for better choices.


And the audience changes.  Buyers at auction today appear to be about 10 years younger than typical dealer clients and there are many more of them than there used to be.  Routinely hundreds of bidders sign-up and many bid at what is becoming a hundred sales a month.  Realizations are consistent, less than what dealers ask for mid-level material and comparable for the best.  These days the majority of the lots go to collectors and institutions, while the majority of the value goes to dealers who better understand the power of quality and are emerging as what the French style “les experts”.  They are


So to the question that has been the burning issue for more than twenty years in the trade, “where are the new collectors?”  We have the answer.  They are in the rooms in surprising numbers and buying the best material dealers offer and showing a preference for prices confirmed in the marketplace.


As to the future it is difficult to say with clarity.  We are at the end of the Gutenberg era and at the beginning of the Google search.  Prices became terribly inflated and are returning to earth.  We have a taste for printed works.  Our heirs too will be collecting but whether they will appreciate what we like is a question yet to be answered.


What we will bequest to them is a market far more efficient than any prior iterations have been.  Our contribution may ultimately be that we weathered the dealer – library bacchanalia and have emerged in tact and still in love with the material.


For some dealers the choices will be severe.  Many will seek to avoid markdowns, see their sales decline as customers die or are weaned away, and still hold out, maintaining their above the market prices until the bloody end.  And this is just as well because too much inventory, too soon, would weight down the market mightily.  We estimate that a continuing 15% annual increase in auction volume can be absorbed with little disruption and know this because we have seen steady increases in auction volume for years while prices have remained reasonably steady.


Looking ahead we are in a delicate balance with rising auction volume and an aging dealer population on the one side and an increasingly efficient market on the other, Stalwarts of the passing generation that will sell the way they always have or not at all while an increasing proportion on both sides adjust to the emerging value consensus established in the auction rooms. 


We have made it into the new world.  All the books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera will too, if not immediately, then in time.  Our grandchildren may look back upon our efforts and wonder what it was we liked so much.  I hope so and further hope they see it as we have, that there is wisdom and perspective in these old things.  About that there should be no debate.  That then leaves only one variable to discuss:  price.


And this is being established in the rooms as we speak.

Posted On: 2013-12-03 21:09
User Name: tenpound

Bruce - How well do you think the consumer is served by the greed of the auction houses, with buyers' "premium" now up to 25%?

Greg Gibson
Ten Pound Island Book Co.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop.</b> CURTIS, EDWARD. <i>Original glass plate photograph, Honovi – Walpi Snake Priest, prepared by Curtis for the printing of The North American Indian</i>, c.1910
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (AMERICAN WEST.), Watkins, Taber, Savage, and others. <i>Magnificent Album of Mammoth Photographs of the American West, with other subjects various</i>, ca. 1865-1880s
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> DARWIN, CHARLES. <i>Carte-de-visite Photograph Album</i>. Down, Kent, 1871-1879
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (SECRET SERVICE). <i>The photographic archive, papers, and relics of William Kennoch, Secret Service Agent</i>. Various places, 1870s and 1880s
    <b>19th Century Shop.</b> (AMERICAN REVOLUTION). STONE, BALTUS. <i>Daguerreotype Portrait of Baltus Stone</i>. [Philadelphia], 1846
  • <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés in association with Sotheby’s:<br>The Library of Pierre Bergé<br>From the Pre-Romantics to 1900<br>November 8 and 9, 2016</b>
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Sotheby's Nov. 8 & 9:</b> Gustave Flaubert. Par les Champs et les Grèves (Voyage en Bretagne). <i>[Croisset, 1847]</i>, 3 January 1848.<br>Est. €400,000–600,000.
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Sotheby’s Nov. 8 & 9:</b> Victor Hugo. La Légende des Siècles. <i>Paris, 1877</i>. Est. €60,000–80,000.
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Sotheby’s Nov. 8 & 9:</b> Charles Baudelaire. Les Fleurs du Mal. <i>Paris, 1857</i>.<br>Est. €100,000–150,000.
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Sotheby’s Nov. 8 & 9:</b> Arthur Schopenhauer. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. <i>Leipzig, 1819.</i><br>Est. €40,000–60,000.
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Associés in association with Sotheby’s:<br>The Library of Pierre Bergé<br>From the Pre-Romantics to 1900<br>November 8 and 9, 2016</b>
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Sotheby’s Nov. 8 & 9:</b> Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass. <i>Brooklyn, New York, 1855</i>.<br>Est. €40,000–50,000.
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Sotheby’s Nov. 8 & 9:</b> Oscar Wilde. The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by C.3.3. <i>London, 1898.</i><br>Est. €10,000–15,000.
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Sotheby’s Nov. 8 & 9:</b> Fyodor Dostoyevsky. [Crime and Punishment]. <i>Saint Petersburg, 1867.</i> Est. €30,000–40,000.
    <b>Pierre Bergé & Sotheby’s Nov. 8 & 9:</b> Leo Tolstoy. [War and Peace]. <i>Moscow, 1868-1869</i>. Est. €20,000–30,000.
  • <b>Doyle: Rare Books, Autographs & Photographs. November 22, 2016</b>
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations. Est: $70,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> The Present State of the British Colonies in America / The Hillsborough Colonial Returns. Est: $100,000-150,000
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> Joseph Smith, The Book of Mormon. Palymra, NY: 1830. First edition. Est: $30,000-50,000
    <b>Doyle: Rare Books, Autographs & Photographs. November 22, 2016</b>
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> Declaration of Independence - Early Newspaper Printing. The Pennsylvania Journal. Est: $125,000-225,000
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> Space - Iran, Photographs and signed items from the Apollo-Suyuz mission, Skylab I, II & III, and the 1976 Tehran F.A.I. Conference. Est: $6,000-9,000
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> Edward Sherriff Curtis, Canon de Chelly, 1904. Est: $10,000-15,000
    <b>Doyle: Rare Books, Autographs & Photographs. November 22, 2016</b>
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> Simon Bolivar, An inscribed portrait of El Libertador. Lima: 1823. Est: $2,000-3,000
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> Orson Welles, Signed color photograph of Welles smoking a cigar. Est: $2,500-3,500
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> Bill Brandt, Henry Moore in his Studio, Hertfordshire, 1946. Est: $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle: Rare Books, Autographs & Photographs. November 22, 2016</b>
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> John Wilkes Booth, Autograph letter signed Washington: 14 Nov 1864. Est: $50,000-80,000
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, the Whale. New York: 1851. First American edition. Est: $20,000-30,000
    <b>Doyle Nov. 22:</b> The Beatles, Ed Sullivan Show cue sheet, signed by each member of the group. Est: $10,000-15,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>Civil War-era album with more than 130 signatures, including 18 presidents, 1864-2010.<br>$60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>Claude Monet, Autograph Letter Signed, to friend and art critic Gustave Geffroy, 1891.<br>$6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>George Washington, partly-printed Document Signed as Commander-in-Chief, a military discharge, 1783. $7,000 to 10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>Clarence Darrow, Typed Letter Signed, inviting attorney Frank Spurlock to join him during the Scopes Trial, 1926. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>J.D. Salinger, Autograph Letter Signed, "Jerry," offering consolation, 1972. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>Poster Signed by each member of The Beatles near the inkblot he most resembles, 1964. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>Photograph Signed by The Three Stooges, additionally inscribed by Moe, 1930s. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>Jules Verne, Photograph Signed and Inscribed, 1900. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>Thomas Jefferson, Printed Document Signed as Secretary of State, admitting Vermont into the Union, 1791. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>George Washington, lottery ticket signed "G:Washington," 1768.<br>$4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>Muhammad Ali, Signed & Inscribed Photograph and Typed Letter Signed, 1967. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 1:</b><br>Lou Gehrig, Photograph Signed & Inscribed (lower signatures printed), 1931. $3,500 to $5,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions