Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2014 Issue

The New York Antiquarian Book Fair - success at the top

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The New York Antiquarian Book Fair, at the Park Avenue Armory, has come and gone and left a scent of lingering enthusiasm among buyers and satisfaction among sellers.  The fair, a well-groomed event organized by Sanford Smith, saw more than 6,000 tickets collected.  On opening afternoon, Thursday the third, 152 individuals, mostly men, lined up in the anteroom for the chance to be early if not first into the convention hall.  The crowds come on Friday, the cognoscenti Thursday night.  The buzz was noticeable.

 

Inside, the fates of the 204 participating dealers were pretty much already decided.  The show it seems is simply the final act of what is a four or five act play.  As explained by show Chairman Donald Heald you have to [1] acquire special material, [2] describe it carefully, [3] price it appropriately, [4] expose it minimally, and [5] display the title and price clearly.  Prospective buyers want to see fresh material, typically in impeccable condition and you may have only a minute or so to catch the browser’s attention.  Assuming a visitor is in the show for four hours this works out to 1 minute and 17 seconds per booth.  The whole year leading up is when you do the work.  Over the final four days you simply schmooze and write the orders.

 

Outside, in the hall Thursday afternoon, I spoke with a half dozen of those lined up and they were feeling the spirit.  Bottle that essence and distribute it widely and the future of collectible paper is assured.  In the queue were two certified billionaires and, if their wives are to be believed, 150 very serious collectors.  One of the show’s most important buyers wouldn’t visit the armory until the next day but he too would leave a swath of smiling faces.  The New York Antiquarian Book Fair is this special that billionaires line up to get in.

 

And they were not to be disappointed.

 

Among dealers, in the aftermath, reports of success were as common as dandelions in June.  Expectations and scale varied widely but most did well and some very well.

 

Sandy Smith of Sanford Smith, the show’s promoter for two decades offered, “The fair saw some off years but that downturn is now behind us.  Reports of individual success this year have been widely noted and I expect 2014 will go into the books as the best book fair ever.”

 

For Mr. Heald preparations for 2015 are already starting.  “Success in 2015 is assured for those who prepare.”

 

Come fall collectors will begin to mark their calendars for 2015.   This year’s positive spirit will linger like perfume, raising expectations for another grand event.  This year more than 6,000 attended the four-day event.  Who knows how many next?

 

If the story ends here the rare book business is a bucolic romp and the primary determinant of success a dealer’s ability to become a show exhibitor.  But it’s not that easy.

 

As Mr. Smith reminds us every year is not a good year.  Book fairs seem to follow the national and international economic trends and while the charts always seem to eventually make their way up they twist and turn unpredictably along the way.  If you’re a dealer who needs consistent cash flow the inevitable periodic air pocket can be unnerving.  More importantly, the New York book fairs and others to a lesser extent are focused on selling the best books to the greatest collectors.  The everyday rare book trade sells their books to those who love the material and whose budgets are often compromises between eating steak or pizza.  And it is these stalwarts that actually make the trade the solid business it is and it is they that have to find comparable success to what the New York Book fairs recently achieved if they are to be able to encourage future major collectors in their teens and twenties to become the significant players they can become a generation hence.  The success at the New York fairs is enviable but hardly inevitable and thousands of dealers played a part in it.

 

In New York the dollars were undeniably significant but the number of books sold very small.  Behind the leading edge of stellar copies that did sell are hundreds of thousands of titles and editions that sing their songs in local choirs.  Today the structure of the field is challenging and one hopes fresh thinking will help restore financial strength to the broader market.  Success at the top is commendable, success at all levels essential.

 

Mr. Heald reminds us that preparation is essential.  His prescription is for the individual dealer.  The building blocks of the field; the listing sites, auction houses, dealer organizations, libraries and databases need to see their role in promoting a healthy field.  It’s wonderful to see the cherry.  We all have to work to make the sundae.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Franklin H. Brown, <i>State Sovereignty, National Union,</i> Chicago, 1860. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b><br>The Aitken Bible, Philadelphia, 1781. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francisco Loubayssin de Lamarca, probable first edition of the first novel set in the Spanish New World, Paris, 1617. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Juan de la Anunciación, <i>Sermonario en lengua mexicana,</i> first edition, first book of sermons in Nahuatl, Mexico, 1577. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Maturino Gilberti, <i>Thesoro spiritual en lengua de Mechuacá,</i> first edition, Mexico, 1558. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Commission of William O. Stoddard as secretary to the president, signed by Lincoln, Washington, 1861. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> <i>Clay and Frelinghuysen,</i> flag banner, circa 1844. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Daguerreotype of a man believed to be Frederick Granger Williams Smith, son of Joseph Smith, circa late 1850s. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> John C. Wolfe, <i>Portrait of Abraham Lincoln,</i> oil on board in period wooden frame, circa 1860s. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 27:</b> Family letters from two young daguerreotype artists, 1826-79. $10,000 to $15,000.
  • <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Published Half Plate Ambrotype of a North Carolina Confederate Officer. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two 19th Century Books Pertaining to Canada's Red River Settlement. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Two Books With Fore-Edge Paintings of British Architectual Landmarks. $400 to $600
    <b>Leland Little: Important Fall Auction. September 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), "Torte a la Dobosch" from <i>Wild Raspberries</i>. $1,000 to $3,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Keith Haring (American, 1958-1990), <i>Pop Shop II,</i> One Plate screenprint in colors, on wove paper, 1998. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Leland Little, Sep. 22:</b> Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756-1827), Twenty-Two Prints from the <i>Tours of Dr. Syntax</i>. $500 to $1,000
  • <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>

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