Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2015 Issue

Mystery Buyer at Doyle New York was none other than…

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Bill Reese, the leading rare bookseller in the United States over the past quarter century, demonstrated convincingly at the November 24th Doyle New York sale why he ranks at the top of his field.  Bill is a keen student of the material, and he is not persuaded by the testimony of others when the subject is his specialty: early American imprints.  There were two views of the sale, his and almost everyone else’s.  Those who were unimpressed were the people [and my father was one] who were put off by the condition of many of the items.  Modern library buckram was common, and in almost all circumstances is poison because we live in an era when almost everything that exists in print surfaces in time, often in very acceptable condition. But there are some instances, and Bill was quick to grasp this was one of them, where the rarity of the material trumps the sometimes plebian bindings.  So he was a bidder, and in fact almost the single winning bidder, buying the biggest items for clients and a trove of other very rare items for his firm.  In total he spent about $1.4 million of the $2.3 million the sale raised, his purchases 60% for stock and 40% for collectors.

Of the sale and its material, Bill had this to say, “Condition was an issue and was variable.  Some items were very nice.  Others will be replaced with bindings respectful of what they are.  I was very pleased.”  And so too should be Edward Ripley-Duggan and Peter Costanzo, Co-Directors at Doyle New York book department who cataloged and managed the sale.  “The catalog and cataloging were first rate, the items well described, detailed and accurate.  And the Doyle team was easy to work with.”  For their efforts they saw the first sale, of an eventual three, of the Library of the New York City Bar Association raise 2.3 times the collection’s high estimate.

So how did this happen?  You have to be very smart, and certain. Bill meets both requirements with margin to spare.  “It was right in the records.  All you had to do was look.”  But you also had to know where the invisible line is between astounding rarity and disappointing condition.  Bill saw this line, and others didn’t.

The estimates were low and tended to confirm the naysayers, but the material, once viewed, seemed to tell a different story.  Few bookman ever see, much less hold, any of the earliest American imprints—those printed before 1700.  But they were there, sometimes in modern buckram, but unspeakably rare, a few copies traced to the most important 19th century collections.

I asked Bill when was the last comparable sale, and he immediately replied, “the Stuart Karu sale in 1992.” He elaborated on his comparison by saying, “Stuart had bought virtually all of the Franklin-printed ephemera to come on the market in the previous twenty years, and that when it all came up at auction at once, it looked common and did poorly.” Essentially, it’s possible for there to be almost too much very rare material in a single sale, to the point where its rarity is lost on bidders. This did not happen in Bill’s case, and he took full advantage.

All was not perfect in Bill’s view.  Two unmatched and buckram-enhanced volumes of the first edition of the Federalist brought $120,000 plus hammer.  “I’ve got a better set in contemporary bindings that I’ll sell for that figure.”

Rare books rarely appear, but when they do, they sometimes can appear in disconcertingly large quantity, thus suggesting to the inexperienced collector that the material is somehow common. But those who look beyond the volume of material at the frequency of reappearance at auction over the last hundred years see a much different story. That’s what Bill saw, while few others did, and is why he did spectacularly well.

 

This article was written in conjunction with a conversation my father Bruce McKinney had with Bill Reese.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>Keep Calm and Carry On</i>, designer unknown, 1939. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, <i>Le Journal / La Traite des Blanches</i>, 1899. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>"Let Us Go Forward Together,"</i> designer unknown, 1940. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, <i>Babylone d'Allemagne</i>, 1894. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Frank Beatty, <i>Out of the Running</i>, 1929. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Wake Up America Day</i>, 1917. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> <i>Danté / Sim • Sala • Bim!</i>, designer unknown. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>[Zodiac]</i>, 1900. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Rick Griffin, <i>Jimi Hendrix Experience / John Mayall</i>, 1968. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2: Vintage Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Abram Games, <i>Join the ATS</i>, 1941. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Aldo Mazza, <i>Torino / Esposizione Internazionale</i>, 1911. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 2:</b> Robert Motherwell, <i>Julliard School / Dedication - Lincoln Center</i>, 1969. $3,000 to $4,000
  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
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    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.
  • <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
    <b>TO AKABA! T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt. Books, manuscripts and pictures. On exhibition 16 to 24th July at Maggs' new premises 48 Bedford Square.</b>
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
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