Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2015 Issue

Wanted: A Collector with Ambition


Because booksellers' catalogues randomly appear and because there are thousands of booksellers the sheer magnitude of catalogue production has long gone unrecognized and unreported.  There have been scattered reports over the years of collectors of auction catalogues who have sought to have a copy of every auction catalogue ever printed.  For a few others that has not been enough.  Theirs were to be priced, something not consistently reported much less provided.  Such collections exist but are uncommon.


More frequently found but invariably less appreciated are dealer catalogues.  Many, even most, dealers accumulate them as tools for their field.  But in time with experience they learn that the market for dealer catalogues is very thin, that they sit upon the doubly sharpened sword; both hard to find and difficult to sell.


Twenty-five years ago I began to accumulate dealer catalogues.  Large troves occasionally appeared and when given the opportunity, I bought them.


Twice I bought large quantities from John Zubal in Cleveland.  John is a smart man who concluded long before he sold them to me that he couldn’t do anything with them, something like 25 pallets altogether.  From a Detroit ABAA dealer I made a similar but smaller deal.  From DeWolfe & Wood of Alfred, Maine I bought 2,200 mostly 19th century catalogues.  Susan Heller gave me several thousand she acquired during her career.  And another family, cleaning out their father’s house in the Rocky Mountains, found a trove of catalogues but no willing buyers.  They too sent their catalogues to me with the admonition “please keep them.”  And I have.


Since 2001 we have been building the Rare Book Hub Transaction Database.  And we have included the catalogues of many of the greatest dealers of the past century but invariably acquired a much broader inventory, hundreds of first catalogues of young and hopeful dealers and as many, perhaps even more of their final catalogues.


But the collection is spotty.  Few complete runs are present.  Mostly the catalogues are the important ones, the examples that other dealers set aside as references.  In total today we have more than 23,000 dealer catalogues representing at least one catalogue from more than 2,800 dealers.  The date range runs from the 1850’s to the early 1990’s.


And what this collection turns out to be is the once in a lifetime opportunity for that person or institution who would like to spend the next two decades pursuing examples of every dealer’s catalogues using this collection as a springboard into the netherworld of dealer catalogues that reside in deep collections around the world.


We will be selling them at auction as a single lot, roughly 165 [actually closer to 180] linear feet of catalogues.  We will sell them on behalf of a charity.


So if you have big ambitions and a large space this may be an appealing direction.  It is perfect for obsessives.  Run of the mill take it or leave it collectors will not have the nerve to step into this.  This will require courage and ambition and a high degree of resourcefulness.  But it will also be a famous undertaking.  Catalogues will continue to spill out of institutions over the next 25 years and their random pieces fit perfectly into an extraordinary mosaic of dealer history and ambition that this collection lays out like a roadmap.


I know something of the challenge.  I have collected some eight million-auction records and some five million of them today form the backbone of the RBH Transaction History Database.  In time another possibly 2.5 million records will join their brothers and sisters to create a seamless transaction history dating back to 1850.


By comparison the dealer catalogue challenge is a larger undertaking.  We continue to catalogue [we are currently up to the letter R] and now estimate there are 11,000,000 dealer records in the material on hand.


Here is a link to an almost complete index of the dealers, dates and quantity of catalogues whose catalogues are in this collection.  The complete list will be linked here by August 10th.


If you have some thoughts about this, whether as an advisor, collector or institution, please be in touch.  I’m assuming the material will go to auction in October.


Bruce McKinney



Posted On: 2015-08-25 23:20
User Name: DorothySloan

Dear Bruce:

Somehow reading your article made me think I am not alone with my catalogue fetish. Relief!

I became aware of the rare book world in the late 1960s, when studying with that extraordinary man Dr. William H. Goetzmann in American Studies at the University of Texas. I was fascinated with so many aspects of our history--popular culture to fine art and everything in between. But I did not see how I could pursue a career with such eclectic interests. In one of Dr. Goetzmann's seminars, he assigned us to prepare an exhibit from material in the Humanities Research Center. Walking into that space, a beautiful shaft of light came down from the high ceiling--that kind of moment when we have a vision that shows us the way. At last...

My classroom studies were done, and all I wanted to do was look at every rare book in that library. To make a long short, Dr. Goetzmann did not discourage my curiosity, but rather encouraged it. He told me to go to San Francisco and apprentice with Warren R. Howell, no mean feat since I had to consider two children and the husband I had put through six degrees. In the meantime, he showed me some rare book dealer and auction catalogues. I looked at more catalogues at the HRC and purchased even more of them from dealers here and abroad. Dr. Goetzmann also told me to read Carter's ABC for Book Collectors and other related works. I was a lover looking for something to love, and had at last found it.

I finished my studies and I arrived in San in 1969. When all the domestic and maternal matters were in order, I made by way to 434 Post Street. My first encounter with Warren was when I showed up uninvited at 7 am one morning. I timidly knocked on the glass door and there he was with his fine china cup of coffee and that shock of silver hair at the back of the long, narrow high-ceilinged shop. He frowned at me and waved his hand for me to leave, but I persisted. He came to the door finally and said: "What do you want, young lady?" I replied, "I want to learn everything about rare books and Dr. Goetzmann told me to come here." He smiled, swung open the door, and said, "Darling, you have come to the right place."

In addition to having one of the great book shops in the world, Warren had such a wonderful collection of dealer and auction catalogues. I already had the fetish, and at last count I had over 250 linear feet of dealer and auction catalogues. Those catalogues were a foundation stone in my education in the rare book world, and I thank each dealer and auction house who helped me find my way. I was fortunate in being able to buy a good deal of John Jenkins' collection of catalogues and those of W. Thomas Taylor (the latter were part of my acquisition of Tom's reference collection). When you created Americana Exchange it seemed the most sensible and easy way to deal with a mass of ephemeral but highly useful information. I wish you could include dealer catalogues, too, but what you have done is wonderful enough for now. Yes, the information is more accessible in digital form, but still there is some part of me that wants to hold on to those hard copies.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 7. Ritter's unusual sun-dial world map, 1607. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 16. Fascinating Japanese satirical map published prior to WWII, 1932. Est. $1400 to $2000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 30. Newton's 2" miniature terrestrial globe, 1833. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 318. Braun & Hogenberg's first plan of Moscow in contemporary color, 1575. Est. $2750 to $3500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 346. One of the most decorative 18th century maps of Malta, 1680. Est. $1200 to $1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 412. The first printed map devoted to the Pacific in full contemporary color, 1589. Est. $8000 to $10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 425. Rare set of celebrated explorers of the New World, 1592. Est. $1900 to $2300
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 436. Two superb miniature atlases bound in one volume with 98 maps, 1682. Est. $5500 to $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 445. Part IV of de Bry's "Grand Voyages" by Girolamo Benzoni, 1613. Est. $2000 to $2500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 447. Tallis' "History of the United States of America" in six volumes, 1850. Est. $1500 to $1800
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 448. Mallet's miniature military masterpiece, 1672. Est. $1400 to $1700
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Malcolm X, Autograph Letter Signed, from prison, 1950. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Letter from Moses Walker, an enslaved Georgia man, to his mother at another plantation, 1854. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Signed cabinet card of Frederick Douglass, albumen photograph, Boston, circa 1879. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Placard from the Memphis Sanitation Worker's strike, 1968. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b><br><i>The North Star,</i> volume 1, issue 27, Rochester, NY, 1848. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Hand-tinted tintype of John Brown, circa 1860. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster signed & inscribed by Huey Newton, circa 1967. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Album of aerial views of the march on Montgomery, taken by federal troops, 1965. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster for the SNCC, photograph by Danny Lyon featuring John Lewis, circa 1962. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <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>
  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000

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