Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2015 Issue

Wanted: A Collector with Ambition

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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

877.323,7273

bmckinney@americanaexchange.com


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>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>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

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