Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2015 Issue

Gossiping in Montignac-Lascaux - Is the only summer auction in France worth attending?

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A first edition of La Perouse's Voyage Around the World was offered.

August is the dead period for old books. Drouot closes its doors by mid-July and other websites like interenchères.com only list one auction sale in France for the period, the Galatau Pastaud's, which takes place every year in Montignac-Lascaux, Dordogne. Unfortunately, it suffers from a bad reputation. So, is the only old book sale of the season worth attending? “Of course,” according to Pierre Poulain, the expert for the sale. “Only if you're Russian,” giggles Mr. Labrish, a local bookseller.

 

Montignac-Lascaux is a highly touristic place, located 500 kilometers south of Paris, in the heart of the countryside. Its worldwide known prehistoric cave attracts dozens of thousands people every year. Yet, it's a strange location to host an old books sales. “In August 1995,” explained Pierre Poulain on the phone, “my friend Mr. Galatau, who works as an auctioneer in the nearby city of Limoges, and who owns a house nearby Montignac-Lascaux, called me for a sale which featured a handful of antiquarian books. Surprisingly, they sold very well. We went on from there.” But according to a few booksellers around, there's something fishy about this sale, one of the biggest of the year. «We all know where these books come from» smiled one of them - let's call him Mr. Labrish. «This is just a big made-up sale!» Meaning, the books are collected from various sources and not from a unique collection. «And the best sales,» resumed Mr. Labrish, «are the 'real' ones, those built up around the collection of a true bibliophile.» Pierre Poulain seemed quite aware of these rumors. “They come from wicked tongues; a couple of jealous and bitter booksellers, who tried to work with us, but whom we turned down since they asked too much for their books. And yes, this is a made-up sale; all sales are, including those of Christies'! There's no more great book collections around. Our 2015 sale features 50 various sellers; the books mostly come from three different estates, the collection of an old man from Limoges and, yes, from various booksellers, who sell off a part of their stocks. But that's how the business runs, and if we had been taking people for a ride all these years, we wouldn't be around since 1995.” Well, Madoff’s forgery lasted quite a long time, didn't it?

 

Mr Labrish's book store is open in the summer as he tries to benefit from the flow of tourists too. As an expert for a nearby auction house, he knows every trick in the game; and he laughed when asked if he would attend the sale of Montignac-Lascaux. «These books aren't interesting!» he said. «You know why? Because most of them are collected from professional booksellers who've been trying in vain to sell them, sometimes for years! If they haven't succeeded, it's because they ask too much for them.»

 

But our booksellers are honest merchants, of course – and they would never be part of a tricky business. Unfortunately, as times get hard every opportunity becomes an option. “The rare and luxury books will always sell at good prices,” said Pierre Poulain, “but we've stopped selling the smallest ones, as nobody buys them anymore. That's because the small booksellers, who used to buy them, disappear by the hour.” And that might embitter some of them. According to Mr. Labrish, many “dignified” booksellers even try to sell at Montignac-Lascaux nowadays. «I had to laugh when I saw some books coming from the shop of a well-known bookseller. I asked him: How dare you, after repeating for years you would never work with Galateau Pastaud? The books you listed in their catalog are already listed in yours, with their recognizable ex-libris!»

 

Apparently, to work with this sale openly makes it even worse. The real problem, Mr. Labrish said, lies in the reserve prices that prevent the books from selling for a “regulated” price. «If you noticed, the appraisals of the few interesting books in the catalog are ridiculously high.» But how does it work, then? “Well,” smiled Mr Labrish, “first, I guess the room in Montignac-Lascaux doesn't cost them a lot. For the mayor of the city, it's a good thing to welcome an alleged prestigious event. These books are supposed to attract some wealthy tourists, and it adds a cultural event on the agenda of the city. So they probably get the room for free. Furthermore, they don't care. They charge both the buyer and the seller 25 or 26%, (in fact, 21,10% for buyers, NDLR). Except bookseller, of course, who aren't charged more than 10%, I guess.»

 

But if they don't sell most of the books, what's the use? «Well, the last time, some Russian buyers attended the sale and paid ridiculous prices for a lot of books! That made the day of the auctioneers! Trust me, unless you wish to be the butt of the joke, you don't want to bid at this auction sale.» A few days before the sale, Pierre Poulain wasn't worried. “If we're lucky, we'll sell 70 to 80% of the items; if unlucky, maybe 50%. The book business has changed. We used to have some powerful buyers, a few years ago. Some Russians, indeed but not only; there were some Belgians and even some French. They've disappeared, probably because they had “too much” money at the time – it couldn’t last. And we sell 40% of our books through “live auction” on the internet! We must explain to the sellers that the market has evolved. The copies of Cook's voyages have lost a lot of value, for instance; and a book which was worth 150 euros yesterday might be worth 80 euros today. But at least it's still selling! Honestly, I think that the business is now stabilized. Right after the crisis in 2008, I feared that old books might go down just like the antique furniture. The biggest weakness of the market comes for the buyers of the upper middle-class, whose purchase power has suffered from the crisis. But there's a new generation of buyers; they’re in their thirties or forties, and they keep old books alive. Out of the roughly 1,000 French buyers of old books who exist today, 2 or 3 should build some exceptional collections.

 

Upon learning that this article was to be published by an American website, Pierre Poulain sighed: “The American buyers totally disappeared from auction sales when the dollar was so low; they're crawling back nowadays, but we've grown suspicious. Indeed, we've had bad experiences with several American buyers who never paid for the books they had bid on. It was getting even worse than with the Italians, at one point.” Wow! Come on, American buyers... “worse than the Italians”? Pull yourselves together quick, please.

 

No sale is a prophet in its own region. Mr. Labrish's opinion isn't isolated in Dordogne, but I noticed, while speaking with him, that he was trying to sell me a book I thought was overestimated. I didn't buy it. Hey! Who knows? It might resurface on a next Montignac-Lascaux sale; and I might get a better bargain – if no Russian is around, that is.

 

(c) T. Ehrengardt

 

Editorial Note:  Since this article was published, the auction house of Mr. Poulain has been in touch with us. They affirm that they do pay for the room where the sale takes place every year, in Montignac-Lascaux.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <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: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Zane Grey, Inscribed photograph album depicting Grey and party at Catalina, fishing, and in Arizona. $700 to $1,000
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Eric Taverner, Salmon Fishing...London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1931. $600 to $900
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> The Gentleman Angler. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Ken Robinson, Flyfishers' Progress. [London: The Flyfishers' Club, 2000. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> G. H. Lacy, North Punjab Fishing Club Angler's Handbook. Calcutta: Newman & Co., 1890. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> J. Harrington Keene, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Making for Trout, etc. New York, 1887. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Arthur Macrate, The History of The Tuna Club, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California, 1948. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Joseph D. Bates Jr. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1966. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Herbert Hoover, Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. New York: Random House, 1963. $400 to $600
  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 372: Martin Luther King Jr. March for Freedom Now! Placard. Chicago, 1960. 28 x 22”. $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 567: Warhol, Andy. Tate Gallery Exhibition Booklet, Signed on the Cover by Warhol. Tate Gallery, 1971. $700 to $900
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 72: Mitchell, Margaret. <i>Gone With the Wind.</i> New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936. First edition, first issue. $4,000 to $5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 468: Photo Archive Documenting the 1930s—50s Chicago Jazz and Night Club Scene. A significant collection. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 143: Dr. Seuss. <i>Oh Say Can You Say.</i> 1979, First Edition, Signed. $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 285: [Maps] Thomas G. Bradford. <i>A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial.</i> Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1835. First Edition. $1,600 to $1,800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 69: Herman Melville. <i>Moby Dick, or The Whale</i>. New York: Random House, 1930. First Kent Trade Edition. $400 to $600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 295: John James Audoban. Group of 148 Lithographs from the Birds of America. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, ca. 1840s. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 54: Langston Hughes. <i>One-Way Ticket.</i> New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949. First edition. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 7: Ray Bradbury. <i>The Martian Chronicles.</i> With a Wine Label Signed by Bradbury. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950. First edition $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 121. Frank L Baum. <i>The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.</i> Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1899, 1900. First Edition. $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 369. [Declaration of Independence] Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page; 29 x 26”. From the "American Archives" 1837-1853 series of books. $15,000 to $20,000

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