Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2015 Issue

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

B2366aed-4849-4e2e-bbbe-558943d25932

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>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>
  • <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.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions