Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2015 Issue

Collecting on a Budget

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Ephemera, images, books, correspondence

Passion and practicality coexist in human beings, in a relationship that shifts from second to second.  We are at once interested and disinterested, cost and value in constant flux, our interests and needs constantly juxtaposed leading to “I’d like it but…”.  Nevertheless many of sound mind and high spirits are inexorably drawn to collectible books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera that are hardly as certain as gold or as negotiable as currency, they of this persuasion some small percentage of the population that interprets the world through the lens of the printed form and deems they must not only understand it, they must also own it.

 

For most of the past two centuries the printed word was the preeminent form of information transfer, the one form flexible and inexpensive that could adjust for the gathering avalanche of information that carried civilization from its agrarian roots in the 18th century to the industrial/educational social complex it is today.  The best answer, by default, was the medium of print for which there were no serious ravels until there were.  A hundred years ago newspapers that were more pictures than text [on a column inches basis] began to push past the more solid editorial products that serious newspapers had been.  These tabloids would seamlessly then coexist with the movies and radio that delivered news and entertainment in the era leading to the Second World War.

 

Mid-century the introduction of television and the opportunity to receive the news in laconic form from favored pundits quickly ushered in the era where entertainment more than information would come to satisfy the public’s daily curiosity.  This is turn begin to redefine the scale of what we could know.  If fifty years before the news was general and a day late, now it would transition into real time.  In the era preceding we saw the world in broad strokes.  In the age of television we would begin to know people and events in increasing detail.  Pictures were worth a thousand words.

 

In those transitional moments the fate of the printed word for the vast majority of adults was probably determined.  Cycles do not start or stop on anyone’s schedule.  They go on for some too long because many are comfortable with what and how they know while others, anxious about what they don’t, paw at the always-rising dawn for portents of tomorrow.  They became the early adapters whose emerging future then has become the world we know today.  And this is where we are now, the world we knew daily dismembered on line and a new world rising from alternatives that a few years past did not exist.  In these changes the place and rank of books has declined.

 

These days those involved with old and rare books are in the midst of this significant change and many, I think in fact most, are adapting.  But it is difficult because the very foundational sense of the book is under attack.  It seems books were only ever the medium of exchange for most so when a more convenient form emerged they simply moved on.

 

That is, most moved on.  For some 10% of the population the printed word and image in their traditional forms remain their best alternative for learning and interpreting.  They prefer the look and feel of books, original prints, and manuscript documents while rejecting their erzats online cousins that look the same.  For them the history of the material itself is important.  It is part of the story.

 

For they of this persuasion wishing to collect knowing how and what to select/buy is becoming an new art because the options are so different today.

 

The traditional approach is to select an area and then study related bibliographies that encompass portions of the potentially interesting area.  Such bibliographies however are an increasingly dated form because what separates the current era from the past is our gathering awareness of the many other forms of printed material that surface regularly and that do not regularly appear in bibliographies.  Today we know that books are but a single form of paper collectibles.  We know this because we are daily exposed via the Internet to new material that is not listed anywhere else and have little or no transaction history. 

 

So how does a new collector adjust?  By accepting that single sheets or pamphlets, ephemera, maps or manuscripts are as collectable as books.  And that as a consequence every field and subject today is exponentially larger and prices generally lower than they were a decade ago.  In short, collecting is being transformed.

 

The essential difference then is the explosion in access beyond primary, to secondary, tertiary and granular material that is for the first time available en mass - opening unimagined study and collecting opportunities that turn even narrow subjects into 1,000 pieces jigsaw puzzles.

 

I have been on both sides of this divide having collected early material [before 1625] relating to Florida.  I collected in the 1990-2005 period and sold the 81 items I had collected in 2009 for on average of $37,000 a lot.  In 2010 I sold a much larger emerging America collection of more than 325 items for about $8,000 each.  Today I collect the history of the Hudson Valley in New York and buy both top of the line books, maps and ephemera but also boxes of obscure paper; receipts, letters, broadsides, photographs, Sanborn maps, and directories.  Much of this later material costs as little as a few dollars.  As to scale, I already have more than 5,000 items with no end in sight.

 

For the emerging collector then it’s possible to collect in the traditional way but it’s also useful to understand there are new ways.  Particularly for collectors with budgets there are many opportunities to acquire interesting material for a song.  Here are some examples.

For a collector on a $2,000 annual budget choose a narrow subject and develop your own bibliography.  Those who subscribe to the Rare Book Hub Transaction database can search one or more terms to see a very complete picture of all related transaction records over the past 100 years.  Here are some examples:

Poughkeepsie      932 records
Necromancy      60 records
Thomas Edison      2,021 records
Mississippi River      23,109 records
Ernest Hemingway      7,545 records
Dr. Seuss      1,855 records


For Hudson River collecting here are some estimates of items per year and cost to obtain.  These numbers are by purchase venue and subject:

Local Directories.  1 every 18 months, about $200

Local Railroad material. 2-3 items per year.  Values are all over the place

Local Disaster Postcards.  2-3 a year.  About $40 each.

Munsell Imprints.  8 unduplicated imprints each year.  About $40 each

Photography.  An important collection every 2 years, $3,000 to 10,000

Local Sanborn Maps.  Important local mapsonce every 2 years.

 

Virtually every subject has a history.  From such searches you can develop a scale of the possibilities.  Then look around the web for available prices and compare these examples to those that have sold.  You’ll see patterns in the pricing.

 

As to a $5,000 budget it’s simply a matter of how fine the mesh of your searches are.  I can assure you there will always be more material to buy than you have the budget to pay for.  And I can also assure you that within a year you’ll be grading your purchases both for quality and value.  Taken altogether, spending less at the outset will yield significant dividends in time.  It simply takes time to feel the market.

 

Whatever the budget the pursuit will be worthwhile.  We are living in a golden era.  Great collectors, long gone and peeking down from heaven’s balustrades are no doubt wondering about our amazing luck and wishing they could come back.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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
  • <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

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