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:</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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