Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2016 Issue

Its All in the Name

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Andrew Caspersen.

The answer to struggling booksellers' sales issues is so simple and obvious it is a wonder so few have picked up on this before. The answer comes to us from Melbourne, Australia, where high rents on Brunswick Street have been making it difficult for bookshops to survive. It was there that an iconic book store made the announcement a few weeks ago that it would be closing its doors. Polyester Books, in business since the 1980's, would close in May when its lease ran out.

 

However, it has since been revealed that the store's original owner, who sold the business seven years ago, would be reopening in the old location, at least temporarily. What's more, the store will essentially be the same as Polyester Books, which specialized in counterculture books and related items. The key difference here is that the name will be changed. The store will no longer be Polyester Books. The new name? - Sex, Drugs, Rock'n'Roll. If that doesn't bring in the crowds, it's hard to imagine what will.

 

That said, the owner is not overly confident that even sex and drugs in the title is enough to justify the high rents. The new store is only temporary, essentially a means of disposing of items in the owner's personal collection until something more fashionable by today's standards moves into the space.

 

Speaking of names, the rare book collection of the Harvard Law Library was for years housed in the library's Caspersen Room (many of the books have since been moved and it is now an exhibition hall). The Caspersen name has become a mixed blessing for Harvard these days, one that represents great generosity to the institution along with some questionable and strange behavior. It provides not only an insight into how the other fraction of one percent lives, but makes regular folks wonder why people with such enormous privilege act in such crazy ways.

 

The large gift that placed the Caspersen name on what had previously been called the Treasure Room at the library came from Finn Caspersen. Finn Caspersen was said to be worth around $1 billion when he died. He took his own life in 2009. He was suffering from kidney cancer, but the IRS was also looking into possible tax evasion through offshore bank accounts, an issue once again in the news today. The number $100 million was bandied about, though the case ended when he died. If he was evading taxes, you can only wonder why someone with so much money would take such a risk just to have a (relatively) little more.

 

Which brings us to his son, Andrew Caspersen, the one in the news today. He was recently charged by the U.S. Attorney in New York with securities and wire fraud. According to the complaint, Caspersen presented a deal to a hedge fund which represented a charity. A firm was looking to buy out some debtors, $80 million worth, he said. They would offer 15% interest, fully secured, to those who provided a loan for the buy out. That shortly evolved to something even crazier. The firm no longer needed to buy out the investors, but since they had made a "promise" to accept new loans at the astronomical rate of 15%, they would continue to make that deal anyway. The loan would now be secured by the very cash investors loaned, since they no longer needed it. Is that deal too good to be true? Of course it is. You would be afraid to loan anyone $10 with a fish story like that. The hedge fund loaned Caspersen $25 million.

 

A few months later, Caspersen offered them another one of these loan deals, this one for $20 million. He also made a similar offer to someone else for $50 million. This time, Caspersen maintained that the firm had paid back a different debtor, and though it had no obligation or reason to do so, it had decided to offer another 15% debt obligation for millions of dollars more it did not need. Huh? The hedge fund figured maybe it ought to do a little bit of due diligence this time around. It asked for a contact with the firm offering this spectacular deal, and when Caspersen provided a phony email address, the scam began to unravel. It turned out the email was at a domain name that had been registered just 20 minutes earlier, and though it sounded like the name of the firm it was said to represent, it was not quite the same.

 

It turns out, according to the official complaint, that a day after receiving the $25 million, Caspersen transferred a little over $8 million to the investment firm for which he worked to cover an earlier unauthorized transfer to his personal account. Caspersen then transferred the remainder of the $25 million to his personal brokerage account. He then began trading heavily in stock options. One imagines he was desperately trying to make some quick bucks so he could repay the hedge fund the full $25 million. Instead, within a matter of weeks, he lost $14.5 million more. Altogether, there were approximately $25 million in losses from that account. While it is unstated, one might guess that Caspersen used the $8 million he took from his own firm to trade options, lost it, convinced the hedge fund to give him money to recoup those losses, but lost that money too. That led him to return to the hedge fund for another $20 million to recoup the two sets of losses.

 

Ironically, the Caspersens had made their family fortune as owners of Beneficial Finance, a company which made small loans to people of modest means. Undoubtedly, they did more due diligence on those small loans than the hedge fund did with $25 million.

 

When you name a library after a wealthy donor, you take the good with the bad. America is still dotted with Carnegie libraries, named for a man who was incredibly generous with his wealth, which he earned with some cutthroat business practices and crushing of union workers. Harvard, too, will have to live with such a name, one which, like the names of all the rest of us, represents a mix of good and bad, just on a grander scale.

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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