Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2016 Issue

The New York Book Fair: Great Fun



One of the great pleasures of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair in New York every April is its certainty.  Life has its ups and downs but somehow each April the leading dealers, institutions and collectors find a way to get past life’s debris to rally around the material on which the field thrives; rare, beautiful and unusual works on paper.  In some years events in the real world crowd out the joy and pleasure in the Park Avenue Armory, in others the skies are clear, the daffodils are out, and smiles are everywhere.  The 2016 NYABF goes into the records as a very strong event, as David Lilburne of Antipodean Books explained, “a throwback to ten years ago when all felt right with the world.”  For John Windle “it was the fair at which the stars lit up the sky, my best NY Fair ever at just under $500,000.”


Dealers have been setting prices for decades but increasingly, and this year emphatically, many dealers adjusted prices into logical relationship with market conditions and saw their sales jump.  It turns out many, probably most, North American buyers have their own opinions about fair value and we saw over the four fair days in April, that when the prices offered matched acquirer expectations, the sales occurred quickly.  My own experience was similar.


In my category, material relating to the Hudson Valley, there were many appealing choices, some I committed to immediately and others I suggested I’d return to discuss the following day.  When I came back those items were gone.  It was that kind of fair.


Bill Reese reported strong fair results:  $1.3 million, his second best fair over his storied career as a dealer.  Donald Heald, who has managed the New York Fair for more than a decade, reported “happiness across all the aisles.”   Attendance increased from 4,300 in 2015 to 5,600 in 2016.


This book fair is always an amalgam; first domestic and foreign dealers, then dealers in categories - ephemera, maps, manuscripts and books; next material by subject:  science and medicine, early exploration, Americana, fiction, book arts, printed images, objects and charts.  One collector called the fair “a learning experience.  There was a lot going on.”  That it was.


Bill Reese suggested that American dealers have learned to write better story-descriptions to explain their material and this is helping their sales.  “They understand they have to contextualize each item.” 


Selling collectible paper is both an art and a process.  Not so long ago all talk was about whose clients were on the floor.  Today what’s on the shelves is even more important because it’s increasingly an information-based market.  Personal relationships continue to be very important but for new collectors the need to learn is paramount.


Greg Talbot of Lawbook Exchange saw the fair through a different lens.  “It was strong and I’m sure many others have described it that way.  We marketed a pre-show list to clients and many, who couldn’t attend, bought from it.  Material we promoted also sold.  The strength was in the high end.” 


Another dealer sold important material to institutions early and then sold only a single book Saturday and nothing further on Sunday.  “My clients expected some consideration and I obliged.”  Discounting seemed more expected.  “This is the world now.”


The show had a back-story as well.  It is widely known that the powers at the Armory are looking for shows that stay longer and appeal to a younger audience.  As of May 1st the New York Antiquarian Book Fair does not yet have a firm offer for their April show in 2017.  There is some discussion about a possible weekend date in March but that is also tricky.  Other shows have lodged themselves in March and probably won’t adjust without a fight. 


In any event, any proposal for the Armory is said to be for only two years so any solution will probably be temporary.  By, if not before 2020, the fair will be in new premises unless the field successfully campaigns for a new long-term commitment.


And this is unsettling.  The collectable paper field has been adjusting to an aging audience, the explosion of Internet listed material, and the emergence of massive on-line databases that clarify rarity, importance and value and these changes and adjustments seem to be working out.  But the next five years will be especially crucial and the storied, convenient Armory could provide stability through what will invariably be a period of continuing adjustment.  Already the ABAA has answered one concern:  attendance.  This year’s 5,600 is a 30% increase on attendance in 2015.  In fact, the Sunday numbers were strong enough that the armory’s representative briefly slowed the entry pace to avoid overcrowding.  Overcrowding?  It seems that the audience, by the Armory’s calculations, is at least somewhat robust and if given time to develop additional strategies the show promoters could build the audience back toward 10,000.


Simply stated, the rare book field deserves to continue to be at the Armory although the audience may be older than the one consultants see in the armory’s future.  And that’s okay.  Rare books are part of the future too and will continue to be culturally significant.  I say give the ABAA numbers to hit and they’ll hit them.


In the meantime, about half of what I bought in New York has arrived.  It was a lovely trip and, from this collector’s perspective, an excellent buying opportunity.  So I’m looking forward to next April.


There were two other book fairs, both which were busy.  I'll be writing about them in the June issue of Rare Book Monthly.                                                                               


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> George Washington, Letter Signed to General James Clinton, preparing for the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, 1778. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising to send reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Edison, Autograph Letter Signed, to Western Union President William Orton, 1878. $10,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> William, Bishop of Coventry, vellum charter granting the church of Rochdale to the Cistercian Abbey of Stanlaw, in Latin, 1222. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> FDR, Photograph Signed & Inscribed, framed with wood removed from the White House roof, 1927. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Dubuffet, archive including many letters written while painting in NYC, 1951-72. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autograph Letter Signed, describing the source of his patience, 1939. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Lithograph portrait of Albert Einstein by Hermann Struck, signed by both, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Letter Signed to Johann IV of Nassau, in French, 1470. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Cocteau, Autograph Letter Signed, in French, 1919. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Louis Armstrong, two Autograph Letters Signed to Erich Kauffmann, his lip salve purveyor, 1965-70. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Wernher von Braun, Autograph Letter Signed to Jonathan Cross, 1975. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <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>

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