Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2016 Issue

In a Change of Plans, Gordon College Will Not Be Selling Part of its Rare Book Collection

48f7126c-f141-4e1e-9340-215875f4b7af

Announcement of the Vining sale, a sale which will never be held.

A major controversy from last year over a library's plan to sell some of its rare books appears to have been quietly resolved in a way that will please those who support retention of the full collection. A year ago, Gordon College, a private, Christian school north of Boston, announced it would sell 10% of a rare book collection to support the maintenance of the remainder. As with all such plans, it stirred up a hornets' nest of opposition, some from faculty, some from alumni and others. It was sufficient to put the plan on hold, and now it appears to have been permanently cancelled.

 

In early 2015, Gordon College announced it was going to sell 10% of a specific collection. They even went so far as signing on Doyle New York auction house to conduct the sale. Doyle posted an announcement of the sale and a general description, though not the specific lots. That description said, "The selection is exceptionally rich in early travels and voyages, Shakespeariana, material relating to linguistics and philology, and Americana, among other fields. Most notably it includes copies of the first and second Bibles in the Massachusett language, 1663 and 1685 respectively, which were painstakingly translated into that language over a fourteen-year period. Both editions were printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the 1663 edition is the first Bible in any language to be printed in North America."

 

To be sold was not 10% of all of their old books. It was 10% of a specific collection, given to the college in 1921 by the heirs of Edward Payson Vining, a railroad officer. While Vining was not a railroad magnate, he was still a very successful official who was able to retire early and devote the bulk of his life to his loves – book collecting and writing. Some of his theories were a bit esoteric, perhaps a result of having too much time on his hands. He wrote a book about how the first overseas visitors to America were neither Columbus nor the Vikings. He believed some Buddhist monks from Afghanistan were the first to arrive. He also wrote a treatise on how Hamlet was really a woman. When you have lots of time and money, you can do things like this. Meanwhile, he built a fine book collection, worth a very substantial sum, that his family gave to Gordon, undoubtedly fulfilling Vining's wishes in the process.

 

Gordon gratefully accepted the valuable contribution, but evidently didn't really know what to do with it. For years, most of the collection remained in boxes. By 2015, some of the books were showing their age and the problems associated with keeping them in less than ideal conditions. The type of care, climate control, and such really needed was not within the budget of an institution whose focus was something other than preservation of old books. This was not a desperation situation. Unlike some colleges these days, Gordon is not at risk of going out of business. They're doing fine. It's just that maintaining the collection would require significant financial investments that might need to be drawn away from activities closer to their primary mission, educating students. So, administrators decided to sell 10% of the collection to raise the funds necessary to create facilities up to the task of preserving the remaining 90%.

 

Naturally, there were objections. This is an issue that pits preservationists against practical financial managers, and there is rarely a clear right and wrong here, just strong differences of opinion. It has happened before and will happen many times again. However, in this case, there was a twist that favored the preservationists. The 1921 gift of the books was subject to some conditions. Exactly how that was stated was lost, no one still having a copy of the original agreement. What was still around was a comment written in a book by the college's then President, Nathan Wood, in 1953. He wrote that the trustees "voted to accept the library on the understanding that the library shall be retained intact as a memorial to Edward Payson Vining and that no material change shall be made in its contents which would affect its material or sentimental value."

 

Would a sale of 10% constitute a material change in its material or sentimental value? Estimates indicated the books to be sold might be worth $2 million, but it was unclear whether the 10% of the quantity of books also represented 10% of its value. It could be more, or less. As for sentimental value, who knows? Gordon's position, at least from a public image standpoint, was further eroded by comments from Vining's 76-year-old great-granddaughter opposing the sale. The college decided to cancel the sale at Doyle scheduled for April 14, 2015, while it decided what it should do next.

 

Now, that decision has apparently been made, and without the fanfare that accompanied the prior announcement. According to the Salem (Massachusetts) News, the college has withdrawn the original plan. A spokesperson for Gordon said the college was responding to the strong feelings of faculty that another solution be found. While no details of how the issue of cost of preservation will be handled were given, Gordon did say it was exploring options with other institutions, possible grants, and such to resolve the concerns without selling off part of the collection.

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>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on 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. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <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. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on 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. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions