Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2017 Issue

The World as it will Be


Books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera are real but their world has, for years, been losing locations on Main Streets, High Streets and Broadways around the world.  Why?  Parts of it are, [1] changing tastes, [2] rising prices, [3] thinning markets, [4] the Internationalization of these markets, and [5] the aging of core buyers and collectors.  These changes have remade the field into a more event based business with a succession of collector/collecting shows and auctions to capture the attention of the everyday market.


The decline of shops has long been understood to be a disaster because many, possibly most collectors today, received their introduction to the field by browsing the shelves of the used and rare book shops that not so long ago, were found nearby.


The Internet of course is remaking commerce, aggregating many fields on-line, while undermining the shops and businesses that emerged in the final decades of what historians will someday call “the end of the traditional retail period.”  For book dealers, their clients increasingly interact on line, pursuing best or most appropriate copies over those nearer by.  These days the traditional methodology slips away, older practitioners continuing as their fathers and grandfathers did, their children now living deeply in an electronic world that, beyond communicating, increasingly shapes our understanding of the book and its materiality to our lives.  And it is their generation that will remake the field.


Here is what I think will happen.


Collectible paper, be it books, manuscripts, maps or ephemera, is a distinctive niche but only a niche in the world of commerce but it should be able to support a reimagined location in the electronic ether that combines our understanding of the world we leave behind with the world, with its increasing capabilities, it now becomes.


The good news is that shops will return to a Main Street if not to the same Main Street they were once a part.  But they will return because they are remembered and wished for, if not in quite enough numbers to support actual locations much anymore.


How will this happen.


It is now possible to create alternative realities online and the world of old and rare books will either be its own reality or a part of another or other larger realities.  Books, one hopes, will be able to support their own world.


In such a reimaged world there will be dealers, collectors, auction houses and libraries.  They are already part of indexed listing sites, be they eBay, Amazon, Rare Book Hub, OCLC, ILAB, ABAA, ABA and others.  Indexed sites are the norm.  What will now happen is that the world we remember will be projected as the starting point of an electronic one with increasingly supernatural capabilities.




If the world of books is reimagined as a village there will be dealers and their listings.  There will be auction history as reference for valuation and probability of reappearance and several hundred auction houses whose listings contribute to the never-ending flow of upcoming auction lots.  And eZines such as Rare Book Monthly and Weekly Auction Update.  And libraries and collector presentations will be here as well with options to share, acquire and sell as preferred.  And because would-be buyers have unique interests their search terms will reconfigure the village to mute the less relevant and hoist high the most relevant.  Someone browsing this world will instinctively understand the scale and importance of subjects, something that is difficult to access today.


And perhaps the form of collectible will be a defining search term.  These days ephemera are rising so being able to recast the village to rank dealers according to their ephemera holdings would be quite useful.  Who will I visit and what will I browse?  The question will be:  who has what and can I open a conversation.  So think for a moment what the ABAA Fair in New York would be like if, in an online re-imagination, we could see who’s bringing what and map out a plan to meet.    It’s within their power.


In this reimagined world every firm and entity will have the option but not the obligation to answer questions by phone, facetime or email.  Some will and others won’t.  So why will some organizations do this?  To build rapport.  I’ve been fielding members’ calls for fifteen years and value these interactions above all others.  Hearing people’s questions first-hand as well as how they frame their questions helps define the changing expectations that will be met in this new world.


Essentially this is an understandable 3D place that reconfigures based on subjects, searches and perspective; one that changes form in response to questions and is unique to each participant.  In other words, an engrossing experience.


So if looking for auctions, auctions then assume center stage while comparables and research lurk nearby, the searches already done in background anticipation, they then waiting for the click that says “show me what you got.”


So you woke up this morning thinking it would be just another day.  Nope!  Welcome to the future.


The bad news is we can’t hold on to the past.  The good news we get the chance to shape the future.


With this article 10 images are posted.  They have been identified and sequenced by Paul Yu.  The final image, created by Mark West, is one showing the world of Alice in Wonderland, in this article a metaphor for the imaginary world we will someday inhabit.  Mr. West is an illustrator and musician working in London, England.  Links are provided at the end of this article.


The 10 image set portrays the setting of the sun on the world we have known and the sunrise of this world reconsidered.  Many people will have ideas about what this world should look like.  Please send them to me and we’ll include them in follow-up articles as we add features to this emerging concept.


The good news is that the world of rare paper, already on the net primarily as databases, will soon move decisively to become an integrated world and its strangest aspect may be that it will be designed mostly by people with grey and white hair.


About Mr. West:   Mark West is an illustrator and musician working in London, England.  This illustration was originally created for a club night called 'Wonderland' which raises money for www.wyce.org.uk helping communities in The Gambia, and it features every scene and character from Alice In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, in event order from bottom left.  For more information please visit www.mixedcasesspaces.co.uk


Whether you agree or disagree we'll appreciate your perspective.  RBH members can directly post while they are signed into their account.  Others can sign-up for a free account and then post.  To join click the Become a Member link in the upper right corner.  Alternatively you can email me at bmckinney@rarebookhub.com or call me at 415.823.6678.


Posted On: 2017-05-01 08:42
User Name: PeterReynolds

I've been 17 years as an online-only bookseller (though anyone can visit if they make an appointment). And the mail order bookseller existed long before that.

Posted On: 2017-05-01 16:40
User Name: biohish

I am not sure if I correctly understand your "re-imagined" future of the collectible book "village" as you referred to it, but I am 38 years of age, have been collecting since my dental school days, and have amassed a respectable collection of dental books, manuscripts, art, and instruments dating as far back as 350 BC, with a 13th century manuscript leaf, and printed books of royal provenance, all within the dental themed sphere, and almost all, to the tune of 99.99%, have been acquired via online relationships. I have been purchasing from certain dealers for more than a decade without having met them in person, or even the chance to hear their voices.

While the "death" of the book shop browsing experience can be debated, and justifiably so, this is not the point of this article I gather, but rather how the future of the rare book world should evolve.

Well, I believe I have been living in this "re-imagined collectible book village" for almost 15 years now. I wake up every morning and log in to my notifications at Vialibri, RareBookHub, Invaluable, The-Saleroom, Drouot, Liveauctioneers, Lot-Tissimo, etc, etc. Not to mention the plethora of direct emails from dealers and auction representatives that I have had the pleasure of structuring a deep and thoughtful relationship with throughout my earl collecting years.

Again, unless I am misunderstanding your vision of this re-imagined village, I must respectfully say that this article is 10 to 15 years late.

H. S. Ayoub, DMD

Posted On: 2017-05-01 16:47
User Name: biohish

I forgot to mention the current excitement regarding the opportunities presented by social networking sites, especially Instagram, where dealers, librarians, curators, and the youth of the rare book collecting world have been interconnecting in a novel way, on an unprecedented scale, utilizing the current generation's affinity for the visual.

I believe, short of a massive facebook-style effort geared just towards the collectors of the past, we are all already living in the "future" of rare book collecting.

H. S. Ayoub, DMD

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 7. Ritter's unusual sun-dial world map, 1607. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 16. Fascinating Japanese satirical map published prior to WWII, 1932. Est. $1400 to $2000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 30. Newton's 2" miniature terrestrial globe, 1833. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 318. Braun & Hogenberg's first plan of Moscow in contemporary color, 1575. Est. $2750 to $3500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 346. One of the most decorative 18th century maps of Malta, 1680. Est. $1200 to $1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 412. The first printed map devoted to the Pacific in full contemporary color, 1589. Est. $8000 to $10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 425. Rare set of celebrated explorers of the New World, 1592. Est. $1900 to $2300
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 436. Two superb miniature atlases bound in one volume with 98 maps, 1682. Est. $5500 to $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 445. Part IV of de Bry's "Grand Voyages" by Girolamo Benzoni, 1613. Est. $2000 to $2500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 447. Tallis' "History of the United States of America" in six volumes, 1850. Est. $1500 to $1800
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 448. Mallet's miniature military masterpiece, 1672. Est. $1400 to $1700
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Malcolm X, Autograph Letter Signed, from prison, 1950. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Letter from Moses Walker, an enslaved Georgia man, to his mother at another plantation, 1854. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Signed cabinet card of Frederick Douglass, albumen photograph, Boston, circa 1879. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Placard from the Memphis Sanitation Worker's strike, 1968. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b><br><i>The North Star,</i> volume 1, issue 27, Rochester, NY, 1848. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Hand-tinted tintype of John Brown, circa 1860. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster signed & inscribed by Huey Newton, circa 1967. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Album of aerial views of the march on Montgomery, taken by federal troops, 1965. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster for the SNCC, photograph by Danny Lyon featuring John Lewis, circa 1962. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <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>
  • <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

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