Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2017 Issue

Collections can get Complicated

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I’ve known for many years that book collecting, if it was ever only books, is rarely books alone today.  Book collecting was once a huge field that required decades of experience.  Today informational databases approach Einstein levels of volume and complexity providing clear pictures of rarity and value while selling databases such as Abe Books and Biblio show enormous availability.  The word rare has always been a general term but the best databases today show it item by item, selling sites to tell you how many are available and RBH to tell you what the market is saying it’s worth.  

 

As a practical matter as a collector of Hudson Valley material I’ve found increasing change, even volatility, in what has long been a gradually rising market.  More and better material continues coming out and to achieve good results while plebian material is losing ground.  Behind this activity it appears that dealers and book collectors are aging-out, recognizing it’s time to sell.  The effect is an increasingly tense flow of better and better collectible material that is prompting auction houses to require even better material and lower estimates to get into their rooms.  It’s noticeable and exciting.

 

As a collector, now 70 but soon enough 71, I understand my obligation to organize my collection of Hudson River Valley material in ways that will be understandable to the auction house, institutions or dealer that will sweep clean my Aegean Stables.  I love the acquisitions but understand that what is transparent and appealing to me will be, for the most part, a burden to others.

 

So I’m re-organizing this collection as a sale and have started with the assumption that the 5,000 items I have will be fitted into about three hundred lots.  To do it I’m giving myself until the end of August in 2018 to complete this work.  The auction house or dealer who takes this upon themselves, hopefully well into the future, will understand what they have as will my family.  This example of the emerging new collecting seems to naturally focus on deeper, narrower, more intense subjects.  Whether there’s a market for this remains to be seen but as a collector, it’s a beautiful experience.

 

So here are a few lots.  I may have eight hundred photographic postcards of the mid-Hudson Valley.  Most will be a single lot I think while about sixty-five, all disasters of one type or another, will be a separate and very appealing lot.

 

One room in our house contains only Joel Munsell printings.  Mr. Munsell was kind enough to document his output beginning in 1834 and continuing into the spring of 1871 and lists the number of copies printed for 990 of the 2,278 items he owned up to.  He published books, but was more important in the printing of short-lived and quickly forgotten pamphlets.  He also printed dealer catalogues.  I believe I have north of four hundred of his works.  This collection may in time help unravel two mysteries; why haven’t I been able to find examples of more of his works and, for the items known for which he has provided quantities printed, how do the quantities relate to appearances in libraries, at auction and online.  That research so far raises almost as many questions as it answers.  This collection which has been acquired item by item over fifteen years will be sold as a single lot without a reserve.  It is a compelling collection but only one lot.

 

Even as I’m looking [distantly] into the abyss I’m of course also still collecting and am grateful that my wife accepts my, to quote Groucho Marx approach, “hello I must be going.”  The impulse to collect increases with age, inevitably leading to the collector’s dying words, “I’ll take it!”  So of course I’m still buying.

 

For those that read my stories many know I have become enamored with Abraham Tomlinson, the Dutchess County insurance agent who acquired Revolutionary War material during the period 1840 to 1858.  He was not a collector but rather, in my opinion, an accumulator who once he had built his museum, marketed it to various New York libraries, and sold it to the Mercantile Library by if not before, 1860.  I have Tomlinson’s notes about what he was offering as well as Radford Curdy’s, the Dutchess County historian’s update seventy-five years later, to guide me and I now consider the possibility of pursuing pieces of his collection as they re-appear.  It sounds difficult but the task is made immeasurably easier by the fact that the material that passed through the hands of the Mercantile Library appears to have been stamped as a Tomlinson item.  Today that’s a no-no but I’m glad they did it.  Some of his material will certainly reappear if for no other reason than that he had so much and we now have sixty years of documented reappearances, about twenty at auction, dating to the 1940’s.

 

I also have paintings, both some somewhat important examples and many others that will resonate only with people very attached to the mid-Hudson Valley.  I frankly love these paintings, particularly the emotionally dark ones because the Ulster County I grew up in was dark.  Altogether I have about thirty of them.

 

And there are lithographs.  I really don’t know how many but I can spend hours looking at them one by one.

 

And water colors.  By absolutely a stroke of luck I was asked to look at a collection of 160 watercolors and drawings painted by - - - - -.  Two young men wanted to part with them for money and I paid $7,000.   This collection will someday be a single unreserved lot.  Mr. 0000 had an excellent eye for detail.  Mr. ----- had a canny eye which he used to great effect beginning in late 1848 and continuing into the final years of the 1850’s.  This is life in the Hudson Valley as he saw it, carefully detailed, a decade before photography would begin to be common.

 

And then there are Sanborn Atlases.  These generally large format books presented towns, cities and businesses [such as railroads] beginning in the 1870’s and continuing into the 1940’s.  These maps are so detailed they almost defy imagination.  I have perhaps a half dozen and would love to buy more.

 

So this is a piece of what I have collected.  It’s small piece but I’m simply getting under way.  How dealers or auction houses will feel about the material is difficult to guess.  In time, we’ll know.  For now, it’s simply a pleasure.

 

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: 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
  • <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.

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