Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2005 Issue

An Interview with Terry Belanger of the Rare Book School,<br>Recipient of $500,000 MacArthur Award

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We turned to the topic of bookselling, in particular, the impact of the internet bookselling sites and eBay, half expecting a lament for the good old days when personal relationships dominated the field. Terry Belanger is too practical for that. The RBS is itself a buyer of books. Obtaining the best prices, indeed finding the books at all, are more important to the school than nostalgia. While the RBS may study books of very great value, the books it buys are more often reference works, not enormously valuable, but nonetheless rather obscure and hard to find. Here is where Mr. Belanger feels the internet has made its major impact. He distinguishes between less expensive material and the highly valuable rare and antiquarian books priced at the $1,000 and up level, where the changes have been less significant.

"Change has certainly come in the markets for less expensive books," the RBS Director explains. "At RBS, we buy books all the time both via eBay and via the sites collected by bookfinder.com. Indeed, we buy more than we've ever bought before because it's now so easy to do so. Here's a case in point.

"RBS has a very good open-shelf reference collection of modern books on the subjects treated in our courses. Last year, Mark Dimunation of the Library of Congress called it the best such collection in North America. Before the mid-1990s, the books in the various sections of this collection were assembled piecemeal, sometimes over a long period of time, while I trudged from bookshop to bookshop carrying lists and looking for the titles we needed in Binding, Collecting and the Book Trade, History of Printing and Publishing, Illustration, Letterforms, Papermaking, and Typography.

"In the late 1990s, I invited Roger Wieck, Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts at the Morgan Library, to teach at RBS. University of Virginia's medieval manuscript collections are not strong, I had to admit, but I could tell him that at RBS we had recently assembled an excellent reference collection on his subject. We compiled a list of several hundred desirable titles, went after them via bookfinder.com, and $20,000 and three months later, had acquired virtually all of them. It would have taken us a decade or more to do the same thing before internet bookselling came along.

"Admittedly, it's increasingly hard to find knowledgeable used/academic/scholarly booksellers with open shops like George Allen (William H. Allen) in Philadelphia, or Bill Wreden (William P. Wreden) in Palo Alto. And that's a great loss. But I'm not sure how much internet sales have affected the sale of expensive old and rare books, especially those in the four-figure and higher range. The ABAA seems to be growing, not shrinking."

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 Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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