Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2006 Issue

A Tale of Two Auctions: One Completed, One Cancelled

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The Martin Luther King auction at Sotheby's was cancelled after the collection was sold privately.


By Michael Stillman

One of the most important book auctions of the year took place June 27 and 28 at Christie's in New York, and the prices garnered will bring nothing but joy to those who own important volumes. Offered was the Cornelius J. Hauck "History of the Book" Collection owned by the Cincinnati Museum Center. Christie's placed an overall estimate of just over $4.5 million on the collection, but when the final hammer came down, it had taken in almost three times the estimate, $12,401,780. Any fears that the high end of the book market might be experiencing some caution were quickly put to rest. Top material continues to bring high and growing prices.

Cornelius Hauck had contributed his "History of the Book" collection and other material to the Cincinnati Museum in 1966. This truly was an historic and diverse collection. It contained everything from Babylonian cuneiform tablets to Greek papyrus fragments, Persian, Asian, European and Hebrew manuscripts, fine bindings, and more. However, the Cincinnati museum did not find itself to be an ideal holder for this magnificent collection. Exhibitions over the years were limited, and the directors, with the support of Hauck's son, decided to put it up for sale, believing the works would end up in more fitting hands. Proceeds will be used to fund the maintenance and purchase of collections more suitable to the museum's mission.

In a press release, Francis Wahlgren, Christie's Head of the Books and Manuscripts Department in New York, was quoted as saying,
"Not in very many years have we felt such electricity in the air during a book auction. The Hauck sale gives a welcome jolt to the antiquarian market. Amazing prices were seen across the board of this highly varied collection, not only for the top lots, but also at the lower end of the market. No less striking was the crucial European participation, both English and Continental. The record price of the Hainhofer Album Amicorum was the result of determined bidding from both sides of the Atlantic."
The Hainhofer album, an illuminated manuscript on vellum and paper in German, Italian, Latin and French, from 1596-1633, brought in $2,368,000 against an estimate of $600,000-$800,000. The buyer was not revealed. However, the remaining top ten highest prices were distributed among trade and private buyers from the U.S., U.K. and Europe. The second highest priced item was a Hebrew Passover Haggadah from 1725, sold for $408,000 against an estimate of $100,000-$150,000. Next was a 17th century illuminated Persian work, sold for $329,600 against an estimate of $60,000-$80,000.

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