Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2007 Issue

Where is the new book collector?

Crichton

Bruce McKinney speaking with John Crichton [r]


By Bruce McKinney


The book collector, who has ever been a solitary creature, is seemingly less visible and hence more difficult to find today. Who's looking? Every dealer on the planet is interested to know who they are. So too are the listing sites and various publications and services that cater to them. These collectors are elusive. You can almost believe they are a vanishing breed, drawn in a thousand directions, all of them away from the collecting of books, manuscripts and ephemera. Almost.

Recently I asked four gray-haired dealers for their perspective on this question. In this case the gray hair is a useful indicator of experience. They are John Windle, Jeffrey Thomas, John Crichton and Michael Good, San Francisco Bay Area book dealers with more than a hundred years of experience between them. Younger folks may not remember the pre-internet world clearly. These men remember it too well, the way we all recall touchdowns scored in high school and the soliloquy delivered in the college play, wistfully and perhaps a bit sanitized. The question I asked "Where is the new book collector" is a seemingly easy question but its one that in the answering tells us as much about the respondent as it does about the collector. The new collector is after all, almost mythical, sightings hardly more common than Loch Ness monsters. But it of course is not the new collector that is hard to find. It's new mintings of the old-style collector that are. Collectors are in fact everywhere and more plentiful than ever. Listing sites such as Abe, Zvab, Biblio, ILAB-ABAA and AE provide a steady flow of orders to sellers. And eBay gavels thousands of books everyday. Traditional auctions sell 200,000 documented lots annually and an untold number of undocumented ones as well. There are plenty of buyers. But these rank and file collectors buy carefully and curb their enthusiasm at the sight of three digits. They are omnipresent and of course very different from the old style collector. They are also the growing backbone of the rare book business. Think of them as Mr. Seventy-five dollars, Madame Cinq-Cent Francs, and [English] fifty-quid.

These dealers clearly miss the old-style collectors who had money, ambition to collect and trust in the dealer to act on their behalf. Such collectors, rare in any era, are increasingly collecting independently, buying more at auction and more often from a range of sellers rather than through a single dealer whose objectif primaire is to represent them. Finding such collectors much less building relationships with them, though never easy, has become very difficult. Even when face to face with such collectors, because encroaching may be poaching and book dealers live inside a world of rigidly protected relationships, they may not feel it appropriate to offer material though it's potentially beneficial to collectors. A collector thinks they are just buying a book while a dealer may see it differently.

So when I ask serious, long respected dealers "where is the new collector" it means something different to them than it does to me, a collector, since I first held an old [if not rare] book fifty years ago. To obtain these interviews I travel with Joe Belk [Cinematographer], an experienced cameraman who will capture the hours of tape we record. This is to be a first attempt on AE to integrate video with the printed word in an article in AE Monthly. Ashley E. Rodholm [film editor] , a senior at Berkeley is to handle the editing.

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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