Auction House Perspective: Who is the new book collector?
Doug Johns of Johns' Western Gallery is a facilitator as much as he's an auctioneer. He's been selling the Southern California ephemera of Glen Dawson and dispersing the collections of John D. Gilchriese, Hoyt S. Vandenberg, Frank Newton and Bill Siems among others in recent years. In their gallery and online they also offer fixed price material. Mr. Johns brokers private treaty transactions as well.
Beneath the western polish there is a strong vein of realism and he adjusts his modus operandi as the market demands. He's the first to say "The market is changing and we don't know where it will be in five years" though it's clear he relishes the challenge. In his interview he speaks of the dealer directed collector of twenty-five years ago that has become the sophisticated self-directed collector today. His career spans this extraordinary transition and his is the business of catering to this emerging collector. Wherever this takes him he's energized by the challenge.
George Fox speaks on behalf of PBA Galleries. He's an auctioneer and rainmaker. He grew up with books and spends his life in the pursuit and sale of them. For him this is the job he always wanted and even now can't quite believe his luck at getting paid to do what he truly loves. The kick of a great book, manuscript or ephemera even decades into the chase is still the spark to light up his eyes. When he dies there will be no cremation, just a sturdy box. To his left and right will be some great books and a reading light overhead.
PBA is a larger firm than Johns'. They run twenty or so auctions a year and live balanced on various lily pads. They have been aggressive at building an online presence. Where auction houses tended to move to the net a day late and a dollar short PBA saw the future years ago and has relentlessly pursued their place in it. They are serious risk-takers in a field that is transforming itself day by day. In April, for the first time, they are offering an ephemera sale.
Dr. Gammon speaks on behalf of Bonhams & Butterfields. Bonhams is not a household name in America but is on the way to becoming one. Bonhams is an English House and Butterfields the house eBay bought for $250 million eight years ago and sold to Bonhams two years later for 10% of that. Butterfield's is the oldest west coast auction house still hammering lots and is part of Bonham's full service business that is as comfortable with furniture, porcelain and paintings as they are with books. In Dr. Gammon's view the new collector is increasingly focused on personal niches and Bonhams & Butterfields, well positioned to handle the sale of collections in situ, on the west coast, in New York or in Europe according to where the best realizations are anticipated. After Sotheby's and Christie's they are the largest full service auction house in the world.