An Interesting Sale in Vermont
By Bruce McKinney
Once or twice a year William Parkinson of Hinesburg, Vermont conducts an old time book auction. On October 27th Mr. Parkinson held his second sale of 2007 and his third of this type since 2004. It included material from the University of Vermont as well as contributions from other consignors, in total 504 lots of Americana and Vermontiana. It was a sale distinctive for its positioning as geared to the knowledgeable.
For starters you will not happen upon Mr. Parkinson's sales by chance. They aren't advertised in the regular trade publications, neither are they listed on many public sites. Literally everyone in the auction business in New England advertises their sales in Maine Antique Digest and the Newtown Bee. Mr. Parkinson does not. Rather he mails and emails to a list of about 800 buyers and prospects, posts details to ABAA members and contacts selected libraries.
Neither does he charge much for his auction catalogues. Six dollars will get you a hard copy. Better yet, he provides an excellent downloadable version that can be easily keyword searched. Neither does he charge a buyer's commission. In a world where buyer's commissions have begun to exceed 20% his sales are a throw-back to the 1950's when auctions did not charge and did not even yet contemplate charging buyers a commission. At his recent sale if you bid $90 and won you paid $90.
Neither does he provide estimates. Estimates potentially serve three masters; the consignor, auction house and market and at auctions generally you can't tell which one is the driving the estimate. Mr. Parkinson's perspective is "the market will decide." So, in this sale, for $20, the auction's minimum bid, you could buy items that brought $1,000. That is, of course, if you knew the actual values and no other bidder did. On Saturday however, the lights were on, even in the attic.
Succinctly stated, Mr. Parkinson is a contrarian.
In the sale just concluded the lot descriptions assume you know what you are doing. Bibliographic references are included but for most only citation numbers, not the citations themselves. To go more deeply you have to know the sources and have access to them. As well, collectors tend to buy single items and a significant number of these lots were anywhere from two items to many running feet. Lot 19 was 11 almanacs, lot 30 4 early auction catalogues, lot 38 "10 titles on U.S. relations." Lot 51 was 65 issues of the Bellows Falls Gazette [1843-1845], lot, 58 20 booksellers' catalogues, lot 109 five bound volumes of Congressional speeches dating from 1808 to 1840. Other lots were even more complex. For dealers this type of material makes sense, for collectors less so. It can keep a body and soul busy through a winter figuring out how to turn single Congressional documents from 1814 into an interesting description with an attractive price. This is what dealers do. Doing the research is work, finding the material luck.