A Reference Auction for those interested in the Book as Art
By Bruce McKinney
By way of illustration for this month’s focus of the Comet - The Book as Art, we have added a sale to the AED conducted by Sotheby's in London in November 1995: "The Book as Art - Modern Illustrated Books and Fine Bindings, No. 5699." Such specialized sales occur from time to time. This one had the advantages of being well illustrated, clearly described, and recent enough that the pricing is low [by today's standards] but nevertheless relevant to today's market. The material is modern but not contemporary. The issue dates run, in the main, from 1850 to 1950 and the focus is European. America as a source in this field is a relatively new phenomena although Americans have long been celebrated collectors, their collections in the past have been essentially European. This collection has been attributed to an American but no bookplate indicates identity. For about half the material the book plates of prior owners are included and this makes it possible for the serious and resolute to follow material through the decades if as it moves through the auction rooms it is well documented.
In this particular field, because copies are often if not always unique, the history of specific copies is particularly important. Two copies of the same book, printed at the same time, bound differently, in different condition and owned by different people will have different values. It also needs to be said that auction outcomes although generally consistent are often inconsistent specifically. Economic circumstances, even the relative placement of an item in a sale, impact realized price. All this said, auction values provide useful insight.
This catalogue provides extensive perspective on a wide range of material. All illustrations included in the original catalogue are included in this electronic version. Use it to understand what the material looks like and to discern what the auction house, typically from extensive experience, chose to emphasize be it condition, provenance, illustrations or binding. It's a very appealing field but also a complex one.
Serious collectors will almost always be represented by dealers specializing in the field. Several are quoted in main article on the Art of the Book. There are many others.
The Book as Art, sold at Sothebys London 21st November 1995
The Book as Art, an article in AE Monthly
The Book as Art, a collection of material offered by Members of the Americana Exchange
The Guild of Book Workers.