Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2009 Issue

Immortality has a Price

Don-a


By Bruce McKinney

At Bloomsbury New York on December 3rd the hammer will fall on a single owner sale, a small group of exceptional early printed books and other items relating to the new world I acquired between 1992 and 2002. Some people build monuments in cemeteries. I chose to build mine with books. With this sale and its catalogue I hope to leave something both less substantial but more certain than a marble stone, a footprint that future generations may chance upon from time to time to note my ownership. In that way my connection to book collecting may continue long after I've turned my last page.

The sale will be unusual in one respect. Information on source, date purchased and price paid is included. Auctions, in the modern era, are almost always silent on purchase history. This sale will be among the most transparent on record, certainly the most transparent in modern times. As well, for anyone interested in how auctions work this sale will present an extraordinary view, the chance to observe how a collection does as an investment over more than ten years.

For the field of collectible books it is also a signal moment as the market struggles to right itself after the Wall Street collapse. Traditionalists hold that all downturns are aberrations, variations from the norm which is 3 to 7 % year over year price increases. The market that swoons recovers. On the other side is a smaller group, perhaps 10% of all dealers, who measure their business in sales every day and lower prices to restore volume when it slows.

I'm of an in-between view that the category of highly collectible has been narrowing but remains relentlessly strong for material inside its shifting borders. New material is of course always fighting its way into the category. Other things long disdained are rediscovered and of course old friends sometimes abandoned. The material I'm consigning is mostly heartwood.

In less certain times all auctions of important material loom large. This fall, for early, rare and important material relating to the age of discovery this sale is a signal event. If it does well it will confirm values in the category and project optimism to the market-at-large. To use stock market parlance, I believe the market is over-sold and due for recovery.

If there is gathering stability and possible recovery it will be evident in the prices because for them to achieve any positive significance there will have to be multiple bidders. The estimates are low and every item available at 80% of the low estimate. The estimates are also often much lower than what I paid and in every case well below what many believe is current value. Here are some examples.

3. Dati, Giuliano [1445-1523] Il Secondo Cantare dell 'India.

Rome [Between 11 August 1494 and 10 August 1495]
First edition of Dati's description in verse of the East Indies, issued to meet
demand for news of Columbus's discoveries. An important and rare incunable.

Acquisition: purchased from Librairie Thomas-Scheler [2000] $110,000

Estimated at $50,000 to $80,000

5. [BERGOMENSIS] Jacobus Philippus FORESTI (1434-1520). Nouissime historia omniu[m] repercussiones, nouiter [editae]… que Supplementum supplementi Chronicaru[m] nuncupantur.
Venice: Albertinus de Lissona Vercellensis, 4 May 1503.

Acquisition: Lenox / New-York Historical Society sale, Sotheby's New York, 29 January 1995, lot 51, $2,587.50.

Estimate $5,000 - $7,000

9 SCHOENER, Johann (1477-1547). Luculentissima quaeda[m] terrae totius descriptio: cu[m] multis utilissimis Cosmographiae iniciis. [A very clear description of the whole earth, with many useful cosmographic elements].
Nuremberg: Johann Stuchs, 1515.

The earliest major treatise on the globe and its manufacture by the pioneer of globe-making in Europe, advancing Waldseemüller's concepts of the world in spherical (globe) form; this, the only edition, complete with the original errata slip. An essential source book for the early production.

Acquisition: purchased from H. P. Kraus, cat. 185
1990 (but 1998), item 20, $37,500.

Estimate $20,000 - $30,000

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Doyle: Hunting Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake” Johnson. Online only auction Aug 3-14</b>
    <b>Doyle, Online only auction Aug 3-14:</b> <i>The Sportsman's Portfolio of American Field Sports.</i> 1855. Est: $600 to $900
    <b>Doyle, Online only auction Aug 3-14:</b> <i>Bishop's Birds. Etchings of Water-Fowl and Upland Game Birds.</i> 1936. Est: $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, Online only auction Aug 3-14:</b> <i>Hunting Big Game in Far Northwest British Columbia</i>. 1904. Est: $500 to $800
    <b>Doyle, Online only auction Aug 3-14:</b> <i>Mananaland. Adventuring with Camera and Rifle Through California in Mexico.</i> 1929. Est: $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle: Hunting Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake” Johnson. Online only auction Aug 3-14</b>
    <b>Doyle, Online only auction Aug 3-14:</b> <i>Grand Canyon Trails.</i> 1924. Est: $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, Online only auction Aug 3-14:</b> <i>A Sporting Trip through Abyssinia. A Narrative of a nine months’ journey..</i> 1902. Est: $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, Online only auction Aug 3-14:</b> <i>Hunting in Tanzania [...in Zimbabwe; ...the Sudan; ...in Botswana; ...in Ethiopia; ...in Zambia; ...in South Africa; ...in Kenya]</i>. 1991-2000. Est: $800 to $1200
    <b>Doyle, Online only auction Aug 3-14:</b> <i>Hounds and Hunting through the Ages ... with an Introduction by the Earl of Lonsdale</i>. 1928. Est: $600 to $900
  • <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:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000

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