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>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <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 Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions