Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2010 Issue

Collecting: A Changing Perspective

Market

Markets go up and down


By Bruce McKinney

Two thousand and nine was a difficult year. What began as a succession of acute financial problems experienced around the world has become a chronic condition that dims, by degree, our views and expectations for the next few years. For people who live and die with books it was been particularly unsettling to see committed collectors and institutions struggle with budgets. The will is strong, the capability diminished. This is not the first time this has happened but it has been long enough that we grew complacent that it could happen again. This time round the recovery will be different as increasing transparency alters not only value but preferences.

Buyers now routinely search for material on line. They haunt listing sites, auctions and eBay, often now in preference to visiting shops and shows. Not so many years ago collectors routinely visited dealers and keenly anticipated shows for the unusual opportunities they presented. Today dealer material is increasingly on line and while the material at shows remains compelling it's no longer only available at shows. Special copies and others like them are online and increasingly easy to find. This is the difference that a decade has made. In those ten years the selling, acquiring and collecting of printed material has undergone a seismic shift. A field that once thrived on obscurity becomes increasingly transparent.

All this information, not surprisingly, changes not only what and where material is offered but also what is bought and paid. Rarity is increasingly defined by appearances on the web rather than by unilateral dealer declarations sometimes quoting out-of-date sources. Rarity it turns out is a moving target easily assessed online using listing sites to determine present availability and the AED [The Americana Exchange Database] the past appearances. All this information changes more than what acquirers pay. It also changes what they buy.

Today collecting is becoming a variation on exceptionalism. Some purse the exceptionally important and rare in superb condition, others narrowly defined subjects with an intensity that has become possible only as the internet made the material visible. In between, these two forms of collecting, there continues to be the traditional range of intensity, commitment and knowledge for book collecting. But what was once a collecting range most focused at its center has become a field where the deeply committed reside at the extremes. So when dealers remark that there are fewer collectors they are referring to the declining presence of buyers in the middle because these are the collectors that dealers traditionally served: those that collect generally, often under the guidance of dealers. Collectors today however tend to collect at the edges: pursuing exceptional material or deep collections on narrow, often obscure subjects. In both cases they are independent and tending to be self-sufficient.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…
  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 19: 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings</b>
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    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 17: Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 19:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs & Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 26: Rare & Important Travel Posters</b>
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    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 2:<br>Old Master Through Modern Prints</b>
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  • <b>Announcing a new Books for Sale platform hosted by Biblio</b>
    <b>List your books simultaneously on Rare Book Hub and Biblio</b>

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