A Sale in the Fall to Test the Market
By Bruce McKinney
In a few weeks Bonhams will announce they are handling my second sale - The American Experience - 1626 - 1850, the second auction of books, manuscripts and ephemera from the collections I've built over the past twenty years. The December sale is to be held in New York. The auction follows, by one year, The De Orbe Novo sale - Exploration of the New World 1492-1625 that was organized by Bloomsbury and raised $3.5 million. For the second sale the cataloguing of more than 330 lots of Americana including Central and South American material, is underway. Sources, purchase dates and prices paid will be included in the descriptions as they were in the first sale. I believed then and know now that provenance and pricing history are an important, even essential part of the story of material.
Books in their own right can be enormously appealing. When their history is attached they become something more; connections linking collectors, dealers and institutions across decades and sometimes centuries. Often for the serious and sometimes for the emerging collector the history of individual copies become the thread that binds disparate volumes into collections that matter. I know that for me it has.
Building collections of specific copies that others have valued is difficult to achieve. Most books these days are bought and sold by harried people consulting online descriptions and generic bibliographies to complete listings and post quickly. In the rush, tell-tale evidence is often lost or ignored and books then slip silently from firmly identified to probable to possible to invisible. Such volumes often have passed through important collections but their ownership details disappeared into the successive retellings of a book's description.
Later reconstruction of provenance becomes a difficult job with an uncertain reward. For other reasons as well provenance is always disappearing. Sometimes sellers remove bookplates because they are embarrassed. Other times buyers wish to eliminate ownership history to obscure sources as well as what they paid. Other cataloguers simply ignore bookplates and signatures. Provenance is in fact always endangered, always subject to removal as a foreign object. So it is marvelous when this information survives. In this second sale the material will be thoroughly explained, its connection to the past documented to the extent we know it, its present value substantiated at auction, its future secure so long as future buyers do not tear away the bookplate that links each book to its past.
In building collections with the help of Bill Reese I have done so with someone who is entirely committed not just to these books but also to their history. This is not to suggest that all or even most of the material has a clear history. What is known, at minimum, is my source, date and price. Where material was purchased at auction I have these auction descriptions. Where Bill Reese has been able to identify copies I include that. When material was purchased at either the Siebert sales in 1999 or the Laird Park sale in 2000 we have the complete cataloguing. Taken together Mr. Reese represented me in the purchase of 78 items at these sales and sold to me or participated in another 135 +/- items that are included in this sale; altogether 2/3rds of this entire collection. The material will be broadly understandable, the upcoming auction important for its clarity.