Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2010 Issue

An Auction Comes into Focus

Henrylewis

A image from Henry Lewis


By Bruce McKinney

An Auction Coming into View

The dog days of August, when the lucky and entitled sip Margaritas and soak up rays, are also the time in the auction business to get ahead on fall commitments that left unmet soon drain the sunlight and sanity out of a schedule that quickens as the days shorten. There's no doubt the people in this do it for the intellectual challenge. The money is good but not often great and the pressure extreme. Some few are in it for the once in a long while opportunity to sell the great collection of a game consignor who will give the house leeway to catalogue, estimate and promote. This doesn't happen so often. For cataloguers this is the A game and November and December their opportunities to serve Wimbledon aces. This is their moment and their achievement when it works.

Every house wants a great sale but the truth is that when there is leeway from the seller the house has greater responsibility for the outcome. Many, relentless cultivators when pursuing sales, soon shift to consider their own garden once the contract is signed. Sales are one-time events, auction houses ongoing businesses. So it's not unusual for houses to later shy away from grand statements and the possibility of failure by encouraging sellers to set reserves a bid or two too high. It gives them an out. Cataloguers on the other hand hope for the authority to set create estimates and set reserves themselves. They study pricing history and rarity when creating the descriptions and develop opinions. They'll also create the lot sequence and consider the cadence of the sale. They become invested in the outcome. So its not surprising the edgy reality of creating the sale and the inevitable question that arises, the "how are we going to get this done" often animates the best houses and cataloguers to put off their late summer Margaritas for the possibility of champagne in December. For the "American Experience" sale I've consigned to Bonhams to be sold on December 2nd in New York this August has seen no respite from the aggressive schedule that completes the catalogue early, includes participation in get-out-the-vote book fairs in Seattle in October and Boston in November, and sees the hard bound catalogue in full distribution a full month ahead of the sale. Bonham's is playing to win.

And that's only part of it.

This catalogue will include, as did the de Orbe Novo sale at Bloomsbury last December, the purchase history of each item: the source, year and price paid. This assists both bidders and bystanders to assess the state of the market for rare high-end material with appealing provenance. It makes the sale greater than the sum of its books.

In addition, extended payment terms, occasionally offered to the trade by auction houses, are offered to all bidders for this sale. As consignor, I've agreed to wait to be paid so that buyers can have time to pay. A discount for immediate payment or six months of interest free terms are available for purchasers spending a minimum of $2,500. I've been successful in my life, was brought up with blue collar sensibilities and have achieved success sometimes only because I refused to fail. No one who wants a piece of this collection should be a step behind or at any disadvantage to purchase. Everyone gets the same deal.

Auction preparation proceeds unevenly. An interesting fifty volume run of the Universal Magazine, in this case 1747 to 1793, including hundreds of maps and illustrations, early and sometimes first reports on scientific, political and social events, needed the deft touch of skilled hands to "point the set up." For this I asked Margaret Johnson, an experienced San Francisco binder, for help and she introduced me to Martha Little who, in six weeks, returned the set improved but not in any way, altered. It's not being catalogued.

Within the next few weeks the pace will increase. The catalogue format will be chosen, the print run confirmed, the descriptions and images finalized and estimates penciled in. If experience is any guide this is when the rubber will meet the road.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.
  • <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Collection of 131 Herbert Ponting gelatin silver contact prints of Antartica, £6000-8000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of several lots of Henri Cartier-Bresson gelatin silver prints, £200-300
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Vintage gelatin silver print of Diego Rivera by Leonard McCombe, £300-500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Sir John Herschel (April, 1867), £30,000-50,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, Love, 1864 (from the Norman album), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Lewis Carroll of Twyford School Eleven (Summer Term, 1859), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Lewis Carroll of Xie Kitchin as 'Dane' (Oxford, 1873), £500-800
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Calotype print (c1845) by Hill & Adamson of Lady Elizabeth (Rigby) Eastlake, £3000-4000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Group of 12 waxed paper negatives of Scottish scenes by Thomas Keith, mid-1850s, £3000-5000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of 15 lots of Roger Fenton salt prints of his work in the Crimea, mid-1850s, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Quarter plate ambrotype (c.1860s) with ethnographic portrait of a woman seated at a table, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Rare whole plate thermoplastic union case of the Landing of Columbus (c.1858),part of the John Hannavy collection, £1500-2000
  • <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>

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