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>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.

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