Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2010 Issue

The Collector Becomes a Seller

Erez

Expedition under the Command of Captains Lewis and Clark


By Bruce McKinney

On December 2nd, at Bonham's in New York, material long prized goes to auction. This is my second auction in as many years of important personal book collections. This next sale is The American Experience: 1630 - 1890, 340 items relating to the colonization of North America, the emergence of the American colonies, the forming of the United States and the opening of the west. In the November issue of AE Monthly I'll write about the collection. This month I'm writing about its origins and providing an overview.

The impetus to collect may spring to life full grown or develop from ideas and memories planted decades earlier. There is no right or wrong about this. Collections, mine included, are to a great extent simply ideas that take physical form; the why we want and even what we want often beyond our understanding. Such collections, although logical, invariably have emotional roots that are difficult to explain but important to understand. In the book business obsessed collectors are an important element in the field and if anything I say can further illuminate the path to or for them this exercise in explanation is well worth the effort.

Not surprisingly, collectors, while deeply involved in their subjects, can often better explain the what than the why of their collecting. And because collecting has an emotional basis, as collectors change, so too do their collections. This is the reason I'm now selling. My focus, once the broad American perspective, is now finely focused on the Hudson River valley and the State of New York. In the fourth quarter of my life I'm now able to collect that which I first pursed with only limited success when young.

For me collecting has always had an internal logic. In my early life too much was in motion. In history I found stability and in time began to collect evidence of its constant change. If the rest of life was less certain the durability of changing historical perspective provided a mountain top view that made other change relative and understandable. It was a great and early discovery and became an enduring part of my life. In this way I found my way to books, and books a place in my life.

This collecting is of course endlessly complex. There is no one way nor even any right way to do it, every direction taken a unique combination of interest, opportunity and capability. But if the how and why of collecting is complicated the dispersal of collections is something different altogether. We collectors reach the decision to disperse by many routes but eventually discover that we all exit more or less together: bequeathing, ignoring or selling; the paths to outright sale as narrow as the paths to acquisition are broad. Sell it yourself, sell to dealers or consign to auction.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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