Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2010 Issue

New Man at a Crucial Moment

Austin1

Richard Austin


By Bruce McKinney

One of the storied seats in all of book auction selling is going to be filled on January 3rd. The seat is as Head of Books & Manuscripts at Sotheby's in New York. The person set to take charge is Richard Austin who, until October, was head of Books and Manuscripts at Bloomsbury in New York. Mr. Austin achieves this position at a moment when the role of major auction houses in the books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera field is being redefined by changing economics, changing access, quickly enveloping communication and extensive development of informational resources. Both Sotheby's and Christies are evolving into brands under whose flags auctions are held around the world in fields as diverse as wine, artwork, jewels and books. Increasingly they sell the highly desirable to the exceptionally wealthy through skillfully prepared catalogues and marketing campaigns. Books, that were the heart and soul of both firms for two hundred years, remain a strong emotional attachment but one that, on a dollars and sense basis, do not compare to the objects of desire that raise hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Mr. Austin enters the fray at a moment when the seat, as head of books in New York, is particularly hot. The knowledgeable will be rooting for his success.

Books, that have meant so much to more than twenty-five generations of the interested and the obsessed, will be hoping that Sotheby's maintains its commitment in America to the field that gave it its start in England. If the question is "what have you done for me today" for the book business the answer is not so much. If the question is "what do I owe you?" the answer is everything. IBM was once an adding machine company that later developed sophisticated typewriters and today is a leader in large system programming. Companies change and Sotheby's path may lead elsewhere. But Sotheby's has also been the undisputed leader in the rare books auction field for generations so the direction they take will impact the field in ways more fundamental than any other company. As this story unfolds the Sotheby's commitment in Europe is not in question.

For Sotheby's today the seeming goal is to create a 'Sotheby's world.' This approach makes accessing their book sales a multi-step process that diminishes involvement. Fewer bidders means having to impose stronger reserves to maintain the sense of aloof sophistication but, for the collectible works on paper field, restricted access and high reserves also reduce transactions and diminish interest. Sotheby's, while establishing its brand as a purveyor of all things luxurious, is also an auction house and it is as an auction house rather than as a dream merchant that collectors and the field look to Sotheby's for leadership.

The answer is to treat books, manuscripts and ephemera as a world apart. In this way Sotheby's can continue to sell its appropriate share of the best and greatest printed items and employ every technology and technique, however plebian, to reach the broader audiences now a prerequisite for successful auction sales. In the rare book field reputation is no longer enough. Great material is now increasingly found in out-of-the-way places, and then studied and compared online before bidders bid by phone or click 'enter' to bid electronically. You can bring all that information into Sotheby's world or integrate Sotheby's auctions fully into the world of books. I suspect company strategists will prefer 'Sotheby's world'. The book world will be better served by a fully integrated approach.

We cannot have back the world that was but we can hope that Sotheby's will continue to play the signal role it has played for more than two centuries. In New York Mr. Austin assumes a storied position at a crucial moment and we are rooting for him. The stakes are high.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b><center>Neal Auction Company<br>Spring Estates 2021<br>April 16-18</b>
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Lyscosthenes, Conrad. <i>Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon,</i> Basilea: Henricus Petrus, c. 1557, first edition, folio. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Collection of Ethiopic Religious Texts, in Ge'ez , illuminated manuscripts on vellum, c. 1700-20th c. (5 pcs.) $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Augustinus, Aurelius Sanctus.<br><i>De Civitate Dei,</i> Venice: Bonetus Locatellus per Octavianus Scotus, 9 Febbraio, 1486, 4to. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b><center>Neal Auction Company<br>Spring Estates 2021<br>April 16-18</b>
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Choiseul-Gouffier, Marie Gabriel Comte de. <i>Voyage Pittoresque de la Grece,</i> Paris, J.J. Blaise, 1782-1809-1822, first edition. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Rufinus, Tyrannius (c. 345-411). <i>Expositio in symbolum apostolorum,</i> [Cologne, Ulrich Zel, c. 1472], first edition. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Magnus, Albertus. <i>Summa de eucharistiae sacramento,</i> Ulm: Johann Zainer, 1474. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b><center>Neal Auction Company<br>Spring Estates 2021<br>April 16-18</b>
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Strabo. <i>Rerum geographicarum libri septemdecim. A Guilielmo Xylandro Augstano magna cura recogniti…,</i> Basel, Henricpetri, (August 1571). $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Riou, Stephen (1720-1780). <i>The Grecian Orders of Architecture. Delineated and Explained from the Antiquities of Athens,</i> London, 1768. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Mair, Paul Hektor. <i>Geschlechter Buch...der...Statt Augspurg,</i> Frankfurt am Maim, Sigmund Feyerabend, 1580. $1,800 to $2,500.
    <b><center>Neal Auction Company<br>Spring Estates 2021<br>April 16-18</b>
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Polybius (c. 200-118 B.C.). <i>Historiarum libri priores quinque,</i> Basel: Johann Herwagen, 1549. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> Bellori, Giovanni Pietro. <i>Columna Antoniniana Marci Aurelii Antonini Augusti rebus gestis insignis Germanis simul...,</i> Rome, [1672]. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Neal Auction Co., Apr. 16:</b> <i>Ecclesiasticae Historiae, Eusebii Pamphili...Eiusdem de vita Constantini...Socratis...,</i> Paris, Robert Estienne, 1544. $800 to $1,200.
  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>19th, 20th and 21st April 2021</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br>Atlases and Maps</b
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br> Veneto and Venice, a Selection of Books from the XVI to XX century</b>
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br></b>Rossini Gioachino, Baguette de chef d'orchestre appartenuta a Gioachino Rossini, dono del Comune di Passy. 1500 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Manetti Saverio, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo. Cinque volumi. 1767. 18.000 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Poe Edgar Allan, Double assassinat dans la rue morgue. Illustrations de Cura. 1946.
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 19-21<br>Books from XVI to XX Century</b>
  • <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b> Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.

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