Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2011 Issue

A Sale that Confirms

Ae-12

AE: The American Experience

On December 2nd Bonhams in New York and via simulcast in San Francisco, conducted the sale of "The American Experience 1630 - 1890".  As the consignor I can confirm it was an experience.  The sale was presented as an unreserved mirror-on-the-market event and everyone seemed to see the results differently.  As Shakespeare might have said, "the mirror always lies" or tries to.  For myself it was confirmation of the efficacy of 'the-auction-as-event' approach and evidence of the endemic market weakness that prevails today.  In succinct terms the sale brought a 20% premium on its full original cost.   More than 200 registered to bid, 34 of which were new bidders at Bonhams.  Thirty-seven spent more than $10,000.  The overall bidding pool represented 29 American states and 8 countries.  The house issued a superb catalogue, offered it widely,  and advertised the sale extensively.  A series of videos were issued.  All that could be done was done.   The outcome was very good but the results, given the support Bonhams provided, may be difficult to duplicate.        

 

The sale worked while suggesting comparative weakness.  The highly valuable and rarest material sold well as it has elsewhere throughout the downturn, common rarities less well.  The threshold between 'safe and supported' material probably rose to more than $5,000.  A decade ago it was $1,000, as recently as three years ago around $2,500. 

 

During much of the past decade such material has been listed by dealers at somewhat higher prices, reflecting the general strength of the rarest books that have been trending up over the past twenty years.  However, in this sale, when exposed to public reappraisal without reserves the community that buys, sells and collects often stepped aside to let items change hands for substantially less than what they themselves asked years ago.  This suggests two possibilities.  Prices may not so much have fallen as been exposed as inflated.   Alternatively prices may have risen with the market but now fall at different rates, the middle of the market demonstrably weaker than the first tier.  As to which view is more accurate it's unclear and probably irrelevant.  When I was acquiring the material I believed the prices made sense.  That the market's view changes is unsurprising.  Neither is dealer pricing infallible.  In buying primarily from Bill Reese I didn't know then what I know now - that he often bids at auction on items he sold.  In this sale which brought $4.058 million he was the largest buyer by lots and dollar volume.  Every collector should have such a dealer.         


Posted On: 2011-01-01 00:00
User Name: arader

Congratulations on your successful sale Bruce.

This is a great essay that was very useful to read.

What I would like to read next would be your v


Posted On: 2011-01-09 00:00
User Name: jaysnider

Bruce, first of all, congratulations on building a tremendous collection. I appreciate your analysis, and I'm sure this was bittersweet.
I'd like t


Posted On: 2011-01-10 00:00
User Name: MiRIAMGREEN

William Reese is to be commended for stepping up and gathering back your book inventory purchased from him, like the Oriental rug dealer tha


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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