Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2011 Issue

The Fall Approaches

The season

The season opens with high hopes

Heading into fall buyers and sellers will be meeting head one in a series of auctions that will illuminate the strength and direction of the market.  A great deal is at stake.  As has been the case all year auction houses are handling increasing volume while recently experiencing a marginally lower percentage of completed sales [see charts].  A reasonable conclusion is that reserves are bit higher than buyers are comfortable to reach.  The why is less certain.  One interpretation is that the market, while orderly, is having trouble absorbing increasing volume.  Another is that the economy is weighing on the market.  Both are probably true and their interaction hard to gauge.  Simultaneously the median lot price continues to rise – suggesting that while the percentage of lots has declined those items that are selling are realizing higher prices.  This supports the argument that many dealers make – that quality, rarity and importance sell.  Unfortunately there is more to the market than high spots and the important middle market, defined, as $500 to $4,000, is selectively weak.  Some of this weakness owes to improving value and relevance analysis but the underlying issue is simply availability.  Material in the middle market is often not as rare or significant as once thought.

This may lead to a paradoxical shift in values with premium material increasing in value while a wide swath of [1] collectible but relatively common and [2] important but thinly supported material decline.  Pricing, which has been somewhat arbitrary for decades, may be facing energetic rebuttal in the market place.  What is known is that 70% of spending in dollar terms is made by 20% of the population and that they tend to purchase luxury material.  

Into all this uncertainty the auctions approach.  On September 15th the Eric Caren collection How History Unfolds on Paper, Part I will be sold at Swann.  The Caren sale, which I write about elsewhere in this month’s issue of AE Monthly, is a difficult sale for serious collectors to ignore.  It includes intriguing material relating to signal events.  Eric has a marvelous eye and has commissioned Swann to sell, in three sections over the next two years, many unique pieces relating to history, most of it American.  It’s complexity is such that a review of its index [see attached] may well be the best way to see it, that of course and AE’s auction lot search.

And because this sale is composed of “mixed media,” that is many forms of works on paper including photographs, broadsides, newspapers, pamphlets and books, it taps into some of the strongest sectors in collecting today.  Such material deserves to do well.

Another sale in October will provide us with perspective on how a more narrowly focused collection does.  It’s the Robert H. and Donna L. Jackson Collection of the 19th century and includes both printed and manuscript material, much of it unique.  It is an important collection.

Between these two single owner sales and the many other auctions to be conducted this fall we will live through the changing alchemy of collectibles on paper.  On the other side we will know more.  What we know going in is that some very appealing material is coming up.  How the market will treat this material remains to be seen.

So the title of this article is the fall ahead.  Is it the autumn season or something else?   We’ll know soon enough.


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

Although you seem to draw the lines at price still that is not the sole determinant of rarity or importance. It may not even be the omst important


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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