Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2012 Issue

A Case for Buying from Dealers

L-5 jersey city and albany railway, 1875

A prospectus for the Jersey City and Albany Railway 1875

Buying books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera is no great task.  There are millions of items available today.  Finding material that is highly relevant to a collecting strategy and requiring that price roughly equal value is oh so much more difficult, buying from dealers who most often have such material  - at prices that provide a reasonable chance to someday sell for a profit  - even more of a challenge.
  

Locating common material is often easy and does not require the help of knowledgeable dealers.  For run-of-the-mill rarities listing sites and eBay provide thousands of opportunities.  Learning to differentiate between common and uncommon rarities and to sort them by relevance to your collecting focus however is an art learned slowly.  As a collector I’m focused on material relating to the Hudson Valley, in particular to people, places and things on both sides of the Hudson River between New York and Albany, an at once difficult to collect subject and also the subject of thousands, invariably tens of thousands of items.  Finding the right material is the challenge and experienced dealer perspective very useful.

For help I turned recently to two dealers, Bill Reese and Peter Luke, who routinely encounter the material I want.  Bill is of course the New Haven dealer and leader in the Americana field in the United States.  Peter, doing business as Peter Luke Antiques, Ephemera, Old and Rare Books, is a long experienced, deeply knowledgeable dealer whose home in the Hudson Valley in New Baltimore an hour south of Albany, gives him a window on the flow of the local material I most value.  Both have a practiced eye.

The easy logic is that dealers are often expensive and some sellers on listings sites and many sellers on eBay cheap.  Following that line of thinking I would buy more from the inexpensive sources and I in fact do.  This however ignores the value of dealer perspective.  What is rare?  What is important, what is “good condition for issue”?  Dealers see a great deal of material and some develop a sense of ‘relative condition’, an important criteria when it’s necessary to pay up.  Paying them for this perspective is part of the calculation in making them offers, deciding what to offer or accept often a tough call.  For these calculations I rely on the AED’s current value and probability of reappearance calculations as the basic measure of value and rarity and its very effective.

My collecting focus of course also needs to be on target.  An unfocused collection I build will sell but may disappoint just as a laser-like focus on an out-of-favor area may also fail financially.  Of course choosing a subject exclusively for its potential for profit may meet financial criterion but be unsatisfying.  Every collector has to balance these factors.  I long ago came down on the side of collecting passion and have worked hard to have my collection make sense and do this by considering every possibility and rejecting most.  If this sounds like I’m denying myself my wife will be quick to say “I haven’t seen that yet.”  My collection of early and interesting material relating to the Hudson Valley approaches, and probably exceeds, 3,000 items. 

The collection is large because I’ve been open to the possibilities the Internet has provided.  When speaking with dealers I explain that I collect narrowly and deeply.  As to minutia I consider it all.  And it turns out only institutions and very focused collectors want the deep detail I pursue so I’m constantly considering appealing material that few others want.  Items I want may start on eBay at $200 but 4 or 5 unsuccessful auctions later I buy them for $40.  This keeps prices within reason.

This may also limit the collection’s ultimate value because if there is no market now for much of what I buy, who is to say there will be a market for it in future?  I’m certain there will be but am less certain when.   Why so?  Because such focused collecting becomes important often only when it becomes very complete and has been explained.  Most collections are never complete and many of them fall into the hands of heirs who view such hard to understand aggregations as impediments to selling the real estate and therefore dispose of them quickly for a small fraction of their actual value.  In other words such collections are a little bit dangerous.  They can become important, and valuable, when complete.  They are otherwise often indistinguishable from the boxes of rubble that every collector, dealer and library has.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Sergio Trujillo Magnenat, <i>Bogotá 1938 / IV Centenario / Juegos Deportivos Bolivarianos,</i> 1938. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>McQueen Drives Porsche,</i> designer unknown, 1970. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>Joe Bridge, <i>Bignan / A Des Ailes,</i> 1921. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Graham Simmons, <i>The Army Isn’t All Work,</i> 1919. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Je ne fume que le nil,</i> 1912. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>Attack of the 50 ft. Woman,</i> designer unknown, 1958. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Raymond Tooby, <i>Festival Guiness / Have You Tried One Yet?,</i> 1952. $600 to $900.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Francisco Tamagno, <i>Terrot & Co. / Dijon / Cycles Motorettes,</i> 1909. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>A. Hori, Oakland / General Motors, circa 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Travel? Adventure? Answer – Join the Marines!,</i> circa 1918. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <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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