Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2013 Issue

Yves S. - A Reasonable Pessimist

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Book collectors, like old books, are aging rapidly.

Yves S. is a well-educated man who could be described as a reasonable passionate: “Many people in the old books business are poets,” he smiles, “or old guys.” And Yves S. is neither one nor the other. Aged 35, he is a down to earth collector who always tries to buy at the best price, spending hours behind his computer screen to spot the best books worldwide. He even launched a website, and wrote a few studies over this allegedly dying niche market, old books.

 

Books are not cool

 

When you tell your friends you collect old books, they imagine a pile of moist and dirty paper, eaten by rats in a dusty cellar. That’s how people see books in France, like an old sour-tempered guy's pastime; books aren’t glamour any more.” Yves S. is a lucid man who bought his first 18th century book when he was still a teenager: “It was the abridged History of Henault,” he recalls, “a wonderful book that still features among my all time favourites—I’ve read it six times.” Yves is fond of history books—but not all history books. “I read all the books I buy, and I never keep a boring reading, no matter how rare it is.” He also thinks highly of Velly, Villaret & Garnier’s History of France (1767-1786): “History books that stick to facts are usually boring, and there are a lot of them—I love Garnier’s book for the sociological discussions it contains.” When the author goes straight to the point just like the Duke of Saint Simon—Louis XIV was a man of mediocre intelligence, read the forewords of his works— it is even better. “I love books that deal with the evolutions of society that led to the French Revolution in 1789; also those that criticize the system from inside.” Curiously, he doesn’t like Voltaire—whom he defines through a handful of plays nobody reads any more, and “a nice little novel”, Candid, or the Philosophes des Lumières, but he sure appreciates the bad faith of Bussy Rabutin. “I guess he was an awful man... But his writings are brilliant!" It is even more pleasant to find a work of Necker bearing the arms of his worst enemy, the Comtesse de Provence; or Les Liaisons Dangereuses with those of Marie-Antoinette (which lies on a shelf of the NLF). As you might have guessed, Yves S. enjoys life’s ironies.

 

 

Family Reason

 

The history told in the books Yves S. collects was never really his, or his family’s—indeed, he is from an ordinary linage. Thus, he enjoys the ironic situation: “In those days, I couldn’t have possessed a book with arms—I would have been sent to the gallows right away,” he laughs. Books have always been present in Yves’ family, though. His father still collects architecture books, for instance. And he does it his own way, trying to replicate the famous Mark J. Millard Architectural Collection and its 160 must-have titles.“He’s got one hundred so far,” tenderly smiles his son. Books seem to be a way to share some good times with his father, as they discuss their next purchases together. And they always keep a cool head. “I leave some 300 orders a year, to buy 2 or 3 books,” confesses Yves. “I always leave very low orders—and when I win, it’s always a good bargain. Money is too hard to earn to be spent stupidly. And I watch auctions all over the world, especially in America where there is less competition over French books.” But can a collector be wise; or a passionate reasonable? Yves loves La Rochefoucauld’s maxims too much to ignore that collecting old books, like everything else, is an egotistic pastime. “We buy books because they give a good image of ourselves. In our distorted minds, the value of our books equals our own value.” Thus, it would be vain to think one is able to keep his passions under control; but they still can be regulated.

 

Study Downfall

 

Yves works for an international company and hardly understands how people behave in the book business. To him, most booksellers are poets—and it sounds a bit paternalistic in his mouth. They are not logical enough, so they usually get nowhere fast. Yves is different, a logical man. As a matter of fact, he has mathematically studied the old books market, made some prospects just like in any ordinary business. He’s collected lists of clients from various booksellers, got close to several auction houses like Sotheby’s or Christie’s, has analysed their results, inquired about the biggest booksellers of Paris, and eventually launched his own website that gives access to many booksellers' catalogues and to a calendar of upcoming auctions. And he made conclusions. “I’ve found out that there are between 2 and 4,000 people who buy old books in France. I even estimated the total value of old books in France to 60 billions euros—most of it lying in the National Library of France, of course.” All these calculations made a pessimistic book lover out of him: “Book lovers, just like booksellers, are isolated, and generally confined to their own fields of interest. It is very hard to federate them. Furthermore, they are mostly old people who will die soon. Nobody really cares about books. Our elites are turned towards mathematics exclusively. I work with a lot of these guys—they don’t know anything about history, not to mention literature—and they don’t give a damn; they don’t even pretend. Nowadays, you don’t send a positive message when you say you love books.” About the impressive—and apparently successful—book fair of Le Grand Palais, set up every year by the SLAM, he says that it costs a lot and that it only attracts old guys. “I think that within the next two generations, nobody will buy old books any more.” But reason isn’t always a guarantee of success—or the vector of truth. And though busy and logically built, Yves’ website hasn’t kept all his promises.

 

Booksellers

 

Times are hard, indeed. Not for old books only. And we all know that culture suffers the most during crisis. Yves S. knows of a man who used to work as an executive director and who left everything to become a bookseller. “He’s happy. He says he makes almost as much money as he used to... But I wouldn’t like to be in his shoes when he retires. I finance a bookseller myself; I pay for his investments. He makes no money at all. I tell you, a lot of them are poets.” And there would be no future in the book business. “Well, my studies show that books over 5,000 euros tend to get more and more expensive, while those under 500 euros are losing value by the hour. The problem is that the latter represent the vast majority of the market—they suffer from two factors. First, the booksellers’ margins are too important. They need to make a 150% margin to survive, because of taxes. But buyers don’t care, and buy from the same source: auctions. Second, the Internet has unbalanced the supply and demand equilibrium, and prices are going down. It is so easy to access books nowadays, that the role of booksellers is more and more questioned.” There are still a lot of booksellers around, no? “Yes, and they don’t live good”, underlines Yves S.

But fortunately, unlike reasonable men, poets don’t live from bread alone... but from old books too.

 

 

Thibault Ehrengardt

dreadzine@free.fr

More articles: reliuresetdorures.blogspot.fr

 

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Autographs & Memorabilia. February 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Autograph album featuring signatures by prominent actors, politicians, musicians and authors, including Rudolph Valentino. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> An extremely rare working radio script for Crazy People No 29, the first series of <i>The Goon Show.</i> £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Manuscript prayer book, in German. 8vo, 1755 £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Italian Manuscript on Geometry, with diagrams, 18th century. £500 to £700
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Thorburn (Archibald). Sparrowhawk, original watercolour & gouache, signed & dated lower right, 1917. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Burton (Sir Richard Francis). <i>Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.</i> 3 vol., FIRST EDITION, 1855-56. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> [Mount (Richard) & Page (Thomas)]. <i>The English Pilot. Describing the Sea-Coasts…</i> 31 engraved maps, W. & J. Mount, T. Page, 1756 £4000 to £6000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> D’apres De Mannevillette (Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Denis). <i>Le Neptune Oriental.</i> Paris & Brest, [1775 – 1781]. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Loring (Josiah). Terrestrial Globe Containing all the Late Discoveries and Geographical Improvements. Boston, Gilman Joslin, 1846, £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Shelley (G. E., Capt.). <i>A Monograph of the Nectariniidae, or Family of Sun-birds,</i> FIRST EDITION, by the Author, 1876-80. £4,000 to £6,000
  • <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Albert Einstein A remarkable letter on God in English, one of his most eloquent and quoted, 1 p, July 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Benjamin Lincoln's commission as Major General in the Continental Army, February 19th, 1777. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Broadside. A Poem Upon the Bloody Engagement That Was Fought on Bunker's-Hill. 1775. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Early, full printing of the Star-Spangled Banner in The Yankee, October 7, 1814. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Paul Revere. Engraving, “The Boston Massacre Perpetrated on March 5, 1770," in <i>Massachusett's Calendar 1772.</i> $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Earliest known newspaper coverage of Babe Ruth, "a St Mary's schoolboy," Baltimore, April 4, 1914. $6,000 to $9,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Franklin, Benjamin. <i>The Independent Whig.</i> First Magazine Published in America, Philadelphia: Keimer, 1723-4. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Smith, Joseph. <i>The Book of Mormon.</i> Palmyra: Printed by E.B. Grandin for the Author, 1830. First printing. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Last Words of Joseph Smith. Autograph Letter Signed from a Mormon disciple, conveying a contemporary account of the Prophet's final words, Nauvoo, July 27, 1844. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> John Brown's Body. Autograph Letter Signed from the daughter of John Brown attempting to arrange the return of her father's body, North Elba, Essex Co, NY, November 29, 1859. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Powell Expedition. Autograph diary of Rhodes C. Allen kept during the Powell Expedition of 1868, June 29, 1868 - November 16, 1868. $20,000 to $40,000
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Walt Whitman. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> First edition, first issue, SIGNED in block letters by Whitman. 1855. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Isaac Newton's copy of John Greave's <i>Pyramidographia,</i> London, 1646. $50,000 to $70,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Colonel John Mosby. Robert E. Lee's autograph letter to Samuel Cooper reporting on Mosby's exploits, with Cooper's autograph note ordering his appointment to Major.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Gyula Halasz Brassai. Large archive of autograph and typed letters, over 260, to his family including his wife Gilberte, 1947-1978. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Archive of drawings and letters from Harper Lee to Charles Carruth, including an inscribed first edition of <i>To Kill a Mockingbird.</i> $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> VESALIUS, ANDREAS. 1514-1564. <i>De humani corporis fabrica libri septem.</i> Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. 1578-1657. <i>De motu cordis & sanguinis in animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Leiden: Joannis Maire, 1639. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> BERENGARIO DA CARPI, GIACOMO. 1460-1530. <i>Isagogae breves perlucide ac uberrimae in Anatomiam humani corporis.</i> Bologna: Benedictus Hectoris, 15 July 1523. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN. 1706-1790. <i>Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America…</i> London, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> BENIVIENI, ANTONIO. 1443-1502. <i>De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis.</i>Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1507. $8,000 to $12,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, <i>El Ingenioso Hildalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha . . . Nueva Edición,</i> first Ibarra edition, Madrid, 1780. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Prayer Book in Latin and French, France, 1530-40s. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin, France, mid-15th century. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b><br><i>Die Ernsthaffte Christenpflicht,</i> earliest known edition of the first complete Mennonite prayer book, 1708. $300 to $500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Georg Agricola, <i>De ortu & causis subterraneorum Lib V.,</i> first edition, Basel, 1546. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Frederick Ruysch, <i>Icon durae matris in concava [convexa] superficie visae,</i> with 2 mezzotints by Jan Ladmiral, first edition, Amsterdam, 1737. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, <i>Eine Neue Art von Strahlen,</i> Würzburg, 1895. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pietro Carrera, <i>Il Gioco de gli Scacchi,</i> first edition, Militello, 1617. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> William Lithgow, <i>The Totall Discourse, of the Rare Adventures</i> [etc.], London, 1632. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Michel de Nostradamus, <i>The True Prophecies or Prognostications,</i> first complete edition in English, London, 1672. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pseudo-Methodius, <i>De revelatione facta . . . beato Methodio,</i> Basel, 1504. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Hrabanus Maurus, <i>De laudibus sancte crucis opus,</i> Pforzheim, 1503. $1,000 to $2,000.

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