Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2015 Issue

Collecting: a changing perspective

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It was, not so long ago, established thinking that book collections, with some exceptions, would be a collection of books. This is the way it was for generations. The basic unit of book collections was of course the book, and over the past 150 years impressive, increasingly complete bibliographies were created and revised to reflect ever-broadening perspective. The book field and all its component parts became knowable.

 

Books however were never the exclusive component of book collections, only their most common part. Manuscripts also found a place, as did maps, objects, and ephemera. But the bibliographic research documentation and focus of the dominant selling venues were, in the works on paper category, mainly books and these other categories much thinner and in some cases almost non-existent.

 

This circumstance kept books at the center, the best known and best understood component in the works on paper category. But these other portions were equally appealing, if not so well documented, and in time saw their sectors become important categories; for example, maps becoming collectible objects on their own.

 

Twenty-years ago, the Internet began to change the collecting game, first with the emergence of thousands of online sellers, and later with the development of what have become the premier selling platforms—eBay and Abe Books. For the first time, less appreciated and often less valuable, material began to be easily found and widely seen. Now two decades later, much that was once invisible has become visible, and we are learning that subject collecting rather than book collecting exclusively is increasingly the natural focus for many collectors. And it’s a huge change,  - made possible by the minutia within collecting subjects that is now available.  The impact has grown to be astounding. This almost always low level material, much of it ephemera and pamphlets, has made it possible for collectors and institutions to refocus their purchases [and their collecting] toward something they increasingly prefer—intense personal collecting—and something very different from pure book collecting.

 

For myself, my interest has been in the area where I grew up, generally the Hudson Valley, and Ulster County, mid-way between New York City and Albany, specifically. For me, this has meant an intensification of collecting I never thought would be possible.

 

My collection, which holds about 4,000 items, is now a subject broken down into sub-categories. There are paintings, some of them valuable, all of them relevant to an Ulster County collection. There is a set of watercolors by Frederick Copley, some 160 of them painted between 1848 and 1858, of scenes along the Hudson River and inland along the emerging rail lines, photographic in their dimensional accuracy, a timeless picture of a world long gone. There are collections of the work of two printers, Joel Munsell of Albany and Paraclete Potter of Poughkeepsie. The Munsell imprints, more than 400 of them, are mainly works identified in Mr. Munsell’s Munselliana. The Potter imprints reflect the bibliographical work that the American Antiquarian Society has done, coupled with ten years of my searching for them. Neither printer is fabulously important, but they are terribly interesting.

 

And then there are the chance collections of assorted images on varying subjects. I have about 60, mostly photographs printed as post cards at the beginning of the 20th century, that document local trolley, boat, fire and railroad accidents in Ulster County. It’s a wonder anyone got out alive back then. There are also hundreds of pictures of Poughkeepsie fires. These photographs, which seem to have once been owned by the fire department, document fires fought over a 50-year period spanning 1890 to 1940. In a million years, I would never have expected such material to exist, much less be available. And then there is the ship building industry in Newburgh from 1880 to 1950. Newburgh had several boat builders and a beautiful habit of documenting boats at their launching. I have about sixty images of the yards and some of the boats, most notably the private yacht of John D. Rockefeller.

 

And there are, of course, run-of-the-mill post cards, possibly a thousand of them. They document the early decades of the 20th century when post cards were a cheap-to-mail obsession.

 

And there is manuscript material; maps, letters, documents and petitions including interesting letters, two from George Washington written to and from his Newburgh headquarters during the American Revolution.

 

And Sanborn Atlases, intense local maps created for insurance purposes, that show in spellbinding detail the physical composition of communities.

 

And money and early stock certificates.

 

And, furniture, much of it early Gustav Stickley.

 

And of course books; hundreds, perhaps a thousand of them.  They are old friends if not quite the stalwart elements I expected them to be when first I collected the Hudson Valley almost 60 years ago.

 

So it is turning out that extraordinary collections can still be built, as much with diligence as with money. Certainly some of the material is quite valuable, but the essence of the collection is the thousands of mosaic pieces that together tell stories that probably cannot be divined or understood in any other way.

 

And this leads to what outcome? I have sold two book collections at auction, and they did well, in part because I acquired the material from exceptional dealers whose connection with these books made them more valuable. Their provenance attracted bids, and in some cases, spirited bidding. For such material there is a steady, certain market.

 

But for my Hudson River Valley collection, the future is less certain. Will some of the individual collections be sold to a single bidder, in which case some of the best auction houses in the world will sell them? Or, if such collections are sold as individual lots then the lot values will be much lower and the material going to less ambitious houses, even to eBay.

 

I think they will be sold intact. And in approaching it this way, we’ll learn something more about the nature of this new collecting. Many of the lots will be once in a lifetime groups.

 

Of course it’s my hope that I have many more years to collect and that there will be further collections and items within my focus to acquire. But I’ll have to know how to handle their dispersal. Years ago, I discovered how to find such material. In time I’ll have to figure out how to dispose of this both sprawling and intense collection. Collecting is catch and release.


Posted On: 2015-04-01 05:19
User Name: 19531953

No matter the outcome; you have won! You discovered so many things that transcend dollar values. Many of my favorite things are certainly relatively worthless to others but priceless to me!
Eric Caren


Posted On: 2015-04-04 16:34
User Name: sylvester7

Great article on the possibility of a collecting evolution! Interesting how my Montana collection mirrors your Hudson River collection..........


Posted On: 2015-04-04 16:35
User Name: sylvester7

Oops.....previous post fromThomas Minckler..........


Posted On: 2015-04-04 16:56
User Name: sylvester7

Oops.....previous post fromThomas Minckler..........


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Leon TOLSTOÏ. <i>Anna Karenina.</i> Moscou, 1878. First and full edition of the Russian novel, in the author’s language.<br>Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Mark TWAIN. <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's comrade).</i> New York, 1885. First American edition.<br>Est. 5 000 / 6 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Walt WHITMAN. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> Brooklyn, New York, 1856. Second edition gathering 32 poems. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Karen BLIXEN. <i>Out of Africa.</i> Londres, 1937. First edition in the UK, before Danish translation and American release.<br>Est. 1 500 / 2 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest HEMINGWAY. <i>A Farewell to Arms.</i> New York, 1929. First edition with $2.50 on the dust and A on the copyright page.<br>Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Ulysses.</i> Paris, Shakespeare and Company, 1922. First edition published by Sylvia Beach. Est. 3 000 / 4 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> James JOYCE. <i>Dubliners.</i> Londres, 1914. First edition. Nice copy in publisher’s cardboard. Est. 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> Franz KAFKA. 8 novels in German first edition, published in München, Leipzig and Berlin 1916-1931. Est. from 300 / 400 to 2 000 / 3 000 €
    <b>ALDE, Feb. 26:</b> David Herbert LAWRENCE. <i>Lady Chatterley's Lover.</i> Florence, 1928. Privately printed first edition. Est. 4 000 / 5 000 €
    John STEINBECK. <i>The Grapes of Wrath.</i> New York, 1939. First edition. Nice copy with $2.75 on the cover. Est. 1 000 / 1 200 €
  • <center><b>University Archives<br>Autographs, Books & Relics Including Kerouac Estate<br>& Hemingway<br>February 26, 2020</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Ernest Hemingway's Typewriter Used to Write "A Moveable Feast", Impeccable Provenance From His Biographer A. E. Hotchner. $50,000 to $100,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Samuel Colt, "The Gun that Won the West": 3 Signed Patent Items for "Revolving Cylinder Guns". $40,000 to $50,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Jack Kerouac's Own Typewriter From His Estate Used to Write His Very Last Book. $18,000 to $20,000.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Autographs, Books & Relics Including Kerouac Estate<br>& Hemingway<br>February 26, 2020</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Rare Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence Printed in 1848. $15,000 to $18,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Superb Tchaikovsky ALS to Napravnik, 4pp on "Mazeppa". $12,000 to $15,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Wounded Knee Massacre Same Day Eyewitness Account by Participant, "the 7th needn't be ashamed of today's record". $10,000 to $12,000.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Autographs, Books & Relics Including Kerouac Estate<br>& Hemingway<br>February 26, 2020</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> F. Scott Fitzgerald Signed Gordon Bryant Portrait -- Finest Known. $8,000 to $9,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Neil Armstrong ALS on NASA Letterhead Regarding His X-15 Flights. $7,000 to $8,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> M. Gandhi Letter: "the life span of human beings is preordained..." -- Fantastic Spiritual Content. $7,000 to $8,000.
    <center><b>University Archives<br>Autographs, Books & Relics Including Kerouac Estate<br>& Hemingway<br>February 26, 2020</b>
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> "Damn the torpedoes!" Riveting 24pp ALS of Admiral Farragut's Steward Describing the "Battle of Mobile Bay”. $6,000 to $7,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Abraham Lincoln Signed Order to Suspend Execution. $5,000 to $6,000.
    <b>University Archives, Feb. 26:</b> Napoleon DS Featuring Imperial Eagle and Enormous Great Seal Appointing Norman Politician Baron of the Empire. $4,000 to $5,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Nebel, Carl. The War Between the United States and Mexico. New York, 1851. $270,000 - $300,000 MXN / USD $15,000 - $16,666
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Nebel, Carl. The War Between the United States and Mexico. New York, 1851. $270,000 - $300,000 MXN / USD $15,000 - $16,666
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Bolaños, Joaquín. La Portentosa Vida de la Muerte... (“The Portentous Life of Death”) México, 1792. $50,000 - $60,000 MXN / USD $2,777 - $3,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Tratado de Paz… entre la República Mexicana y los Estados Unidos. (“Treaty of Peace… Between the Mexican Republic and the United States”) 1848. $80,000 - $90,000 MXN / USD $4,444 - $5,000
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Fabregat, Josep Joaquín. Vista de la Plaza de México… (“View of the Square of Mexico”) México, 1797. $60,000 - $100,000 MXN / USD $3,333 - $5,555
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Hidalgo y Costilla, Miguel. Invitación al Coronel Narciso de la Canal… (“Invitation to Coronel Narciso de la Canal…”) 1810. $170,000 - $200,000 MXN / USD $9,444 - $11,111
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Gálvez, Joseph de. Real Cédula de Erección de la Compañía de Filipinas. (“Royal Notice of the Creation of the Company of the Philippines”) 1785. $40,000 - $60,000 MXN / USD $2,222 - $3,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Colección de Constituciones de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos (“Collection of Constitutions of the United Mexican States”) México, 1828. $50,000 - $60,000 MXN / USD $2,777 - $3,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Ruelas, Julio. Poemario Manuscrito Ilustrado, Dedicado a Lorencita Braniff (“Collection of Illustrated Poem Manuscripts, Dedicated to Lorencita Braniff”). 1903. $60,000 - $70,000 MXN / USD $3,333 - $3,888
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Espinosa de los Monteros, Juan J. Aviso de la Junta Soberana al Público (“Notice of the Sovereign Meeting to the Public”) 1821. $60,000 - $80,000 MXN / USD $3,333 - $4,444
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Constitución Federal de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos... (“Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States”) México, 1824. $140,000 - $150,000 MXN / USD $7,777 - $8,333
    <b>Morton Subastas, Feb 25:</b> Alcaraz, Ramón. Apuntes para la Historia de la Guerra entre México y los EU (“Notes on the History of the War between Mexico and the United States”). 1848. $40,000 - $50,000 MXN / USD $2,222 - $2,777
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.

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