Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2015 Issue

William Reese - Celebrates 40th Anniversary: The "expert's expert" known for his scholarship and finesse.

De37a4ca-5728-4aaa-a644-1088de010e19

William Reese, 60, the noted expert on rare Americana is celebrating his 40th year in the antiquarian book trade.

"Work hard for 20 years and then only buy things you've never seen before," says William (Bill) Reese, who will be 60 in July. Reese is one of the premier dealers in antiquarian Americana and considered the expert's expert in the buying and selling of rare books and manuscripts in that field. The quote is from Wright Howes, Chicago bookseller active 1920-60 and author of the standard reference work, U.S.iana. But the advice is pure Reese.

"In the modern scheme of things," he adds, "there are only three possibilities, the best copy, the least expensive copy, and the only copy."

Reese, who heads the antiquarian firm which bears his name, is based in New Haven, Connecticut. He is celebrating his 40th anniversary in the trade this year. His catalog to mark that occasion is filled with fifty stellar items including a manuscript copy of the 1765 Stamp and Sugar tax acts, authored by the English, which paved the way to the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. Asking price $2 million.

Said Reese, "The two acts – the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act, which are sold together – are the triggering points in the path to American Independence.  One might say these are the hinge of American history.  These are the original manuscripts.  Other American historical documents have sold for much more without having the significance of these documents. For example, Washington’s copy of the first Acts of Congress sold for over $8 million. For one of the most important pairs of documents in American history to be worth $2 million when one can hardly buy a painting of importance for that sum, does not seem extravagant."

Reese is noted for his cool authority and confident scholarship. Collectors and buyers trust his eye for innate value and knowledge, not only what to buy but when. One story he tells is about the Gettysburg Address offered in 2004 at auction at the 2nd Malcolm Forbes sale. Reese bought it for $300K, raised the price to $600K and then found an international university to take it at $850,000, and think it was well worth the price.

As he recalls, "Shortly after I bought it I was asked what I would take for it and said $600,000 on the theory of a quick turnover. But I always envisioned it as being worth more, so it’s not like I was raising the price beyond my original idea of value.  This auction was a perfect instance of what I call 'hiding in plain sight.'  At major sales, where the big buyers are trying for lots of expensive things, in my experience something always falls through the cracks because everyone is stretching to get what they most want."

Reese's career trajectory has been different from most of his colleagues. He started dealing from his dorm room as a Yale undergraduate. A $40,000 personal loan from his family allowed him to launch his business and purchase his first collection. "I paid it back within six months," he said, and has been going strong ever since.

Reese's association with Yale and Yale's Beinecke Library is also ongoing.

"I have worked closely with the Yale Library since my undergraduate years.  I endowed a number of fellowships at Beinecke, and annually fund fellowships there and to send Yale librarians to Rare Book School."

According to Reese he was on the committee for the new Music Library and personally raised the funds for its Rare Book Room. He served as the chairman of their friends group, Yale Library Associates, from 2005 to 2013 and has been a trustee for decades.  He is currently vice chair of the Library Development Council, which coordinates major gifts.  

"I served for some time as advisor to the Western Americana Collection in Beinecke.  When the Forbes Smiley map thefts took place, I was asked to take over the internal investigation, which I coordinated with Yale and the FBI."

His company has generally handled the Beinecke’s auction bids in the U.S.  When Reese served as the main appraiser and book advisor to the estate of Paul Mellon, he coordinated the transfer of all of the materials given to Yale.

He has also curated a number of exhibitions in the Beinecke, including the 1992 Columbian Quincentenary show and the Mellon memorial show in 2002 (both of which have published catalogues).

A generous patron, Reese has also given the Library numerous things, including comprehensive collections of the British World War I poets, Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon. "On the flip side," he said, "Yale has been a major customer of mine over the years, and I’ve sold them many wonderful things over the decades."

 

In Reese's view two of the most important ingredients for a successful dealer are "contacts and capital." Lacking capital he recommends: "1) more contacts, especially visiting customers in person to understand what they want; and 2) to seek to turn inventory over as rapidly as possible, which is a lot easier if you know exactly what your customers want."

In answer to the question "What advice would you give to others on how to achieve expert status and the credibility that comes with it?" he replied:

"Try to be a scholar, by which I mean issue catalogues with respectable research and good writing.  Take part in scholarly conferences.  If the spirit moves you, do research for publication."

As for the current debate on the values for items at auction vs. those purchased through dealers, in his opinion it's not where you buy but how:

"The most important part of any antiquarian business is buying right.  I see many dealers not thinking through before they buy what they think they can sell an item for. This is especially true at auctions, where it’s easy to get carried away and go one more bid. Iron discipline in what one will pay means you don’t buy a lot of things you’d like to.  But auctions are very imperfect markets, and there are opportunities."

One of the things Reese has done consistently since his earliest years is owning books in partnership with other dealers. He pointed out this practice, "halves the capital investment and opens up new potential customers.  I don’t think it doubles them because some customers, especially the big institutions, are known to all; but many private buyers deal with only a few dealers or the ones with whom they’ve established a good relationship."

In his own dealings Reese quoted JP Morgan's famous 1913 opinion, "Character outweighs collateral." In his view, "If you trust one another it can survive on a handshake."

"I believe successful partnerships rely on rigorous inventory control and bookkeeping," he continued," and that the partners must have absolute confidence in the honesty and reliability, personal and financial, of their partners.  Clarence Wolf of George MacManus Co., one of my primary partners, is someone I’ve known for forty-five years.  In all that time we’ve never had a misunderstanding over a business transaction."

After 40 years in the trade he noted that often times the same material previously sold comes to market again. The market, he observed, does recycle, but many of the best things are more or less permanently out of reach and the hardest part of his job is "finding the good material."

Reese didn't have a lot of predictions, but one thing he sees in the future is smaller and lesser special collections will eventually come to market:

"It’s inevitable that many institutions won’t be able to afford the luxury of a rare book collection.  The mission of city libraries should be to help people get access to information, and today that means computer terminals.  For a small college, if I were the librarian and had to choose between the cost of subscribing to online assets that would bring millions of books to my students, or special collections, I’d choose the former. These are not choices anyone wants to make. It’s easy to attack the de-accessioning institutions, but in the economic environment most of these places are in, the missions of access and education have to come first."

As for the trade itself, it's his view that it was "far easier to start in the business forty years ago.  The big advantage to an unknown dealer was the institutional buyers, who were generally very democratic: they bought from whomever had what they needed.  To private buyers, who now dominate the top end of the market, reputation and experience are most important."

"Bill Reese has been my dealer for 25 years," said one of his upscale clients who characterized him as “independently wealthy and very very smart."

With Reese, he continued, "money, per se, does not play the deciding role. Where the next dollar is coming from is never his motivation. As the seller he always takes the long view.  If he issues it in a catalog at $5,000, he’s not going to cut the price, and re-catalog it lower. He’s sure of himself on value and importance.  If he says it’s valuable it’s because he’s certain and his opinion is widely respected."

To which Reese responded "I guess I could be called independently wealthy now, but I wasn't when I started." As for taking the "long view,” he termed it "an advantage of accumulating some capital, which is hardly unique to the rare book business."

To dealers who haven't reached his own lofty heights, Reese gives the following advice:

1.      "The most important thing is buying right so you can sell right.

2.      Play to your strengths.  It’s better to be the master of some genre, no matter how small, and build out from there.

3.      Hit the road and see people all you can, not just at shows.  A personal visit builds relationships and helps you know what your customers really want.

4.      Do right by others and it will mostly come back.  That’s a maxim for all business.  I’ve gone out of my way to help many colleagues and scholars without expecting any return, and it’s come back to help me in ways I never would have expected."

While he stressed the importance of "continued application of knowledge," he was also quick to point out the role played by "the lucky chance, serendipity, you may want to believe in a perfect market but …. books are as imperfect as possible."

"The Internet has flattened the steep learning curve and made information accessible that formerly was only cult knowledge.  Know what you do, figure out what is important, many people miss things because they fail to see the significance, there will be some bargains, wait - watch."

------------------------

Links

William Reese Company, New Haven, Conn.: www.reeseco.com

All Reese catalogs links: www.williamreesecompany.com/shop/reeseco/catalogs.html

40 years a Bookseller Catalog #322 (2015) 50 items -- pdf file: www.williamreesecompany.com/reeseco/images/pdfs/cat322.pdf

(Video) William Reese interviewed by Michael Ginsberg for 2010 ABAA video (about 24 minutes): www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4H9HC18OL0

Grolier Club, Books in Hard Times, 2009, includes papers by numerous contributors including Reese

www.grolierclub.org/default.aspx?p=DynamicModule&pageid=293990&ssid=175123&vnf=1.

Reese's contribution: Rare Book Market Today www.grolierclub.org/Files/2.1.ReeseDESIGNED.pdf.

Reach William Reese and his staff via email at: coreese@reeseco.com.

 

 


Posted On: 2015-06-19 21:26
User Name: npzinos

Thanks for the advice. Mr. Reese. As a relatively young rare book dealer I find this type of information very helpful.

Nick Zinos of Zinos Books
St. Paul, Minnesota


Rare Book Monthly

  • <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.
  • <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.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions