Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2015 Issue

Wanted: A Collector with Ambition

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Because booksellers' catalogues randomly appear and because there are thousands of booksellers the sheer magnitude of catalogue production has long gone unrecognized and unreported.  There have been scattered reports over the years of collectors of auction catalogues who have sought to have a copy of every auction catalogue ever printed.  For a few others that has not been enough.  Theirs were to be priced, something not consistently reported much less provided.  Such collections exist but are uncommon.

 

More frequently found but invariably less appreciated are dealer catalogues.  Many, even most, dealers accumulate them as tools for their field.  But in time with experience they learn that the market for dealer catalogues is very thin, that they sit upon the doubly sharpened sword; both hard to find and difficult to sell.

 

Twenty-five years ago I began to accumulate dealer catalogues.  Large troves occasionally appeared and when given the opportunity, I bought them.

 

Twice I bought large quantities from John Zubal in Cleveland.  John is a smart man who concluded long before he sold them to me that he couldn’t do anything with them, something like 25 pallets altogether.  From a Detroit ABAA dealer I made a similar but smaller deal.  From DeWolfe & Wood of Alfred, Maine I bought 2,200 mostly 19th century catalogues.  Susan Heller gave me several thousand she acquired during her career.  And another family, cleaning out their father’s house in the Rocky Mountains, found a trove of catalogues but no willing buyers.  They too sent their catalogues to me with the admonition “please keep them.”  And I have.

 

Since 2001 we have been building the Rare Book Hub Transaction Database.  And we have included the catalogues of many of the greatest dealers of the past century but invariably acquired a much broader inventory, hundreds of first catalogues of young and hopeful dealers and as many, perhaps even more of their final catalogues.

 

But the collection is spotty.  Few complete runs are present.  Mostly the catalogues are the important ones, the examples that other dealers set aside as references.  In total today we have more than 23,000 dealer catalogues representing at least one catalogue from more than 2,800 dealers.  The date range runs from the 1850’s to the early 1990’s.

 

And what this collection turns out to be is the once in a lifetime opportunity for that person or institution who would like to spend the next two decades pursuing examples of every dealer’s catalogues using this collection as a springboard into the netherworld of dealer catalogues that reside in deep collections around the world.

 

We will be selling them at auction as a single lot, roughly 165 [actually closer to 180] linear feet of catalogues.  We will sell them on behalf of a charity.

 

So if you have big ambitions and a large space this may be an appealing direction.  It is perfect for obsessives.  Run of the mill take it or leave it collectors will not have the nerve to step into this.  This will require courage and ambition and a high degree of resourcefulness.  But it will also be a famous undertaking.  Catalogues will continue to spill out of institutions over the next 25 years and their random pieces fit perfectly into an extraordinary mosaic of dealer history and ambition that this collection lays out like a roadmap.

 

I know something of the challenge.  I have collected some eight million-auction records and some five million of them today form the backbone of the RBH Transaction History Database.  In time another possibly 2.5 million records will join their brothers and sisters to create a seamless transaction history dating back to 1850.

 

By comparison the dealer catalogue challenge is a larger undertaking.  We continue to catalogue [we are currently up to the letter R] and now estimate there are 11,000,000 dealer records in the material on hand.

 

Here is a link to an almost complete index of the dealers, dates and quantity of catalogues whose catalogues are in this collection.  The complete list will be linked here by August 10th.

 

If you have some thoughts about this, whether as an advisor, collector or institution, please be in touch.  I’m assuming the material will go to auction in October.

 

Bruce McKinney

877.323,7273

bmckinney@americanaexchange.com


Posted On: 2015-08-25 23:20
User Name: DorothySloan

Dear Bruce:

Somehow reading your article made me think I am not alone with my catalogue fetish. Relief!

I became aware of the rare book world in the late 1960s, when studying with that extraordinary man Dr. William H. Goetzmann in American Studies at the University of Texas. I was fascinated with so many aspects of our history--popular culture to fine art and everything in between. But I did not see how I could pursue a career with such eclectic interests. In one of Dr. Goetzmann's seminars, he assigned us to prepare an exhibit from material in the Humanities Research Center. Walking into that space, a beautiful shaft of light came down from the high ceiling--that kind of moment when we have a vision that shows us the way. At last...

My classroom studies were done, and all I wanted to do was look at every rare book in that library. To make a long short, Dr. Goetzmann did not discourage my curiosity, but rather encouraged it. He told me to go to San Francisco and apprentice with Warren R. Howell, no mean feat since I had to consider two children and the husband I had put through six degrees. In the meantime, he showed me some rare book dealer and auction catalogues. I looked at more catalogues at the HRC and purchased even more of them from dealers here and abroad. Dr. Goetzmann also told me to read Carter's ABC for Book Collectors and other related works. I was a lover looking for something to love, and had at last found it.

I finished my studies and I arrived in San in 1969. When all the domestic and maternal matters were in order, I made by way to 434 Post Street. My first encounter with Warren was when I showed up uninvited at 7 am one morning. I timidly knocked on the glass door and there he was with his fine china cup of coffee and that shock of silver hair at the back of the long, narrow high-ceilinged shop. He frowned at me and waved his hand for me to leave, but I persisted. He came to the door finally and said: "What do you want, young lady?" I replied, "I want to learn everything about rare books and Dr. Goetzmann told me to come here." He smiled, swung open the door, and said, "Darling, you have come to the right place."

In addition to having one of the great book shops in the world, Warren had such a wonderful collection of dealer and auction catalogues. I already had the fetish, and at last count I had over 250 linear feet of dealer and auction catalogues. Those catalogues were a foundation stone in my education in the rare book world, and I thank each dealer and auction house who helped me find my way. I was fortunate in being able to buy a good deal of John Jenkins' collection of catalogues and those of W. Thomas Taylor (the latter were part of my acquisition of Tom's reference collection). When you created Americana Exchange it seemed the most sensible and easy way to deal with a mass of ephemeral but highly useful information. I wish you could include dealer catalogues, too, but what you have done is wonderful enough for now. Yes, the information is more accessible in digital form, but still there is some part of me that wants to hold on to those hard copies.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <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.
  • <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

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