Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2015 Issue

Collecting these days: my own experience

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Two thousand fifteen seems a different kind of year in the rare book business.  The long-term trend toward better and unique copies continues to intensify both in the auction rooms and in dealer catalogues.  This suggests a thinner, and inevitably weaker market for very good if not absolutely spectacular copies – the very thing that collectors and dealers most have.  This is disappointing but not crushing.  For the collector who has yet to buy, it simply means that auction realizations may go lower and in time dealer asking prices follow. The auction outcomes are the bright spot because they confirm liquidity, a necessary feature in a healthy market.  The public market, as reflected by auction outcomes, is today huge.  This means that for those who buy there are also well-defined exits.

 

At the same time the quality of material continues to improve.  Both dealers and auction houses, confronted by increasingly selective buyers, are focusing on the best material while bringing asking prices and estimates on good to very good material down to maintain cash and transaction flow.  Many, and I count myself among them, believe the current market is the best we have seen in decades.  It’s efficient, simply reflecting market interest.  As a buyer this is all that you can ask.

 

On the collecting side I continue to pursue interesting material, and am agnostic to the source.  In past years eBay has been a steady source of appealing if generally inexpensive material but this past year not so much.   I’m not sure where such material now shows up but it’s not in the eBay searches.  Their decision to emphasize static listings over auctions is turning them into another Abebooks, in my opinion a dumb idea.  Abe is already doing a very good job.

 

My single most important purchase this year was from a retiring dealer from whom I bought the O’Shaughnessy Archive of Auction Catalogues issued during the period 1865 to 1940.  Such material is all but impossible to find as a substantially complete run.  A dealer bought these records at a public warehouse sale in New Jersey in 1948 and they have remained untouched since.  They cover twenty houses and, at a guess, 2.5 million auction records that will, over the next year or so, bring the RBH Transaction Database well past eight million records.   My goal has always been to have a complete auction record in the RBH/AE database.  With this purchase and a full year of work we’ll make significant progress.

 

I have also bought at auction.  At the Carlsen Gallery near Albany, on a Sunday in early April, I bid by phone on a wonderful group of prints, most of which are by Currier and Ives.  Currier is out of fashion today and the number of unduplicated items that come up is limited.  At this sale a very complete set of Hudson Valley and Adirondack prints was offered.  I bought about 30 prints, the cost all in about $10,000.

 

Over the summer I bid at JMW Auctions in Kingston, New York.  The lots are sometimes not well documented and the realized prices difficult to obtain.  Consequently we don’t cover their sales.  But I bid there myself and bought both books and paintings there this year.  The paintings are special.  Altogether I spent about $9,000.

 

 

On November 11th at Bonham's London I purchased an archive of material from Hodgson & Co. Book Auctioneers.  This English auction house was a major player in the books and manuscript auction trade from the later 19th into the mid 20th century.

 

Lot 29

 

HODGSON & CO. BOOK AUCTIONEERS An extensive archive of business papers, printed matter, photographs and correspondence relating to the book auctioneering firm of Hodgson & Co. (1807-1981), largely dating from the period after the firm's move to Chancery Lane in 1863 comprising; a group of over 100 items of correspondence with vendors and booksellers such as Lord Wardington, The Earl of Halifax, Captain Massingberd of Ormsby Hall, Earl Beauchamp of Madresfield Court, Arthur Symonds, Leonard Huxley, EV Lucas, Sir John Lubbock, Hatchards, A.P. Watt & Son, Henry Sotheran, Quaritch, Maggs & Co. etc., documents concerning the discovery and sale in 1948 of a volume of nine Shakespeare Quartos dating from 1619, a number of letters and documents concerned with possible suspension of book auctions during the First World War (signed by Chatto, Maggs, Karslake and others, with Quaritch removing his signature on the grounds that auctioneers know their business best, and Hodgson's reply giving reasons to continue with sales), various financial papers including a sales book of 1901-8, list of monies owed by booksellers, an auctioneer's folder with 'no bid' list attached, lists of clients and their collections, lists of 'books viewed', typed instructions for cataloguing and work sheets, examples of printed stationery and printing blocks, manuscript plans and documents relating to the premises at Chancery Lane, a series of photographs showing the staff, the building, a sale in progress (with inscription "Reynolds in the pound, J.E.H. Thornton & Milward") and the centenary dinner of 1907, commemorative publications and menus produced for said centenary celebrations, some 50 sale catalogues, many annotated, dating from 1861 to 1981 (the majority 1930-60 but including some noteable sales such as the Strawberry Hill Press collection, 1902, Four Folio Shakespeares, 1948, and Early Books on Surgery and Medicine from Sion College, 1938), receipts and general household accounts, together with various legal and personal papers relating to the family, various sizes and bindings etc., 1860's to 1980's

 

The firm was in business between 1807 and 1967 and then absorbed by Sotheby’s.  The lot was estimated 1,000 to 1,500 British pounds and brought 8,125 all in.  Robert Frew, the London antiquarian, represented me.

 

Book auction history is a subject unto itself.  The houses, the characters and circumstances seen through the prism of time yield a stunning perspective.  In time, some, perhaps most of this lot will become searchable on RBH.

 

At another sale Bill Reese represented me at a recent Doyle New York auction to purchase lot 30 a Miscellany of New York Assembly and Senate Journals, 1785-1800:

 

[NEW YORK - FEDERAL] Miscellany of Assembly and Senate Journals, 1785-1800, 11 volumes all but two in 20th century cloth (one in worn half leather and boxed, one in leather backed boards). Folio printings, sizes vary, largest 14 x 8 1/2 inches (36 x 22 cm). The Assembly Journals include those for the years 1785, 1792, 1795, 1796 and 1799, printed by Francis Childs, Childs & Swain, Samuel Loudon, and Loring Andrews; The Senate Journals, each with separate title pages, includes those for the years 1785-92 (bound together), 1792, 1794, 1798, 1800, and an 1814 volume of indexes for the years 1777-1795, each variously printed in New York, Albany, Poughkeepsie, etc. The entirety with stamps and ink markings to titles and intermittently within, generally clean but with some stains, foxing, etc., the whole not fully collated and sold as is.   Eleven volumes.

 

The lot was estimated $200 to $300 and brought $3,438.

 

I purchased two related lots at Doyle earlier this year.  The bindings, such as they are, will now be reworked to turn these miscellaneous volumes into a somewhat complete set.  All such items are rare if not necessarily desired.  Deciding how to rebind and box them will be next year’s challenge.  However the rebinding works these three Doyle New York purchases will turn out to be a great prize.  They are beyond rare.

 

From dealers I bought a large group of Hudson Valley ephemera.   Peter Luke of New Baltimore, New York offers me archive-sized lots every year or so.   I also recently bought from Will Monie [ABAA].  I learned of one item and then more thoroughly searched his inventory and found a dozen more.  Will is very strong on New York State and that is my primary collecting interest.

 

Also as I have for years, I bought this year twice more from a retired Albany dealer.  He is letting go of his collection book by book and can count on me to be interested.

 

My experience is anecdotal but the market in what interests me seems to be solid if not particularly pricey while the opportunities are frequent and appealing.

 

For collectors this is a remarkable moment.


Posted On: 2015-12-20 19:51
User Name: myworthybooks

Very nicely written.

Dan Yardeni


Rare Book Monthly

  • <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.
  • <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.

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