Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2016 Issue

The New York Book Fair: Great Fun

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One of the great pleasures of the New York Antiquarian Book Fair in New York every April is its certainty.  Life has its ups and downs but somehow each April the leading dealers, institutions and collectors find a way to get past life’s debris to rally around the material on which the field thrives; rare, beautiful and unusual works on paper.  In some years events in the real world crowd out the joy and pleasure in the Park Avenue Armory, in others the skies are clear, the daffodils are out, and smiles are everywhere.  The 2016 NYABF goes into the records as a very strong event, as David Lilburne of Antipodean Books explained, “a throwback to ten years ago when all felt right with the world.”  For John Windle “it was the fair at which the stars lit up the sky, my best NY Fair ever at just under $500,000.”

 

Dealers have been setting prices for decades but increasingly, and this year emphatically, many dealers adjusted prices into logical relationship with market conditions and saw their sales jump.  It turns out many, probably most, North American buyers have their own opinions about fair value and we saw over the four fair days in April, that when the prices offered matched acquirer expectations, the sales occurred quickly.  My own experience was similar.

 

In my category, material relating to the Hudson Valley, there were many appealing choices, some I committed to immediately and others I suggested I’d return to discuss the following day.  When I came back those items were gone.  It was that kind of fair.

 

Bill Reese reported strong fair results:  $1.3 million, his second best fair over his storied career as a dealer.  Donald Heald, who has managed the New York Fair for more than a decade, reported “happiness across all the aisles.”   Attendance increased from 4,300 in 2015 to 5,600 in 2016.

 

This book fair is always an amalgam; first domestic and foreign dealers, then dealers in categories - ephemera, maps, manuscripts and books; next material by subject:  science and medicine, early exploration, Americana, fiction, book arts, printed images, objects and charts.  One collector called the fair “a learning experience.  There was a lot going on.”  That it was.

 

Bill Reese suggested that American dealers have learned to write better story-descriptions to explain their material and this is helping their sales.  “They understand they have to contextualize each item.” 

 

Selling collectible paper is both an art and a process.  Not so long ago all talk was about whose clients were on the floor.  Today what’s on the shelves is even more important because it’s increasingly an information-based market.  Personal relationships continue to be very important but for new collectors the need to learn is paramount.

 

Greg Talbot of Lawbook Exchange saw the fair through a different lens.  “It was strong and I’m sure many others have described it that way.  We marketed a pre-show list to clients and many, who couldn’t attend, bought from it.  Material we promoted also sold.  The strength was in the high end.” 

 

Another dealer sold important material to institutions early and then sold only a single book Saturday and nothing further on Sunday.  “My clients expected some consideration and I obliged.”  Discounting seemed more expected.  “This is the world now.”

 

The show had a back-story as well.  It is widely known that the powers at the Armory are looking for shows that stay longer and appeal to a younger audience.  As of May 1st the New York Antiquarian Book Fair does not yet have a firm offer for their April show in 2017.  There is some discussion about a possible weekend date in March but that is also tricky.  Other shows have lodged themselves in March and probably won’t adjust without a fight. 

 

In any event, any proposal for the Armory is said to be for only two years so any solution will probably be temporary.  By, if not before 2020, the fair will be in new premises unless the field successfully campaigns for a new long-term commitment.

 

And this is unsettling.  The collectable paper field has been adjusting to an aging audience, the explosion of Internet listed material, and the emergence of massive on-line databases that clarify rarity, importance and value and these changes and adjustments seem to be working out.  But the next five years will be especially crucial and the storied, convenient Armory could provide stability through what will invariably be a period of continuing adjustment.  Already the ABAA has answered one concern:  attendance.  This year’s 5,600 is a 30% increase on attendance in 2015.  In fact, the Sunday numbers were strong enough that the armory’s representative briefly slowed the entry pace to avoid overcrowding.  Overcrowding?  It seems that the audience, by the Armory’s calculations, is at least somewhat robust and if given time to develop additional strategies the show promoters could build the audience back toward 10,000.

 

Simply stated, the rare book field deserves to continue to be at the Armory although the audience may be older than the one consultants see in the armory’s future.  And that’s okay.  Rare books are part of the future too and will continue to be culturally significant.  I say give the ABAA numbers to hit and they’ll hit them.

 

In the meantime, about half of what I bought in New York has arrived.  It was a lovely trip and, from this collector’s perspective, an excellent buying opportunity.  So I’m looking forward to next April.

 

There were two other book fairs, both which were busy.  I'll be writing about them in the June issue of Rare Book Monthly.                                                                               

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Pushkin, Alexander. <i>Evgenii Onegin. A novel in verse.</i> A first edition of the most important work in Russian literature in its original parts, 1825–32. £120,000 to £160,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Gogol, Nikolai. <i>Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka.</i> A rare first edition of Gogol's first masterpiece, 1831–32. £70,000 to £100,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Darwin, Charles Robert. <i>On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.</i> First edition, owned and read by two contemporaries of Darwin. London: John Murray, 1859. £140,000 to £200,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Galilei, Galileo. <i>Sidereus Nuncius.</i> First edition, announcing the first astronomical discoveries made with the telescope. Venice: Tommaso Baglioni, [March] 1610. £300,000 to £500,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> The seal of Wulfric. England, first half 11th century. £70,000 to £100,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Bible, <i>Ezechiel</i> in Latin. [Northern Italy, 5th century]. £120,000 to £180,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Blaeu, Jan and Willem Blaeu. <i>Grooten Atlas [Atlas Major]</i>. Amsterdam: Johannes Blaeu, 1664. £450,000 to £650,000
    <b>Christie’s London, Jul. 9:</b> Petites Heures of Charles VIII use of Paris, in Latin. An exquisite Hours illuminated by the Master of the Chronique Scandaleuse. [Paris, 1490s]. £300,000 to £500,000
  • <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> André Breton, <i>Second manifeste du Surréalisme,</i> Paris, Editions Kra, 1930
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Paul Eluard and Pablo Picasso, <i>La Barre d’appui,</i> Paris, Editions « Cahiers d’Art », 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Blaise Cendrars and Fernand Léger, <i>La Fin du monde filmée par l’ange N.-D.,</i> Paris, Editions de la Sirène, 1919
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Hans Bellmer, <i>Die Puppe,</i> Paris, G.L.M., 1936
    <b>Christie’s Paris:</b> Salvador Dali, <i>La femme visible,</i> Paris, Editions Surréalistes, 1930
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. Sold for $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing after pledging support to King George III against American rebels, 1776. Sold for a record $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sonia Delaunay, <i>Ses Peintures</i> . . ., 20 pochoir plates, Paris, 1925. Sold for a record $13,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 autograph letters signed to British <i>Vogue</i> editor, 1989-92. Sold for $10,400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alexander Hamilton, ALS, as Secretary of the Treasury covering costs of the new U.S. Mint, 1793. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. Sold for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Barbier & François-Louis Schmied, <i>Personnages de Comédie,</i> Paris, 1922. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli,</i> Paris, 1897. Sold for a record $13,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ralph Waldo Emerson, <i>The Dial,</i> first edition of the reconstituted issue, Emerson’s copy with inscriptions, Cincinnati, 1860. Sold for a record $3,250.

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