Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2005 Issue

MatchMaker: the keys to book collecting

Oldv

A recent MatchMaker find: Old Ulster. A complete run.


By Bruce McKinney

When you step into a bookstore, visit a bookseller's show or venture onto a selling site you are hoping to find something. Experience has taught you not to expect to find exactly what you want and often you aren't entirely sure what you'll accept. Collectors are compromisers. If you say you are looking for a specific edition of a certain book in perfect condition your spouse does not need to hide the checkbook. That book is not going to be found so quickly. Some collectors however will instinctively accept a second edition or rebound copy. For them the impulse is to "buy" more than to "collect" and their collection simply the accumulation of impulsive purchases. All book collectors want to buy something sometimes and if they don't find what they really want they often end up buying what is really available. AND then they'll hide it! If confronted they might say "I just wanted to buy something" or "I had an itch." In this way book collecting can become a poor investment. But this need not happen because satisfying, efficient collecting is becoming easier. Let me tell you how.

The difference between an unfocused collecting commitment [others may call it something else] and the efficient, cost effective pursuit of that which interests you is simply the difference between focused and unfocused effort. If you are a genius, you can, as Frank Siebert did, simply remember every book you ever see. Or if you are the reincarnation of Wilberforce Eames you'll simply remember every line of every book you ever read. But I'm not, and chances are you're not, a bibliographic polymath. So we employ tools and a new way of thinking about book collecting. Consider this. The sky on a very clear night may show a million bright stars. Okay, you can find the Big Dipper but that doesn't make you an astronomer. You instinctively know there is a lot to understand about astronomy. Books are the same way. For a moment let's peek at the night sky of old and used books. It's ABE [www.abebooks.com]. There you'll find sixty million stars. Or look on eBay. Every minute of every day eBay auctions are ending and others are beginning. ABE is as big as the Pacific Ocean. eBay runs as fast and as relentlessly as the Colorado River. And then there is the world of traditional book auctions. Here the flow is slower and deeper. This past year there were 279 documented auctions. Subscribe for their catalogues? Absolutely, but you can't read them all. You'll need a staff of three to do that, a warehouse to store them and it still won't work because it's too slow.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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