Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2002 Issue

A Visit with Jeremy Markowitz at Swann Galleries


I ask Markowitz to comment on the state of the Americana rare book market from Swann’s perspective. “We’re having a stellar season,” he says proudly. “Sales increased last year from the previous year, and they increased that previous year as well. I’d say in general we have become more selective in buying material, because we’re finding that the higher quality material still sells. However, the converse of this is that on the lower end, more common material in inferior condition tends not to sell and we tend not to buy it.”

Shifting gears, we begin to speak about collectors and collecting. I ask Markowitz if he’s a collector and he says no (“although I used to collect baseball cards as a kid.”) I gently broach the subject of advice to beginning collectors and it suddenly seems as if I’ve hit on one of Markowitz’s pet topics. He has a plethora of advice to offer to collectors. He begins by quoting someone – he thinks it’s [well known bibliophile Edward] Eberstadt – as paraphrased to him by [well known Americana dealer] Bill Reese. “My advice to the beginning collector is not to buy anything. Look around. When you think you’ve seen everything, then buy what you haven’t seen before. I think it’s hard to go wrong with that philosophy.” He pauses, then continues. “Study what’s sold in recent years. Look at American Book Prices Current. Spend time on abe.com. Spend a lot of time on AE’s databases. Know your field and your material. And be passionate about what you buy. Don’t buy just as a monetary investment. At Swann’s we have a saying: ‘Don’t put anything in any of your sales that you’re not prepared to buy yourself.’ Translate this to buying: don’t buy anything just because it is one of a kind. Buy it because you really want it. You shouldn’t collect unless you’re passionate about what you’re collecting. The most successful collectors – Forbes was a great example of this – did not stop bidding till they got the item, just because they cared so much about the material. When you’re collecting you must focus on a subject you like and just go after it.”

It’s been an hour and a half at this point and I’m afraid that perhaps the very polite Mr. Markowitz’s patience may be wearing thin. He takes me on a tour of the entire Swann operation (2 floors – the lower floor for art sales, the upper floor for books, each separated by an open winding staircase). Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I ask him one last question. What’s day to day life like in an auction house? “Life in an auction house,” he says, stretching out the phrase and clearly pondering it, “is exciting. You never know what’s going to walk in the door. One day it could be nothing, the next day it could be a Charles Lindberg letter or an original copy of the Bill of Rights that you find by poking through 80 unorganized boxes that arrive from a library that’s deaccessioning some material. On my best days, I like to think that by researching items, ascribing value to them, and selling them, I am in my own way contributing to the future of history. That thought gives me great comfort.”

Swann Galleries hosts over 40 auctions a year in various fields. They are located at 104 East 25th Street, New York, N.Y., 10010. Their phone number is (212) 254-4710 and their website (which lists their hours and has catalogues of upcoming sales available for viewing) is at swanngalleries.com. Editor’s Note: All Images Accompanying This Article Are Used Courtesy Of Swann Galleries, New York City.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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>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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