Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2018 Issue

The Structure of Multi-form History Collections Considered

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The availability of many forms of collectible material causes some collectors to consider or reconsider if they are exclusively a book, map, manuscript, photography or ephemera collector.  Most collectors will buy things from every category but probably continue to describe themselves as a collector of a particular form.  They should reconsider.  Here is my experience.

 

From an early age I was a book collector focusing on local books about Ulster County in New York.  The number of potential items was graphically presented to me by a local historian who was also a book collector.  Gesturing to his shelves in 1956 he pointed to a less than single shelf saying “these are the local collectible books I have found” and also offered that he was aware of other volumes he knew to exist but had not yet acquired.  The total was about 45.  How did he know about the unseen volumes?  He pointed to his run of Sabin and mentioned Howe’s Usiana.  A few months later, for my 11th birthday, I received through the mail in a padded box I kept for years, Wright Howes’ Usiana of ten thousand examples of printed Americana. In time that book would travel thousands of miles with me, early-on on my bike, later in my car when going to auctions, chasing leads, and visiting dealers in Boston, Albany and New York.

 

Howes was very useful and portable but Sabin’s the storied backbone for serious collectors of printed Americana.  Forty-six years later in 2002 when I started the Americana Exchange online as a research site the full 29 volumes of Sabin'a Bibliotheca Americana were its original bedrock records, in fact two thirds of the original 151,000 records, we offered.  In that era the collecting of printed material was still almost entirely the collecting of books.

 

Since 2002 the field has been at the center of a revolution.

 

If the internet was first a series of lists it is today both those lists and increasingly the complete contents of every item on those lists, many if not most with images.  When all such material is within a single database a single search is efficient.  When that database contains hundreds, even thousands of sources the efficiency is magnified hundreds of times over.

 

The transaction database on RBH now includes more than 8.7 million lots at auction that reflect the at-auction history of well over 99% of all collectible printed material, a significant number that provides statistical support for rarity and value but is itself a small number compared to the plethora of potentially related ephemera.

 

For more than twenty years I’ve been collecting the history of the mid-Hudson Valley of New York State and the changing nature of what I bought increasingly made it difficult to organize the collection as a book collection with benefits.  For the past two years I have been trying to reimagine how such a collection might be divided and segmented and I think I’ve now found a workable solution.

 

If the original idea for a local collection, as suggested by Bill Heidgerd, was 24 to 30 inches of books on a single shelf, that collection now incorporates 8,000 to 10,000 items.  Certainly all or almost all of the important books are present.  As a fifth grader occupying several hours on a summer afternoon with a serious local historian in 1956 I came away understanding that collecting was the marriage of search and possession.  Understanding was less certain, then explained as the “study of the facts by those knowledgeable enough to interpret the information,” an apparently very small group.

 

These days I’m focusing on understanding, trying to make thousands of items mesh, so to provide intense immediate clarity on the past.  In other words, I’m trying to bring the past back into the current conversation.  To get started I’ve reorganized my collection.  Here is how I’m doing it.

 

I have chosen categories, in fact places to differentiate by printed place and/or referenced subject. 

 

Here is the present list:

 

Albany [New York]

Ulster County

New Paltz

Lower Ulster and Newburgh

Poughkeepsie [and Dutchess County]

The Railroads

River Commerce [and its boats]

Disasters [Train collisions, ship wrecks, and fires]

Local Medals and Money

 

Related books are on the shelves, ephemera in boxes and maps in drawers.  Objects that relate are sitting nearby.  As well, some categories of material such as medals and ribbons are in separate boxes.  This makes the collection understandable and accessible and provides logical destinations for new material, an important aspect of this approach as collecting continues for the collector until the money or time runs out.

 

Eight of the subjects will have a painting that reflects some aspect of its history.  For New Paltz a depiction of the Burning of the Normal School at New Paltz in 1906 was completed in September 2018.  A painting of the waterfront at Rondout, circa 1880, is expected to be completed in spring 2019.

 

The goal will be to digitize all material and make every aspect of each item searchable.

 

The database is envisioned as a living entity and therefore one to which new material can be added regularly.  Given that ephemera is thought to outnumber books by at least 1,000 to 1 this suggests that the collection, just for Ulster County, could approach 100,000 items.

 

As to what we might find, it’s already apparent that the people of Ulster County have lived and relived the many events of human existence, seen their prospects rise, fall and rise again. 

 

As to what this database can most provide, it’s perspective.  These days we are living in the moment.  Ulster County history will remind us we have all been here before.  Perhaps, with detailed access to the past, we can regain a current perspective.  We make better decisions when we take the time to think.    

 

In time I believe the database will be more valuable than the collection as most research is done online without direct reference to underling copies.

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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
  • <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

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