Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2019 Issue

Karl Lagerfeld, Fashion Designer, Book Collector Extraordinaire, Dies

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Karl Lagerfeld in his library.

When Karl Lagerfeld died at the age of 85 a few days ago, the world knew him as a fashion designer. He had been creating fashion designs since the 1950s and his reputation was second to none. Since the 1980s, he headed up the House of Chanel, while having his own brand under his name. Lagerfeld was known for his dark sunglasses, ponytail, and iconoclastic ways. He was quoted as saying, "I don't know what normal means." For those of us who do know what it means, we can say that Lagerfeld was not "normal." However, that is not because of his ponytail, sunglasses, or fashion designs. It is because of his book collection. That was not normal.

 

The most legendary of abnormal book collectors was the eccentric 19th century collector Thomas Phillipps. He supposedly wanted one of everything. He was said to own 100,000 books and manuscripts. They filled up every room of his house, floor to ceiling, leaving barely enough space to move around. Lagerfeld bettered Phillipps threefold. His library contained 300,000 books. At least that was the number he gave. I don't know whether anyone ever counted them. Unlike Phillipps, who tried to collect a copy of everything on a limited budget, Lagerfeld made enough money to build a collection this large, so we will accept his estimate as reasonable.

 

Karl Lagerfeld was quoted as saying of his collection, "Today, I only collect books; there is no room left for something else. If you go to my house, I’ll have you walk around the books. I ended up with a library of 300,000. It’s a lot for an individual." Yes, it is. It sounds like an obsession. It also sounds like tsundoku. That is an adopted Japanese word because there is no English equivalent. It means acquiring a whole lot of books or other reading material but never reading it. Lagerfeld was said to be a voracious reader, but I doubt he read 300,000 books. That would require reading almost ten books a day from the day he was born.

 

Lagerfeld's library came complete with rolling ladders and spiral staircases. It is not easy to store 300,000 books. When you look at the picture of Lagerfeld in his library, you will notice something else distinctive about it besides size. The books are shelved horizontally rather than vertically. I have seen two explanations. One is that they take up less space that way, which makes absolutely no sense since they take up the same number of square feet no matter how you stack them. The other was that it is easier to read the titles that way. You don't have to crick your neck sideways. That sounds like a practical answer, but Lagerfeld was not noted for being a practical man. My guess is it was artistic, a fashion statement. Recently, those who design homes by installing "books by the foot" for homeowners who practice tsundoku have started stacking them horizontally, believing that looks better. Lagerfeld was always ahead of others in his fashion sense, so that seems the more logical explanation for his unusual method of stacking books.

 

Has there ever been a larger private book collector? If Lagerfeld possessed a collection three times the size of Phillipps, it is hard to imagine there being such a person. However, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Lagerfeld was small time. It says that John Q. Benham of Avoca, Indiana, has a collection of over 1.5 million books. Guinness claims they fill up his house, a six-car garage, and a two-story building, while others are kept under tarpaulins outside. Guinness supposedly is diligent in fact-checking the record claims they publish, but it is hard to imagine they sent someone out to Avoca to count the books.

 

As to what becomes of Lagerfeld's collection now that he is gone, that is not known. Nor have I seen any numbers as to what the value of his books would be. Phillipps' material was sold over a series of auctions that did not conclude until almost a century later. It will be a challenge.


Posted On: 2019-03-01 07:17
User Name: mairin

An informative, enjoyable piece on the little-known Lagerfeld book collection. Or was it a library? A book archive? A book horde? What was it, really? Thanks for this, Mike, I was hoping Rare Book Hub would cover the subject. And we all appreciate being educated on "tsundoku", it applies to a good many people most of us know (accumulators of books, not readers, certainly not connoisseur collectors). These are a special class of bibliomaniac who love the physicality of books for their own sake: book as 'seductive' object, let's say. As for the sheer vastness of Lagerfeld's collection (if it indeed be that), some quantity of those volumes could be accumulated unsold inventory from his Paris bookshop, Studio 7L. Nice job, Mike, shows a good touch with the material, not least Sir Thomas Phillipps.
- Maureen E. Mulvihill, Collector / Guest Writer, 2016 - .


Posted On: 2019-03-01 16:39
User Name: Otakahira

We should all lend a passing thought to the plight of the "heirs and assigns" who may eventually have to wade into our bookshelves, performing a daunting triage as they attempt to save what's valuable, often under time pressure . . . even if we haven't quite reached 100,000. Not even a passing mention of how the value of books can be reduced through "spine roll," if they're not only STORED horizontally, but STACKED horizontally? -- Vin Suprynowicz


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Greco (Gioachino). <i>Primo modo del gioco de Partito…</i> Manuscript, France, 1624 or 1625. A collection of partiti, or 'chess problems' by one of the most important figures in the history of chess. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Herodotus. <i>Historiae,</i> translated into Latin by Lorenzo Valla and edited by Antonio Mancinelli. Venice, 1494. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Darwin (Charles). Autograph Letter signed to his cousin Reginald Darwin, Down, Beckenham, Kent, 27th March 1879. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Nicolay (Nicolas de). <i>The Navigations, peregrinations and voyages, made into Turkie,</i> first edition in English, Imprinted at London by Thomas Dawson, 1585. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Saint-Exupéry (Antoine de). <i>The Little Prince,</i> number 66 of 525 copies signed by the author, 1943. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Catlin (George, 1796-1872). Tuch-ee, A Celebrated War Chief of the Cherokees, watercolour, [circa 1834]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Genetics.- A collection of c.300 pamphlets on genetics comprising many of the major contributions from the first half of the 20th century. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> India.- Rajasthan.- Kota School (probably late 18th c.). Elephant in a landscape with chains around his feet, brush and black ink with opaque pigments. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Commelin (Caspar). <i>Horti medici Amstelaedamensis plantae rariores et exoticae,</i> first edition, 48 finely hand-coloured engraved plates, Leiden, F.Haringh, 1706. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Plague-water and cookery & medical recipes.- Jackson (Mrs Sarah). Medical and cookery recipes, manuscript in several hands, title and 134pp., 1688-1755. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Vernet (<i>After</i> Joseph, 1714-1789). <i>[Vues des ports de France],</i> sixteen plates (of 18), etchings and engravings by Charles Nicolas Cochin fils and Jacques Philippe Le Bas, [c.1760-1780]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Detmold (Edward Julius, 1883-1957). Parrots and Butterflies, watercolour. £2,500 to £3,500.
  • <b>Koller Auctions: Books & Autographs. March 26, 2019</b>
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Jacques Gamelin. <i>Nouveau recueil d'osteologie et de myologie, dessine d'apres nature...</i> 2 parts in 1 vol., large folio, 82 copper plates. CHF 12,000 to 18,000
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Melchior Pfintzing. <i>Die geverlicheiten und einsteils geschichten des loblichen streytparen...</i> 118 woodcut engravings, first edition. CHF 30,000 to 50,000
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Book of hours. Handwritten Latin text on vellum. With 17 large miniatures, Flanders, c.1460. CHF 70,000 to 90,000
    <b>Koller Auctions, Mar 26:</b> Maria Sibylla Merian. <i> Dissertatio de generatione et metamorphosibus insectorum Surinamensium,</i> 72 copper plates, Den Haag, 1726. CHF 60,000 to 90,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Princess Diana, group of 6 ALS to the editor of British Vogue, 1989-92. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing with news after pledging support to King George III against the American rebels, 1776. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Ulysses S. Grant, photograph dated & signed as President, portrait by Brady, 1875. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Alexander Graham Bell, ALS, accepting an invitation to tea during his only trip to Japan, 1898. $1,000 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Nikola Tesla, signature & date on his monogrammed correspondence card, 1935. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Richard Wagner, ALS, concerning his opera Rienzi, 1869. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, autograph note signed, requesting the address of Yvette Guilbert, 1895. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Claude Monet, ALS, to painter Harry Lachman, complaining that his vision has not improved, 1920s. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Friedrich Hölderlin, autograph manuscript, unsigned, 7 lines quoting Michael Denis's <i>Ossians und Sineds Lieder.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Guestbook for Lüchow's restaurant, over 400 signatures, including W.H. Auden, Grace Kelly & drawings by Charles Addams, NYC, 1950-56. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> George Washington, lottery ticket, signed, 1768. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 21:</b> Vaslav Nijinsky, postcard dated & signed, showing a drawing of him in <i>Schéhérazade,</i> 1916. $2,500 to $3,500.
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Books & Illustrated Art including Cartoons. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Silver Binding.- [Torah], German 13 Loth silver binding, hinged clasp, 12mo, Sulzbach, 1805. £2,500 to £3,500.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Picasso (Pablo). Minotaure vaincu, plate 89 from La Suite Vollard, etching, dated 29 May 1933, pencil, plate 190 x 265 mm, Paris, A. Vollard, 1939. £5,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Dali (Salvador) & Alighieri (Dante). <i>La Divina Commedia,</i> 6 vols, NUMBER 478 of 2,900 copies, 100 numbered colour lithograph plates by Salvador Dalì, folio, Verona, 1963-1964. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Books & Illustrated Art including Cartoons. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Miniature Sepher Torah Nevi'im U'Kethuvim, prepared by Menachem M. Scholz, original cloth, housed within original gilt tooled metal case, with magnifying glass inset, 33x25 mm, Warsaw, c. 1880. £1,200 to £1,800.
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Scarfe (Gerald). ‘Men of Snow’ [Tony Blair, William Hague & 'Robin' Cook], original ink, watercolour & gouache drawing, signed, 600 x 435 mm, n.d. with 2 others (3). £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Francklyn (Gilbert), Paine (Thomas). <i>Rights of Man…</i>, FIRST EDITION [and] <i>Rights of Man. Part the Second…,</i> Printed for J. S. Jordan, 1791-92, [and 1 other]. £700 to £1,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Books & Illustrated Art including Cartoons. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Chagall (Marc). Le Jeu des Acrobates (Acrobats at Play), HORS COMMERCE PROOF, lithograph, from The Lithographs of Chagall, 320 x 240 mm, André Sauret, 1963. £1,800 to £2,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> [Harris (John)]. <i>The History of The Old Woman who had Three Sons Jerry, James, and John…,</i> 12mo, J. Harris, 1815. £200 to £300
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Royal Binding.- Staël-Holstein (Germaine de). <i>De la littèrature considerée dans ses rapports avec les institutions sociales…,</i> 2 vols, second edition, Crapelet, Paris, [1801]. £400 to £600
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Books & Illustrated Art including Cartoons. March 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Ancient History.- La Baune (Jacques de). <i> Panegyrici Veteres,</i> Paris, 1676. [with] Wesseling (Petrus, ed.). <i> Vetera Romanorum itineraria…</i> £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Edward (Gibbon). <i> History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire…</i> Multiple editions and languages [English and French]. £300 to £400
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Mar 28:</b> Curtis (William). <i> Flora Londinensis,</i> FIRST EDITION, 2 vols in 3. 119 hand-coloured plates of 454. £500 to £700
  • <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

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