Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2019 Issue

The Markets are Converging

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The selling methodologies are converging

The structure of the old and rare book market is rapidly changing.  Within a generation what has long looked like parallel tracks that never converge, eBay and traditional auctions, are converging.  eBay is trying to move upstream while major auction houses are experimenting with formats that look similar to what might be called eBay+.  The difference between these two platforms is authentication.  On eBay the seller tells their story.  At traditional auctions the house, as independent arbiter, tell the item’s story, providing authentication while trying to be balanced because both buyers and sellers have to be satisfied.  Auction houses have the upper hand.  Authentication is that important.

 

Not everyone thinks the auction houses get it right either.  For years I’ve heard professionals randomly complain that auction houses over describe virtues and under describe weaknesses.  And God help them when they incorrectly describe.  Many years ago, a dealer mentioned an incorrectly described item upcoming up at a major auction house that, though difficult to identify, was actually a re-print of an exceptional rarity.  It was coming up soon and I wondered if he would tell the auction house.  The answer was “no.”  It improved his bargaining position.  Dealers typically charge higher prices than auctions achieve.

 

During the past 10 years complaints from buyers, however they buy, are fewer.  The Internet has made it possible to double check rarity and comparative pricing by looking on the web at the OCLC, the Library of Congress, the American Antiquarian Society, Biblio and Abebooks to name just a few sources.  What none of them tell you is what it’s worth and that’s the most common question.  Ultimately price/value is determined by professional evaluation or, for the owner, careful study.

 

What’s changing is that the mysteries that have long obscured both value and potential buyers, are slowly giving way to internet double checks and increasing awareness of who is buying, and this will pressure margins.  If so, this is not yet apparent but seems inevitable.

 

It is expected that massive amounts of old paper, be they old and rare books, manuscripts, maps or ephemera will be coming to market because of two trends, the aging of the current collecting generation that is looking to downsize, and libraries that are narrowing their collections.

 

Whatever the outcome, these forces are already in motion and the world will adjust.  Precisely how I can’t say.

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>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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