Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2019 Issue

What Collecting Becomes

Books and other printed material, paintings, and objects

The most difficult problems to solve are those with many variables—inevitably those with more variables are more difficult to solve.


Book collecting has been both the victim and beneficiary of changes wrought by the internet.  Larger databases provide data on available examples and comparable and related items.  Thirty years ago rarity was a word applied by an expert.  Today it is determined by statistics, and anyone with curiosity and a few bucks can know what an item is worth.


Scale of availability is a blunt instrument that molds the traditional structures and forms of collecting into new, more personal possibilities.  For years beyond memory, books were collected as a category because that is how they were understood.  The internet now allows for categories to be interleaved, so machinery, furniture, paintings, objects of all descriptions as well as the four categories in collectible paper, all fit into possibilities in a single search that only now, for the first time, heave into view.  Thus it is safe to say we are at the dawn of a new, more focused, collecting and I believe the outcomes will be spectacular because the possibilities have never been better.


It’s understandable that the collectible paper field has, for want of imagination and a sense of the evolving future, tried to maintain the weakening distinctions between these categories.  It’s not possible, however, because categorical distinctions were created by sellers to define and explain their inventory, whereas today, auction services, because searches reorder reality to each person’s taste, sweep up related material when the search terms are well thought out.   Buyers inevitably will prefer to collect in a personal cross-category way, focusing on their personal preferences.  Books may be a part of it, but they will rarely be all that a collector imagines.


The internet now encourages one’s imagination to define the scale and scope of a collection because many of the boundaries that separated fields are breached with keyword searches that simply look for references in as many retail listings and auction lots posted that contain them.  Books, manuscripts, maps and ephemera now loosely fit into a single category.  Paintings are important, as are other art forms such as watercolors and prints.  Genealogical research now often plays a part.  There are so many ways to collect that the limits of searches are now being reimagined. 


This is the true effect of the increasingly large databases that bit by bit pull together all data today while also mining past records to build a seamless account from earliest days to yesterday.


So, whether you are a collector or the representative of a collecting institution, your challenge is the same; to see your collecting focus as ever-changing, and an ever better opportunity, for it’s increasingly possible to find the perfect and the impossible, and sometimes, on the same day.


Rare Book Monthly

  • Il Ponte, Feb. 27-28: KUPKA, Frantisek (1871-1957) - Quatre histoires de blanc et noir. Paris: Marcel Baque, 1926. €5.000-€8.000
    Il Ponte, Feb. 27-28: VASI, Giuseppe Agostino (1710-1782) - Raccolta delle più belle vedute antiche, e moderne di Roma disegnate ed incise secondo lo stato presente. Rome: A. Vasi, 1786. €4.000-€6.000
    Il Ponte, Feb. 27-28: SALAMANCA, Antonio (1478-1562) - [First map depicting the bay of Naples]. [Rome: 1538]. €3.000-€5.000
  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Gonnelli:
    Auction 50
    Books, Autographs & Manuscripts
    March 6th-7th 2024
    Gonnelli: Cramer, [Picasso, Chagall , Miró], Trente ans d'activité. Starting price 4800€
    Gonnelli: Futurism
    Gonnelli: Avienus, Opera. 1488. Starting price 1200€
    Gonnelli: Vimont, Relation de ce qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France, en l'année 1642. Starting price 5000€
    Gonnelli: Goedart, Metamorphosis et historia naturalis insectorum. 1662.
    Gonnelli: Il Petrarcha con la spositione di M. Giovanni Andrea Gesualdo.
    Gonnelli: Poblacion, De usu astrolabi compendium.

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