Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2019 Issue

Collections Moving On, But Whereto?

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Salisbury House (Wikipedia photo).

This is an extraordinarily fluid time for book collections. The 21st century, not yet even a fifth of the way along, has seen enormous changes. Much of it has been spurred on by the development of digital books which, to a significant extent, made the printed ones unnecessary (though to many, no less desirable). Meanwhile, the cost of maintaining and storing physical books, particularly fragile antiquarian ones, is substantial, while their use in libraries has diminished. Digital copies make access to text instantaneous from anyplace in the world with no need to visit libraries. And, the younger generation is accessing information in many new ways, often replacing physical books.

 

Is this the end, or has the book's demise been greatly exaggerated? One thing is clear. Great changes are happening, and change, even for the good, can be stressful. A couple of stories recently caught our eye, and if they don't give us final answers, they illustrate the fluidity of the situation.

 

The Iowa Museum Association recently leveled some criticism of Salisbury House on the sale of its book collection to Grinnell College. Salisbury House may not be well known outside of its native state of Iowa, but it is a spectacular mansion in Des Moines. It contains 42 rooms in 22,000 square feet. It was built in the 1920s by Carl and Edith Weeks. They made a fortune in cosmetics, inventing a make-up foundation. That enabled them to build a home patterned on the King's House in Salisbury, England. Along with building the castle, they built magnificent collections, of art, books, sculpture, musical instruments, and such. It was eventually donated to charity and today is run by the Salisbury House Foundation.

 

As with many smaller museums, financing has not been easy in recent years. The house needed a new roof, stabilization, and repairs. Income was insufficient. They had to borrow funds, creating a debt of almost $2 million. The Director chose to sell its collection of 5,000 books. The Weeks were high-end collectors, so there was a ready market. Fortunately, an interested buyer was found in state. Grinnell College, in nearby Grinnell, has an exceptional reputation and healthy resources. It bought the collection. Among the books was a Shakespeare Second Folio, a Gutenberg leaf, galley proofs for James Joyce's Tales Told of Shem and Shaun (later titled Finnegans Wake), a signed 1935 Ulysses illustrated by Henri Matisse, signed books and documents from French King Louis XVI, the Marquis de Lafayette, Queen Elizabeth I, John Hancock, Abraham Lincoln, Cardinal Richelieu, U. S. Grant, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and other well-known people, a Kelmscott Chaucer, numerous items of incunabula, and correspondence between Carl Weeks and noted authors including Ernest Hemingway and D. H. Lawrence. No price was given, but Salisbury House's Director pointed out that this transaction will resolve its debts, that the collection will remain intact, in state, and be more accessible than ever and well cared for. She said this is something to be "celebrated," as opposed to being something "sinister."

 

Nonetheless, the Iowa Museum Association disapproved. While expressing sympathy for Salisbury's financial strains, and saying "deaccessioning is an accepted and routine practice," the IMA continues, "collections should never be seen as commodities to be sold in order to balance a budget." They cite guidelines from several organizations, such as "historical resources shall not be used to provide financial support for institutional operations, facilities maintenance or any reason other than preservation or acquisition of collections." The guidelines say items from collections may be sold to preserve others in a collection, or purchase new items for a collection, but should never be used to fund operations or capital expenses. They should be used only on the collections themselves.

 

All well and good, but Salisbury House was in a bind. Considering that they found a way to keep the book collection together, make it more accessible, and provide better for its preservation than they could themselves, I think Salisbury House deserves a pass on this. This story could have had a much worse ending. Salisbury House was a good steward of the book collection considering the circumstances. Still, not even this guarantees Salisbury House's long term viability.

 

Now for a story that may not have as favorable an ending. A letter recently appeared in the Nelson Star, of Nelson, BC, Canada. The writer identified himself as Dr. John R. Dale, age 75, owner of a collection of 300-plus books related to the polar regions, and 1,500 books in philosophy and the sciences. He did not list any titles or values, but has been collecting them for a long time. We presume that Dr. Dale was not of wealth such as the Weeks, that he built an interesting collection in his fields of interest, but probably had books worth, perhaps, hundreds of dollars, but not tens of thousands or more such as the Weeks had.

 

Like Salisbury House, Dale wants to keep the collection together, wants to see it preserved in an institution that appreciates and will care for the books. He has no expectations of financial recompense. He just wants to give away his collection to an institution. He found no takers.

 

Writes Dr. Dale, "I have approached Simon Fraser University, UBC (Vancouver and Okanagan), Selkirk College and finally the Nelson Public Library. Typical responses were 'most students read on an iPad' and 'Oh, how interesting but we just don’t have room for them,' or 'can you deliver them all to us but we may not be able to put them on a shelf.' In addition I have had some offers to buy some of the rare books (no chance). Two professors from UBC did check out the library but there was interest in cherry-picking some books only.

 

 

"The Nelson library, which on taking them and making room, would have had a collection of modern philosophy books surpassed only by McGill University Library and maybe the one at McMaster, declined the offer. They informed me the books were far too esoteric for the average Nelson reader and were too academic."

 

Dale concluded, "So it seems like the age of bibliophiles has passed, with a few dinosaurs around who actually read serious books."

 

He did point out that some individuals have expressed an interest in taking the entire collection, but one wonders whether they are collectors or eBay sellers.

 

We don't know how Dr. Dale's situation will conclude, but we do know this - he is not alone. This is happening to a growing number of collectors today, and that number will continue to grow. Anything short of substantial value will be harder and harder to place. Institutions will not/cannot take on the costs of maintaining book collections rarely used by their patrons. Unless values are significant, dealers don't much want to inventory these books and auctions are raising their standards as to what they want to expend resources on selling. Supply and demand do not seem to be in balance. These situations, in time, resolve themselves, but how and when are unknowns. Stay tuned.


Posted On: 2019-10-01 04:08
User Name: mairin

A good piece. It brings timely attention to a serious situation
facing aging collectors, and stewards of large book collections.
Thank you, Mike.
- MEM


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b><br>N.C. Wyeth, <i>The Black Arrow,</i> oil on canvas, for the book by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1916. $150,000 to $250,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b> Laurent de Brunhoff, mixed media color study for <i>Babar’s World Tour,</i> 2005. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b> Hilary Knight, <i>Eloise with Valentine,</i> watercolor, ink & pencil, 2015. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b> Howard Pyle, <i>It was a Comrade from His Own Regiment,</i> oil on canvas, for <i>Harper’s Monthly Magazine,</i> 1909. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b><br>Coby Whitmore, <i>‘Poor baby! You want me so much,’ she said,</i> acrylic, for <i>The Saturday Evening Post,</i> 1968. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b><br>Al Hirschfeld, <i>Charley’s Aunt,</i> pen & ink, for the Broadway revival, <i>The New York Times,</i> 1940. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b><br>Erté, <i>Décor de Laideronnette,</i> gouache set design for third movement of <i>Mother Goose,</i> 1949. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b> Vince McIndoe, <i>Villainous Last Supper, DC Comics,</i> oil on canvas, 2016. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries July 16:</b> Arthur Getz, <i>Rooftop Party,</i> casein tempera, cover illustration for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1970. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 1. Albertus Magnus, De Natura Locorum, 2nd edn, 1515. £3000 to £4000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 22. George Cooke, Scenery of the East India Islands, 1811-13. £4500 to £5500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 23. J.M. Crozet, Nouveau vouage a la Mer du Sud, 1st edn, 1783. £4000 to £6000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 27. J.P.J.Du Bois, Vies des Gouverneurs Generaux, 1st edn, 1763. £1200 to £1800.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 28. Wm Ellis, Authentic Narrative...Captain Cook, 1st edn, 1782. £2500 to £3500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 31. Thomas Forrest, Voyage to New Guinea, 1st edn, 1779. £1500 to £2000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 32. Forster & Forster, Voyage round the World, 1st edn, 1777-78. £4500 to £5500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 38. Gianetti, Elogy of Captain James Cook, 1st edn, 1785. £2500 to £3500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 46. Otto von Kotzebue, Entdeckungs Reise, 1st edn, 1821. £3500 to £4500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 52. Alejandro Malaspina, Viaje politico-scientifico, 1st edn, 1885. £2000 to £3000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 60. Sydney Parkinson, Journal of Voyage to the South Seas, large paper, 1773. £4500 to £5500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 64. Nathaniel Portlock, A Voyage round the World, 1st edn, 1789. £4000 to £6000.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>The Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript<br>Online Auction 8-15 July
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> Elizabeth I. Early letter signed, to Edward North, First Baron North 1560. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> Catherine II. Empress of Russia Letter signed to Prince Grigori Aleksandrovich [Potemkin] 1784. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> Nelson. Autograph letter signed, to Captains of Egyptian Club, 3 August 1798. £12,000 to £18,000,
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>The Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript<br>Online Auction 8-15 July
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> Charles Darwin. Photograph signed, c.1871 by Oscar Gustave Rejlander. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> T.E. Lawrence. Autograph letter signed, to Major Littleton, 14 October 1918. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> Napoleon. Letter signed, ordering General Desaix to sail to Malta, prior to the Egyptian Expedition, 1798. £2,000 to £3,000.
  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Ptolomaeus (Claudius). <i>Cosmographia,</i> first edition, Vicenza, Hermann Liechtenstein, 13 September 1475. £150,000 to £200,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Schoener (Johann). <i>Opera mathematica,</i> 3 parts in 1, first edition,The Honeyman copy in contemporary binding, Nuremberg, J. Montanus and U. Neuber, 1551. £30,000 to £40,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Lucian of Samosata. <i>Dialogoi, editio princeps,</i> with fine illuminated title-page, Florence, Lorenzo de Alopa, 1496. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Pian (Jean Baptiste de). [Architectural Alphabet], 26 chromolithographs by Leopold Muller after Pian, Vienna, 1842-44. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Rogers (Bruce).- Holy Bible (The)..., one of 200 copies on handmade paper, designed by Bruce Rogers, bound in modern crimson morocco, gilt, Oxford, 1935. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Jenner (Edward). <i>An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae…,</i> first edition, Printed for the Author, by Sampson Low, 1798. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Voyages.- Cook (Capt. James).- Parkinson (Sydney). <i>A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's Ship the Endeavour,</i> second edition, Charles Dilly...& James Phillips, 1784. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> [Clemens (Samuel Langhorne)] "Mark Twain". <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,</i> first edition, first state, New York, Charles L. Webster and Company, 1885. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> [Voight (Hans Henning)], "Alastair". Herod, for 'Salome: Drame en un Acte', original drawing in red & black ink over pencil, [c.1922]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> James (M.R.) <i>Ghost Stories of an Antiquary,</i> first edition, signed presentation inscription from the author to A.C. Benson, 1904. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Remarque (Erich Maria). <i>All Quiet on the Western Front,</i> first English edition, signed presentation inscription from the author, 1929. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Ashendene Press.- More (Sir Thomas). <i>A Fruteful and Pleasaunt Worke...Utopia,</i> one of 100 copies, bound in black goatskin by J.Franklin Mowery, Ashendene Press, 1906. £3,000 to £4,000.
  • <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> O'Fihely, Maurice Abp. <i>Questiones subtilissme Scoti in metaphysicam Aristotelis</i>, Venice (Octavianus Scoti) 20th November 1497. 8,000 to 12,000 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Pococke (Richard). <i>A Description of the East and some other Countries,</i> 3 vols. in 2, L. (W. Bowyer) 1743. 2,250 to 3,500 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Keogh (John). <i>Botanalogia Universalis Hibernica, or A General Irish Herbal Calculated for this Kingdom, giving an account of the Herbs, Scrubs…</i>, Corke (George Harrison) 1735. 1,000 to 1,500 €
    <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Perry (Charles). <i>A View of the Levant particularly of Constantinople, Syria, Egypt and Greece,</i> L. (T. Woodward) 1743. 800 to 1,200 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Shaw (Thomas). <i>Travels, or Observations Relating to Several Parts of Barbary and the Levant,</i>, Oxford (The Theatre) 1738. 600 to 700 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> [French (Nicholas) Bishop of Ferns] Attributed, <i>Recit Exact et Fidele de la Vente et Partage du Roiaume d'Irlande Fait Sous Charles II…,</i> Milan (Chez Charles Joseph Quinto) 1724. 500 to 700 €
    <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> [French (V. Rev.Dr. Nicholas, Bp of Ferns.)] <i>The Unkinde Desertor of Loyall Men and True Frinds,</i> 12mo, n.p. 1676. 500 to 700 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Yeats (W.B.) <i>Plays and Controversies,</i>, N.Y. (The MacMillan Company) 1924, Signed Limited Edn. 500 to 700 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Barrie (J.M.) & Thomson (Hugh) illus. <i>Quality Street, a Comedy in Four Acts,</i> L. (Hodder and Stoughton) 1901, Limited Edition, signed by the artist. 500 to 700 €
    <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Molyneaux (William). <i>The Case of Ireland's being bound by Acts of Parliament in England Stated,</i> [London 1719]. 200 to 300 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Johnston's (W. & A.) Map of South Africa, to illustrate the Military Operations 1900. 100 to 150 €

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